PARIS — Willy Rizzo, the photographer and furniture designer, gives the impression of having seen and done everything in the high-flying tradition of the great international playboys. He's been drunk with John Wayne, is tight with Jack Nicholson (they holiday together to this day) and photographed Marilyn Monroe on the eve of the actress' tragic death.
His first wife, Paule, modeled for Coco Chanel, while Rizzo personified the "La Dolce Vita" lifestyle in Rome in the Sixties with his second wife, Elsa Martinelli, the Italian actress. But now in his 80s, Rizzo has settled into a quieter life, with three teenage children and his beautiful third spouse, Dominique, to whom he has been wed for over 30 years.
As an aside to a highly successful photography career — his portfolio contains memorable shots of Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly, Pablo Picasso and others — Rizzo forged an equally sharp reputation in the decorative arts with cool, modernist furniture design, which is enjoying a renaissance among collectors.
Both of his talents will be celebrated in a show in Manhattan at Mallett & Son opening Wednesday and continuing until Oct. 13, to be followed by a show at the Paul Smith store in London Nov. 14 to 24.
"I've always followed my heart," confides the affable Rizzo, dressed in blue jeans and a blue sweater, as he sips coffee in his Parisian apartment, a veritable mishmash of styles in which his own sexy suede sofas rub shoulders with Louis XVI tables. "Most of the things I've done have been thanks to favorable twists of fate."
He points to his first career, photography, which he started in his early teens after landing a job as an assistant in Paris at 14. "Instantly I was fascinated with images," he says. "I knew that's what I wanted to do."
It didn't take Rizzo long to build a reputation as one of the most prestigious photographers on staff at Paris Match, known for turning an incisive eye on some of the world's best known celebrities. On the side, he even did a bit of fashion photography for Vogue. "It's funny how there are different métiers in one métier," he says.
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