‘I feel best in Paris or Portofino’

Carla Sozzani is the proprietor of 10 Corso Como, a fashion boutique, art gallery, book and music store, restaurant and bed-and-breakfast she opened in Milan in 1991, which has spawned imitators from Paris to Moscow. A former editor of Italian Elle, she also has a joint retail venture in Japan, 10 Corso Como Comme des Garçons, and works with the Paris-based designer Azzedine Alaia.

What was the first home you bought?

In the 1970s, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I bought our home in Milan, which has a beautiful garden with fruit trees. Now I also have a small apartment in Paris on Place des Vosges and a very small apartment in Portofino, which is right on the sea. All my houses have great views; like a tourist, I like to be able to open my window and see something beautiful. My sister [Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue] has an apartment in New York, on Gramercy Park, that I go to sometimes, and we have a house together in Marrakech. That was the second place I bought. We needed to have a dream place. The city has changed a lot but when we bought our house there it was like another world. We were always hurrying and when you got there you were forced to adapt to its pace. Then you never wanted to go back.

What is your dream place now?

Portofino. My tiny apartment is in a castle built in the 1920s, right on the rocks. There are four apartments that they rent out and mine is the smallest. It’s on a promontory, so there is literally water on both sides and it comes right up to the windows sometimes. I’ve been going to Portofino since the 1970s – it’s only an hour and a half from Milan – and I used to have a house there up in the hills but I was looking for a smaller place where I could go alone. Six or seven years ago a friend told me about this. It had been abandoned for 20 years and took me about two years to get in shape. When you’re there you feel like you’re in another dimension. Sometimes I just go for dinner and return the next day. But I never go on weekends. It’s too crowded, too social for what I am looking for.

What do you like about creating a home?

The fun is in putting it together, expressing yourself. I really enjoy the process. When a home is finished I’m much less interested. It’s why I’d rather find a wreck and do it up than buy something already fixed. It breaks your heart when you have to take down something that’s very expensive. To me, the biggest mistake in doing a house is to follow other people’s ideas. It’s the problem with working with an architect or decorator. They always want to do it their way. But it’s for you. Some people approach houses like they are making a picture. Not me. I think you should wait, stay in the place, sleep on the floor, understand it and then decide what you want to do. It might be wrong but it would still be the right thing for you. But sometimes you have to fight for what you want.

What did you fight for in Portofino?

Well, they didn’t understand why I wanted such a big bathroom: I have a shower in the rocks that is almost 2 metres by 2 metres. They thought that could be another room! But I love the water pouring down over me. The apartment is just a big living room and a small bedroom in the rocks and a bathroom. I left the floors and two old columns and the doors but otherwise I changed most of it. I put the kitchen in the living room, which they also didn’t understand at all. It’s very un-Italian. But if I have friends over why do I need to hide myself in the kitchen when all my friends are in the living room having fun? For me, the kitchen and the bathroom are the two most important rooms because that’s where I spend the most time when I’m home. I work all the time so I’m not in the living room much.

Do you ever stay in hotels?

If I’m going away for one or two days, sure. But over seven and I want a home feeling. It’s one of the reasons I bought my place in Paris; I was going there so much, working with Azzedine. You can’t have a home everywhere, of course, but one of the things I don’t understand is why hotels have to have every room the same. Why not every room different? Then it feels more personal.

Do your houses look the same?

They all reflect parts of me and they all have those views. They also have high ceilings. I need high ceilings and silence. In Paris I took a floor down to create a cathedral ceiling – that was another fight – but, again, it was a place for me. I needed height. But I like changing too. Portofino is very blue and white and black; Milan is more red now. In Milan I often change the way my apartment looks. I don’t like fixed furniture. I like to move it around. We change our clothes all the time; why not our couches? Sometimes you’re in a mood where you want more colour, sometimes less. When I was younger I used to give things away but now I have a warehouse in Milan where I keep my furniture and I change it around. Someday I will give it all to Azzedine Alaia’s foundation.

What do you collect?

Designers from the 1960s and 1970s designers, a little bit from the early 1980s – the Memphis movement. I like Shiro Kuramata, Ettore Sottsass, Pierre Paulin, Verner Panton, Isamu Noguchi, Arne Jacobson. They all have a sensuality in common – all round organic shapes that begin with primitive forms. My partner and I work on the apartments together; work is how we met. He’s an artist and he likes to make things with his hands. In Portofino he did the bookshelves; I have lots of books. He built the shower, with lots of rocks and lapis lazuli; the sink, which is ceramic; the mirror frames. He painted the floor of the bathroom, built the light in the bathroom.

Where do you buy your furniture?

Ebay, vintage shops and I also buy great re-editions. Take Serge Mouille lights. The originals cost a fortune and now his wife is reissuing them and they’re much cheaper. It’s his wife, his design, so why not? I don’t buy furniture for a room. I buy when I meet the pieces – and sometimes don’t even know what to do with them. It’s like a dress. I don’t buy dresses to wear to a specific party; I buy when I like the dress. I’d also rather not buy very expensive things because I change them so much.

What do you want to change now?

Well, in Milan I’m thinking of moving. It’s too big. I feel best in Paris or Portofino; for some reason, I feel more comfortable in small spaces now. But it’s getting harder and harder to find something you can create. People are buying property as investment and they think it’s worth more if they renovate it – it is, of course – but it’s harder to make it reflect your own personality then. It’s sapping the personality out of houses. I guess people like it because it saves them time but there is no passion in the spaces. I think it’s too bad.

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