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Have You Heard of Willy Rizzo?

by habituallychic

10 . 19 . 07

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.”

Comments Closed

  1. Suzy October 19, 2007 | 6:16 am

    Thank you so much for posting this – I have been admiring some of his pieces on 1st Dibs for a while now (after seeing Kelly Wearstler use one of his stunning cocktail tables in an interior) – but I have been unable to find out extra information about him. Thanks super sleuth! I had no idea he was a photographer. This makes me want one of those tables for myself even more now!

  2. Alice Olive October 19, 2007 | 1:50 pm

    Great post. I was aware of his photography but not design, so thank you! I would also describe his portraits as simply constructed as well – something I am drawn to!

  3. Habitually Chic October 19, 2007 | 4:19 pm

    Suzy – Glad I could introduce you to Willy’s photography and background. And thanks for bringing up 1st Dibs. I forgot to mention that there are many great pieces available for sale. I saw a chair on their that I love!

    I didn’t realize Kelly Wearstler had used one of Willy’s designs in her work. Can you tell me where or if it was published in a magazine or book? It might be fun to add that to my post. Thanks!

  4. Habitually Chic October 19, 2007 | 4:21 pm

    Alice – so funny that you the photographer knew of his photography but not his designs, while Suzy the designer knew of his designs but not his photography! I hope everyone goes online to check out more of his photography. I love his simple portraits as well!

  5. teaorwine October 19, 2007 | 4:59 pm

    For a quick moment, I thought it was Robin Williams. hehehe

  6. Leah October 19, 2007 | 11:07 pm

    When I first saw that top photo, I thought: “Wow — Sean Penn has really let himself go.”



  7. Holly Woods October 20, 2007 | 1:19 am

    Hi CHICCongrats on winning the style/blog award:)
    You do rock!

  8. Suzy October 20, 2007 | 12:03 pm

    Hi HC – yes, I actually posted about the interior, but failed to mention the designer (oops!), the link is: http://studioannetta.blogspot.com/2007/07/i-heart-kelly-wearstler.html
    if you want to take a look. It’s the coffee table in the living room. Very chic indeed.
    Congrats on getting a place in the best Top 10 new bogs – well deserved!

  9. Mélanie October 22, 2007 | 2:58 pm

    I love his work !!! Thank you for this post . I actually I have a wonderful piece of furniture in my living room and I'”m so proud of it.

  10. Anonymous October 23, 2007 | 11:07 am

    Years ago I bought a table lamp on 1stdibs, an unattributed piece made of tortoishell-pattern acrylic trimmed in chrome strips. Later discovered it to a Rizzo creation. It is one of my pride and joys.

  11. maison21 November 13, 2007 | 6:19 am

    wow- thanks for the informative article. like the first commenter, i had no clue he was a photographer too. i love learning the new things on the internets!