25 September 2018

Nino Cerruti - fashion designer

Turn of fate led to a life in haute couture 

Nino Cerruti ran the family business for more than 50 years
Nino Cerruti ran the family business
for more than 50 years
The fashion designer Nino Cerruti, who used the family textile business as the platform on which to build one of the most famous names in haute couture, was born on this day in 1930 in Biella in northern Piedmont.

At its peak, the Cerruti became synonymous with Hollywood glitz and the movie industry, both as the favourite label of many top stars and the supplier of clothing ranges for a string of box office hits

Yet Cerruti might have lived a very different life had fate not intervened. Although Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti - the textile mills set up by his grandfather, Antonio, and his great uncles, Stefano and Quintino - had been the family firm since 1881, Nino wanted to be a journalist.

But when his father, Silvio, who had taken over the running of the business from Antonio, died prematurely, Nino was almost obligated to take over, even though he was only 20 years old.

However, despite the sacrifice of his ambitions and his studies, Cerruti threw himself into developing the business. He saw the potential in repositioning Cerruti as a fashion label and invested in a modernisation plan for the family weaving workshops in Biella as wells as acquiring two further factories in Milan.

Giorgio Armani learned his trade working for Cerruti
Giorgio Armani learned his trade
working for Cerruti
He launched his first men’s collection, which he called Hitman,  in 1957, the range putting him at the cutting edge of modern design.  Giorgio Armani, still to launch his own fashion range, worked for Cerruti on the Hitman collection between 1964 and 1970.

Cerruti as a high-end name was born in 1967, when Nino opened a boutique in Paris and launched the Cerruti 1881 fashion house.  His arrival in Paris was greeted as a sea change in men’s couture, one newspaper article speaking of “the year in which Italian style dethroned English fashion.”

Again, men’s clothing was his speciality, although by 1976 he had designed his first ready-to-wear women’s wear line.

The house launched Nino Cerruti pour Homme in 1978, marking the first of a long line of fragrances and Cerruti 1881 Sport launched in 1980, making clothes for tennis, skiing and running with an haute couture style.

It was in the 1980s that Cerruti became inextricably linked with Hollywood and the movie business.

After being heavily involved with dressing Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami Vice, the company provided clothing for films including Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Wall Street (1987), Pretty Woman (1990) and Basic Instinct (1992).

Cerruti still works even in his 80s
Cerruti still works even in his 80s
The decade also saw the company start to dress cinema stars including Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford.

In October 2000, Nino Cerruti sold 51 per cent of the company to investors, who less than a year later bought the remainder of the company.  Cerruti, by then 71 years old, stepped down in rather unfortunate circumstances, citing a “perpetual conflict of interest", although he is on good enough terms with the latest owners of the brand to attend every Cerruti fashion show, with a seat on the front row.

The Spring Summer 2002 collection, however, was the last he designed himself.

Since his departure, he has concentrated on the original family textile mill business in Biella, which still operates as Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti and now owns the Italian furniture design company Baleri. He remains involved even at the age of 88.

A view of Biella, the town where Cerruti was born, which lies in the foothills of the Piedmontese Alps
A view of Biella, the town where Cerruti was born, which
lies in the foothills of the Piedmontese Alps
Travel tip:

Biella is a well-established town of almost 45,000 inhabitants in the foothill of the Alps, about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100m (62 miles) west of Milan. Its attractions include a Roman baptistery from early 1000s and the church and convent of San Sebastian. Wool and textiles have been associated with the town since the 13th century and although the best years of the industry have now passed, with many mills and factories closed, in addition to Cerruti, brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico and Fila still have a presence.

The Via Monte Napoleone is Milan's most famous street for big-name fashion houses
The Via Monte Napoleone is Milan's most famous
street for big-name fashion houses
Travel tip:

Milan’s fashion district is known as the Quadrilatero della Moda, sometimes the Quad d’Oro. It can be found a 10-minute walk away from the Duomo in the centre of the city. The area centres on Via Monte Napoleone, a long street is lined with designer fashion boutiques, antiques shops and neoclassical mansions. Most of the major fashion houses - such as Armani, Gucci, Hermès, La Perla, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren and Versace - Nearby, the Palazzo Morando museum displays period costumes.

More reading:

The hotel lift boy who became a giant of the fashion world

Salvatore Ferragamo - shoemaker to the stars

Ottavio Missoni - war prisoner, Olympic athlete, fashion king

Also on this day:

1773: The birth of Agostino Bassi, the scientist who rescued Italy's silk industry

1955: The birth of singer-songwriter Zucchero


24 September 2018

Riccardo Illy - businessman

Grandson of Illy coffee company founder who became firm’s chairman

Riccardo Illy is president of
Gruppo illy Spa
Riccardo Illy, whose paternal grandfather, Hungarian-born Francesco Illy, founded the world-famous illy coffee company, was born on this day in 1955 in Trieste.

Illy is president and former chairman of Gruppo illy and vice-chairman of illycaffè. Under his leadership, the company has expanded to include Domori chocolate, Dammann Frères teas, Agrimontana - which makes fruit preserves, jams and confectionery -  and Mastrojanni, a winery located in the Montalcino region of southern Tuscany.  It also holds a stake in Grom, a chain of premium ice cream parlours.

The company now has a presence in 140 countries and as well as coffee shops the company also operates ice cream stores in Italy, as well as in New York, Malibu, Los Angeles, Paris, Dubai, Osaka, and Jakarta.

Although the company’s roots are in Trieste, where Francesco opened for business in 1933, Gruppo illy Spa is based in Rome.

Riccardo’s first job was as a skiing instructor at the Piancavallo resort in the Dolomites and a sailing instructor at Monfalcone, near Trieste. He married the food and wine journalist Rossana Bettini, with whom he had a daughter, Daria.

He joined the family firm illycaffè in 1977, as the company's business director and for the first time gave the firm a marketing department. Now the company’s annual revenue is in the region of €400 million and reckons to serve more than seven million cups of coffee per day in around 100,000 outlets worldwide.

Francesco Illy founded the famous coffee company in Trieste in 1933
Francesco Illy founded the famous coffee
company in Trieste in 1933
Parallel with his business career, Riccardo also spent 15 years as active politician. He was elected Mayor of Trieste twice, in 1993 and 1997, became a member of the Italian parliament in 2001 as an independent and in 2003 was elected President of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, with the backing of the Democratic Coalition Party, remaining in office until he failed in his bid to be elected for a second term in 2008.

Away from business and politics, Illy’s passion is for fast motorcycles, an interest which began when he would ride along the Italian and Yugoslavian coastlines as a teenager and continued when he and his wife traveled to Greece on his Kawasaki 900 soon after they were married. As regional president, he rode to his office each day on a 1200cc BMW.

As a music lover, Illy is president of Trieste's Theatre Giuseppe Verdi.

Piazza Unità d'Italia is Trieste's main square
Piazza Unità d'Italia is Trieste's main square
Travel tip:

The seaport of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region,  officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.

The Caffé Pirona was a favourite of James Joyce
The Caffé Pirona was a favourite of James Joyce

Travel tip:

Trieste’s coffee house culture dates back to the Hapsburg era. Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830. Within a short space of time, more than 100 had opened, including Caffè degli Specchi, on Piazza Unità itself, which was popular with the authors James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Franz Kafka, who at different times were part of Trieste’s thriving literary scene. Another favourite of the Irish writer Joyce was the Caffè Pirona on Largo della Barriera Vecchia.

More reading:

How Turin shopkeeper Luigi Lavazza built a coffee empire

Angelo Moriondo - inventor of the world's first espresso machine

Trieste becomes part of Italy

Also on this day:

1934: The birth of exiled royal princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Parma

1954: The birth of footballer Marco Tardelli


23 September 2018

Francesco Barberini – Cardinal

Patron of the arts sympathised with Galileo

Francesco Barberini knew Galileo from his days as a student at the University of Pisa
Francesco Barberini knew Galileo from his
days as a student at the University of Pisa
Francesco Barberini, a cardinal who as Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Inquisition refused to condemn the scientist Galileo Galilei as a heretic, was born on this day in 1597 in Florence.

As a cardinal working within the Vatican administration, Barberini also became an important patron of literature and the arts.

The son of Carlo Barberini and Costanza Magalotti, Francesco was assisted by Galileo during his studies at the University of Pisa. The scientist was also a family friend. Francesco graduated in canon and civil law at the age of 25 in 1623.

Later that year, his uncle, Maffeo Barberini, who had been recently elected as Pope Urban VIII, made him a cardinal and sent him to be papal legate to Avignon.

He was sent to Paris as a special legate to negotiate with Cardinal Richelieu and then to Spain as a papal legate, but both his missions were unsuccessful.

From 1628 onwards Barberini led the foreign diplomacy of the Papal States, always favouring France.

Galileo subscribed to the view that the Earth was not the centre of the universe
Galileo subscribed to the view that the Earth
was not the centre of the universe
From 1633 until his death more than 40 years later, Barberini was the Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Inquisition. He was part of the Inquisition tribunal investigating Galileo after the publication of writings supporting the arguments put forward by the German scientist Nicolaus Copernicus that the sun and not the earth was the centre of the universe.

He was one of three members of the tribunal who refused to condemn the scientist, although the majority verdict was that Galileo was "vehemently suspect of heresy" and he was sentenced him to indefinite imprisonment, later commuted to house arrest, where he remained until his death in 1642.

The Barberini family fortunes declined after hostilities between the papacy and the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza led to the First War of Castro in which the papacy did badly. Peace was concluded only a few months before the death of Urban VIII.

Once it became clear that the Barberini candidate for the papacy was not going to be elected. Francesco and his brother, Antonio, switched their support to Giovanni Battista Pamphili.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's bust of  Barberini,  in the National Gallery of Art in Washington
Gian Lorenzo Bernini's bust of  Barberini,
 in the National Gallery of Art in Washington
But after Pamphili became Pope Innocent X, he launched an investigation into their handling of the finances during the War of Castro, forcing the Barberini brothers to flee to Paris.

Two years later, Francesco Barberini was pardoned, his properties were restored to him and he was able to continue as a patron of the arts.

He was a member of various literary associations and secured altarpiece commissions for St Peter’s from prominent artists, such as Pietro da Cortona and the French Baroque painter, Poussin.

Barberini bought several paintings by Poussin for himself during the artist’s early years living in Rome.

In 1625 he had acquired the former Sforza palace and, after buying further land, he engaged the architect, Carlo Maderno, to transform it into a much larger and grander building, which eventually became Palazzo Barberini.

Francesco Barberini died in Rome in 1679 at the age of 82.

The Palazzo alla Giornata on the Arno embankment is one of the main buildings of the University of Pisa
The Palazzo alla Giornata on the Arno embankment is
one of the main buildings of the University of Pisa
Travel tip:

The University of Pisa, where Galileo taught and Francesco Barberini studied, was founded in 1343 making it the 10th oldest in Italy and it houses Europe’s oldest academic botanical garden. The main University buildings are in and around Lungarno Antonio Pacinotti, overlooking the River Arno, a short walk from the city’s famous Leaning Tower.

The Palazzo Barberini was Barberini's home in the centre of Rome, just off Piazza Barberini
The Palazzo Barberini was Barberini's home in the
centre of Rome, just off Piazza Barberini
Travel tip:

Palazzo Barberini is just off Piazza Barberini in the centre of Rome. It was completed in 1633 as a home for Francesco Barberini and was the work of three great architects, Carlo Maderno, Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The palace now houses part of the collection of Italy’s National Gallery of Ancient Art.

More reading:

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

How Carlo Maderno created the facade of St Peter's  

Pope Innocent X and revenge for Castro

Also on this day:

1943: Mussolini proclaims the puppet republic of Salò

1956: The birth of World Cup hero Paolo Rossi


22 September 2018

Roberto Saviano - writer and journalist

Author of ‘Gomorrah’ who lives under police protection

Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since
writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
The author and journalist Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorrah exposed the inner workings of the Camorra organised crime syndicate in his home city of Naples, was born on this day in 1979.

Gomorrah was an international bestseller that was turned into a film and inspired a TV series, bringing Saviano fame and wealth.

However, within six months of the book’s publication, Saviano had received so many threats to his life from within the Camorra that the decision was taken on the advice of former prime minister Giuliano Amato to place him under police protection.

Some 12 years later, he remains under 24-hour police guard.  He travels only in one of two bullet-proof cars, lives either in police barracks or obscure hotels and is encouraged never to remain in the same place for more than a few days. His protection team includes seven bodyguards.

Saviano has written three more books including a collection of his essays and Zero, Zero, Zero - an exposé of the cocaine trade. His latest, published this week, is called The Piranhas. Whereas Gomorrah and Zero, Zero, Zero were non-fiction, The Piranhas is a novel, though one set in Naples with the Camorra at the centre of the story.

Yet Saviano has complained that, although he has so far avoided being killed, he has no real life. In an interview with an English newspaper, he said that since he was placed under guard he has not boarded a train, ridden a Vespa, taken a stroll or gone out for a beer.  He has admitted that if he had known the consequences, he probably would not have written Gomorrah.

Born the son of a Naples doctor and a mother originally from Liguria, Saviano attended the University of Naples Federico II, where he obtained a degree in psychology.  He began his career in journalism in 2002, writing for numerous magazines and daily papers, including the Camorra monitoring unit of the Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

His inspiration for writing Gomorrah came from his own experiences in the province of Caserta, where he grew up, which witnessed a gang war as rival Camorra groups battled for control of territory.  Violence on the streets became an almost daily occurrence in full view of ordinary citizens, some of whom became victims themselves when, occasionally, an innocent person was mistaken for a target.

Saviano’s journalism meant that he became acquainted with workers in businesses run by the Camorra, and in time with messengers and look-outs who worked for the clan. He pored over court records, news reports and trial transcripts, eventually pulling together all his knowledge to write Gomorrah.

Roberto Saviano signing a copy of  one of his books
Roberto Saviano signing a copy of
one of his books
Its focus is city of Naples and the towns of Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and the territory around Aversa known as the agro aversano.  It describes how criminal bosses lived in sumptuous villas while burying toxic waste in the surrounding countryside with no regard for the health of the local population, many of whom were protective of Camorra activities not only out of fear but of distrust of legitimate authorities.

Saviano revealed details of the System - as the Camorra refer to themselves - never before brought to the public domain. It is written in the style of dramatic fiction but describes events that, Saviano says, actually happened.

This is supported by the reaction of the Camorra, who felt the book revealed details that compromised their activities. The last straw was probably an anti-Mafia demonstration in Casal di Principe in September 2006, when Saviano publicly denounced the bosses of the Casalese clan, Francesco Bidognetti and Francesco Schiavone, both of whom were in prison, as well as the the two ruling bosses at the time, Antonio Iovine and Michele Zagaria, insulting them and calling on them to leave Italy.

After threats to Saviano and members of his family were investigated by the Naples police, Amato, then Minister for Interior Affairs, assigned Saviano a personal bodyguard and moved him from Naples to a secret location.

Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,  campaigning against organised crime
Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,
campaigning against organised crime
Two years later, after the informant Carmine Schiavone, cousin of Francesco Schiavone, revealed to the authorities that the clan had planned to eliminate Saviano and his police escort with a bomb under the motorway between Rome and Naples, Saviano announced his intention to leave Italy.

For obvious reasons, no one outside his immediate circle knows where he now lives. However, he makes public appearances at speaking engagements and is still writing regularly for many newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, including l'Espresso, la Repubblica in Italy, The Washington Post and The New York Times in the United States, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel in Germany, and The Times and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

In 2008, six Nobel Prize winners  - Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Orhan Pamuk and Desmond Tutu - launched a joint appeal to the Italian government to do more to defeat the Camorra and to support citizens such as Saviano in speaking out against them.

The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features of the Royal Palace in Caserta
The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features
of the Royal Palace in Caserta
Travel tip:

The biggest attraction for visitors to Caserta is the former Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. Constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples, it was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

A typical street scene in the Quartieri Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
A typical street scene in the Quartieri
Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
Travel tip:

The area that used to be seen as a notorious Camorra stronghold, the Quartieri Spagnoli - Spanish Quarters - to the north of Via Toledo, is now much less threatening. The area consists of a grid of around narrow 18 streets running south to north by 12 going east to west towards the harbour. It represents a flavour of old Naples, with lines of washing strung across the narrow streets and lively neighbourhood shops catering for the residents, who number about 14,000. Although it is a poor area blighted by high unemployment, the Camorra are less visible here now than in some of the city’s run-down suburbs. The area takes its name from its original purpose in the 16th century, which was to house Spanish garrisons, whose role was to quell revolts from the Neapolitan population.

More reading:

How the capture of Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro struck at the heart of crime in Naples

The Camorra bride who became a mob chieftain after avenging the death of her husband

Dario Fo - the playright who sought out corruption in high places

Also on this day:

1929: The birth of motorcycle world champion Carlo Ubbiati

1958: The birth of singer Andrea Bocelli