‘I’m married to Venice!’ Toto Bergamo Rossi talks taste
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My personal style signifier is probably my selection of jackets. My style is very classic – not trendy – I’ve a more timeless spirit. I’ve been wearing the same things since I was a little boy. I nearly always wear a jacket, from Loro Piana or Zegna, or one that’s been handmade in Naples because the tailors there are the best. I also often wear a ring, which is engraved with the coat of arms of my mother’s family, the Colleoni. Bergamo Rossi is my father’s name, but he wasn’t from here and I never spent time with that side of the family – I don’t feel connected to it. I grew up alone with my mother in Venice.
The last thing I bought and loved was an 18th-century Venetian mirror – it hangs as if it was born in my house. It’s made from walnut, covered in gilt and rocaille, and has lots of other little mirrors around it, all engraved. I got it from an antique dealer in Modena. You can buy these things now for a reasonable amount of money, actually.
The place that means a lot to me is my city, Venice. It always has. I think it’s the reason for my existence. I’m still single, so I’m married to Venice! I thought this even when I was a little boy: I have to do something for my city. I was always watching the façades of its churches, sketching them, even though I was never religious. The city really was the New York of the Renaissance. You go around churches, you’ll find a Titian, a Tintoretto, a Bellini… they’re all still there.
A place I can’t wait to return to is my little place in Croatia. It’s a former nunnery on a small island facing Dubrovnik; it’s on two floors, each one the size of a large room. It dates from 1484 and has a chapel, too. When I found it everything had collapsed, so I gave it new roofs, new floors, redid everything inside – the chapel now has some nice old candlesticks and a crucifix again. But everything has stayed very simple. There are a few of us with homes there, including the architect Steven Harris and Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza. We are five foreigners and 200 locals, and no cars. Whenever I need to finish typing up a book, I go there. No distractions!
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I had read it 30 years ago, and it was nice to go back to it. I loved the imagined dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo: it inspired me in my battles against the deterioration of my city. I thought, let’s get more articulate and inspired, so I went back to Calvino. Also, I have no TV. So at night – books.
My style icon is Paul Newman – especially when he was young. He had the most beautiful face on earth. Stars in the 1950s and ’60s were always classic with that preppy chic: it was a time when America was elegant. That’s 90 per cent gone now.
The best gift I’ve given recently is the show I’ve just curated at Venice’s Ca’ d’Oro, From Donatello to Alessandro Vittoria 1450-1600: 150 Years of Sculpture in the Republic of Venice. I organised it with the support of Venetian Heritage: that work and history is very dear to me. Otherwise, I like to give people books – I recently gave an architect friend a book of 18th-century architectural drawings of Venice – or a good piece of cashmere.
In my fridge you’ll always find very little. I’m not a good cook.
I have a collection of casts of sculptures. Some are ancient, and some are of the works of Antonio Canova. I have a cast of his statue of Hebe – bellissima! – and also of the Borghese Hermaphroditus, the original of which sits in the Louvre. Mine is an 18th-century cast so the patina is beautiful. I love to have sculptures around, but when I can’t own the originals, a nice cast is not so bad.
I’ve recently rediscovered sex! No, seriously – I actually started psychotherapy again three years ago. I have an amazing doctor. We do it very “soft” – we don’t do Freud any more. Since last year I’m a new man. I have to improve all the time.
My favourite building is La Malcontenta, Villa Foscari. I love all of those Palladian villas in the Veneto – they’re to die for – but La Malcontenta was renovated in 1924 by an amazing man, Albert Landsberg, who stylistically was the predecessor of Axel Vervoordt. He was using rough linen on his tables and had very little furniture. The owners have kept Bertie’s decoration and it remains timeless a century later.
The last items of clothing I added to my wardrobe are some drawstring trousers from The Erose, a store in a new hotel called The Venice Venice. I got two pairs for the summer, one in white and blue stripes, the other beige. The owners of the hotel are a couple who used to own the shoe and accessory brand Golden Goose: they bought a beautiful Byzantine palazzo that was abandoned and falling apart, and transformed it. There’s a restaurant where you can have lunch or dinner, and this shop too. Sestiere Cannaregio 5631, 30121 Venezia
When I need to feel inspired, I just go walking and watching. It’s all there – you just have to look more closely. And travelling inspires me too: I love going to Paris. I like to stay with my friends Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière, who renovated the Hôtel de la Marine and also the Hôtel du Duc de Gesvres, where they live. They have such a passion for what they do – they’re like me, but in a different field. Whenever I go and stay with them, breakfast starts at nine in the morning and it goes on until 12 because we talk and talk and talk. And then afterwards, there’s a procession of antique dealers, who come in with this or that…
My wellbeing guru, apart from my therapist, is my local public pool in the Giudecca – the Sacca Fisola. I love to swim, and this pool is great: it has a big glass wall, so you can see the lagoon outside.
The grooming staple I’m never without is the room spray Ernesto by Trudon – I’ll use that on myself. I love that smell; I think it corresponds to me. But otherwise, I get up, take a shower, basta.
My favourite room in my house is the yellow room, the main salon. It’s yellow because the ceiling has frescoes painted by Tiepolo’s favourite assistant, Jacopo Guarana, depicting the Triumph of Flora – and the picture is framed by a yellow border. So I had the walls painted a Venetian yellow, very pale. The frescoes are just some of the ones I uncovered when I bought the house. The place was in awful shape – all the rooms were subdivided, and the ceilings were covered by a faux-plafond. And there was just one bathroom… a nightmare! I restored the garden, too, which is a rarity in Venice – the city is so built up.
The best bit of advice I ever received was “be consistent”. It was from my late godmother, who was the head of Unesco for Venice, and she trained me – she was like my second mother. Italians don’t know much about being consistent, they don’t have the attitude for it. So I imposed it on myself, to be more like the Anglo-Saxons. It’s a way of working – of being professional but also focused and pragmatic. If it doesn’t work in one way? Do it in another.
An indulgence I would never forgo is my glass of wine in the evening. I never drink it during the day, but at 9pm, I go, “Ahhh – fuck everybody!” and I have some. I have a big glass for my red wine – you could fit half a bottle in it.
In another life, I would be the Pope! They live in the most beautiful place. But the Pope in Renaissance times – not now.
Letter in response to this article:
Palaeontologists would never make such an error / From Paul Fellerman, London NW7, UK