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Have You Heard of Willy Rizzo?

I've been asked before how I come up with some of my post topics. I usually just write about what piques my interest. Sometimes, it's a magazine article or sometimes, this being New York, a special event or exhibition. Such was the case when I received an invitation to attend the Willy Rizzo exhibition of photographs and furniture at Mallett sponsored by Mallett and Paul Smith. Too bad the Post Office decided to deliver the invitation two days after the event had taken place. But it was too intriguing to just throw away so I decided to do some investigating and luckily I found the catalog in the office.

I love to learn about interesting and fascinating people and Willy Rizzo doesn't disappoint. I also really love how the exhibition came about because when I think of Mallett, I certainly don't think about photography or furniture from the 1960's and 70's. For those of you who don't know, Mallett is a very well known and well respected purveyors of rare English and Continental antiques and object d’arte. Nearly a year ago Thomas Woodham-Smith, a Director of Mallet and Nicholas Chandor, Head of Interiors for Paul Smith were having a discussion about who in the world of design and period furniture they really admired but who was also not as famous as they should be. Apparently they both immediately thought of Willy Rizzo.

Willy Rizzo is well known to the 20th century dealing fraternity but outside that world he has been woefully neglected. He is a superb portrait photographer working for many years for Paris Match and a designer whose imagination and severe neo-classical style defines the Italian style between 1965 and 1980. The range and quality of his work is truly outstanding and has and will stand the test of time. His legacy is a body of work which is both pleasing to the eye and stimulating to the intellect.

They were able to source many items that have never been on the market before as they have come from the Rizzo’s themselves. There are two experimental designs from the 1970’s that were never produced commercially and the furniture is accompanied by a selection of some of Willy Rizzo’s finest portraits displayed in frames exclusively designed for the exhibition by Rizzo, something he has never done before. Both these frames and the images are being produced in a limited edition of eight.

Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Cardin, 1965, Paris
‘I invited them to my studio without making them aware of each other's presence, as they were not then on very friendly terms. They mellowed later.’

Salvador Dali, 1950
‘When I arrived at his place, I searched the apartment to find the best angle for the shot, but his face was so spectacular that when he asked me, ‘What are we going to do?’ I picked up the magnifying glass from the desk and just photographed him.’

The reason behind Willy Rizzo's decision to start designing furniture came about after he bought a commercial space in Rome in which he planned to make an apartment and decided instead of decorating with antiques, he would start from scratch. He had never intended to become a furniture designer but of course his friends wanted him to design for them as well. His style is mostly clean with simple lines and incorporating chrome and brass that suited a leisurely lifestyle, hence the built in basins, perfect for holding champagne bottles, that are seen in many of his tables. It's completely unconventional but somehow works. I love the juxtaposition of the sectional sofa and modern coffee table against the antique chinoiserie screen.

I hope you'll check out more of his designs online because they really are original and very chic. Many thanks to Mallet and Paul Smith for introducing this interesting and innovative photographer and designer to a whole new audience. I must say I was very impressed and I look forward to the next designer they choose to exhibit.

"It was never about recreating classic styles in modern furniture, that wasn't the point. It was about creating something new for a traditional setting."


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