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."Fashion photography...it's really hard to be good. It took me seven, eight years to be good at it. It's so subtle. When you see [Irving] Penn or [Richard] Avedon, that's great fashion photography. Penn looked at the models with such finesse. It's not the technique that counts in photography. The kind of camera you use doesn't matter. It's the eye."
It was an assignment from Vogue to shoot Martinelli, his future wife, that took the Italian-born Rizzo on an indirect path toward furniture design. "I married my model," he jokes.
The couple went to Rome, where Rizzo rented a rundown apartment that used to belong to a shirtmaker. He decided to renovate it himself. "It was the psychedelic era, the 1960s," he explains. "I didn't want that look, and I didn't want something Scandinavian and cold. I wanted something eccentric, but not bizarre."
He reworked the house with verve, giving it a sensual juxtaposition of old and new that would become his trademark decorative scheme. The walls were painted brown with flecks of gold, the floors and ceilings were black, and he built all the furniture from scratch, including sofas, lacquered cabinets and bronze coffee tables that were both voluptuously curved and rigorous.
Being well connected, Rizzo's admiring friends soon asked him to revamp their homes, too. "It all happened by chance," shrugs Rizzo.
One of his first commissions came from Ghighi Cassini, the Hearst newspaper columnist who coined the term "jet set." Other projects poured in, including one for film director Otto Preminger; Salvador Dalí and Bardot ordered furniture. By the late Sixties, Rizzo was operating a factory just outside of Rome and later opened a boutique in Paris.
His mantra became to make top-quality pieces that would look modern but wouldn't look out of place in a grand aristocratic palazzo next to fine antiques. "The mix is everything," says Rizzo of his style. "Pieces have to be beautiful. Beautiful plus beautiful equals beautiful. It's simple." Trademark Rizzo could be a travertine dining table finished with bronze, a circular revolving coffee table with a basin to hold whiskey and gin bottles, or a black lacquer dining table with a lazy Susan. "I didn't want to copy anybody," explains Rizzo. "I wanted all of the materials to be of the highest quality. That's what shows in the end."Rizzo believes part of the reason he's enjoying renewed interest today is because he never was keen to create so-called "design," but objects that worked on a more personal level.
"I don't want to say that so-called design is not good," he says. "It's not that I don't like Bauhaus. I think it's fantastic. Mies van der Rohe was a genius. Le Corbusier was brilliant. But I don't want to own those pieces today. That's what you see when you go to the doctor's office or to your dentist — especially the dentist."
EXCLUSIVE: @tomford is opening its first-ever beauty store. The boutique, which opens November 20 in London’s Covent Gardens, was designed with the over-the-top glam Ford is known for. Read the full story on WWD.com, link in bio. #wwdbeauty #wwdnews (📷: Simon Wagner) #TomFordBeauty
New York-based DJ @harleyvnewton threw a party to celebrate the holiday collection of her dress and pajama line @hvn at the Ladurée Beverly Hills. It Girls @katebosworth, @rashidajones and more joined in on the fun, which included cocktails, croque monsieur sandwiches and a photo booth. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com)
For the holidays, @Burberry partnered with 20-year-old artist @blondeymccoy on a series of three outdoor murals in downtown Manhattan. The murals are McCoy’s interpretation of a Christmas eve party, the idea of charity and the spirit of family. His third mural, pictured here, is the most personal. The image depicts McCoy’s grandparents and father in London’s Trafalgar Square in the Seventies. “My work often features lots of sentimental objects.” #wwdeye
For spring 2018, designers applied bold colors and cartoonish motifs on everything from sneakers and belts to key chains. See all the top men’s accessories trends on WWD.com. #wwdtrends (📷: George Chinsee; Prop Styling by @rnasti; Market Editor: @luiscampuzano)
The @dior-sponsored @guggenheim international gala pre-party has a history of drawing cool-girl musical acts to serenade the crowd –– and last night was no exception. @haimtheband performed songs both new and old, and lured a star-studded audience with the likes of Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Mamoudou Athie and more. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)
In a partnership between the @metopera and the @englishnationalopera, “Marnie” was born. The opera, with costumes sponsored by @mrporterlive, is an adaptation of the 1961 thriller by Winston Graham. Arianne Phillips, who created the costumes, is no rookie: She’s styled Madonna for her tours and created costumes for a myriad of films in the past. Read WWD’s interview with Phillips, where she talks about her inspiration for the opera’s costumes on WWD.com #wwdfashion
@barneysnyc took a different approach to their holiday windows this year. Instead of Christmas decor, Barneys tapped @thehaasbrothers to tell a story of positivity, gratitude and inclusivity via heartwarming silliness and humor. “It’s about kids and it’s about coming together and being family and loving each other,” said Simon Haas. #wwdfashion (📷: @joshuascottphoto)
Beauty influencer @kandeejohnson makes her foray into hair care with a collaboration with @ogx_beauty — making it the first time that OGX has teamed up for a product creation. The collab includes shampoos and conditioners in three scents. At 39 and a mom, Johnson is a different profile than the emerging social media stars, but is considered one of the pioneers of the digital beauty influencer world. Read WWD’s interview with her on wwd.com, including the strangest beauty product she’s ever tried #wwdbeauty