In a serene, leafy Milan street not far from the glitzy, fashion-boutique-lined Via Montenapoleone sit sister villas, built in the 1930s by the Italian architect Piero Portaluppi. One, Villa Necchi, is a paragon of art deco modernism, celebrated with a museum, a coffee shop, guided tours and a starring role in the 2009 film I Am Love. Across the street, the ivy-clad Villa Mozart keeps its identity a more closely guarded secret. The only clue to the treasures found inside is a discreet gold plaque outside the wrought-iron gates that reads: Maison Giampiero Bodino.
Giampiero Bodino CREDIT: GUIDO TARONI
Its occupier, the charismatic Turin-born Bodino, explains his decision to launch his eponymous high-jewellery brand from such grand premises without a trace of irony: “I knew exactly what I wanted as the first step into the world of jewellery with my own name – for sure not a shop, because to start off with a store with my name above it seemed too much.”
Instead, in late 2013 he welcomed guests into this stately palazzo, which had been rescued from a loveless existence as corporate offices. False ceilings, plasterboard panels and fluorescent strip lighting were ripped out to reveal ornate murals and vast expanses of marble and Venetian stucco, all of which were cleaned and restored, while two original crystal chandeliers were brought out of storage, adding to the splendour.
Giampiero Bodino’s desk, where he creates his designs, stands at the heart of Villa Mozart CREDIT: GUIDO TARONI
This may sound rather grand for a start-up business, but 57-year-old Bodino was no rookie. He’d spent 12 years as art director for the luxury conglomerate Richemont Group, «ghost-designing» jewellery and watches for the likes of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre – and before that had worked alongside Gianni Bulgari at the most famous of all the Italian jewellery houses. Richemont’s chairman and chief executive Johann Rupert encouraged this behind-the-scenes design powerhouse to take a tentative step into the limelight, and finding the right premises was paramount.
“When I saw Villa Mozart for the first time I said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is exactly what I had imagined,’” Bodino says as he sips a cappuccino in the villa’s drawing room. “I wanted a little house near the centre with a garden and a sense of history. Most importantly, I wanted to create a place where I could invite clients and make them feel as if they were being received in a home.”
The overlapping shell pattern, found on the front door and elsewhere within Villa Mozart, inspired Bodino to create his Mosaico range. CREDIT: GUIDO TARONI
«Little house» might be an unnecessarily modest description, but he’s right about feeling at home. While he sleeps in an apartment nearby, he spends much of his time in Villa Mozart, either working on designs or entertaining clients in the drawing room. “When you buy a jewel, you also buy a moment, a memory, a world behind the object. And Villa Mozart, for me, is the perfect place to convey this message.”
You could spend hours admiring the lofty frescoed ceiling and 1970s printing table with its typographical woodblocks, or cooing over resident Miniature Schnauzer Robertino, before talk even turns to the topic of jewellery. But what jewellery. Showcased in brightly lit vitrines originally used to display silverware in the villa’s former dining room, Bodino’s creations possess an exuberance beyond anything in the windows on Via Montenapoleone.
The living room’s geometric-patterned marble fireplace is flanked by 1930s French lamps, and its mantelpiece is furnished with a 1940s bronze sculpture. On the walls are vast black-and-white paintings of aviators – Bodino’s own handiwork – while the 1970s table is inlaid with typographical woodblocks. CREDIT: GUIDO TARONI
Each piece is a one-off, designed by Bodino and created in the Richemont Group’s Parisian high-jewellery ateliers – but there are recurring aesthetic themes. Flowers bloom in a bejewelled secret watch, wind around the neck in a choker or burst with petals of juicy rubies. The wild abundance of nature is tempered by sleeker, more geometric pieces – including a Mosaico range inspired by the overlapping shell pattern found on doors and floors within Villa Mozart. Each piece takes between a year and 16 months to craft.
Giampiero Bodino Corona Zaffiri necklace
The architecture and history of Italy are a rich source of inspiration: a spectacular necklace featuring five detachable crosses is inspired by the treasure of San Gennaro church in Naples. There are modern flourishes to this historic flamboyance: a set of vintage cameos, some of them 200 years old, becomes an ultra-contemporary jewel when framed with diamonds in a three-dimensional choker. “This mismatch between classicism and modernity is what I like very much,” Bodino says.
Geometry comes to the fore in this antechamber, where the pattern of the wooden panelling is echoed in the majestic mirror CREDIT: GUIDO TARONI
That ethos is apparent throughout the villa. Its classical architecture contrasts with modernist furniture, while art and sculpture span styles and eras. “I’m a big fan of art deco for certain things, but sometimes it is a bit much,” explains Bodino. “I tried to balance the architectural details with more modern furniture to step away from the risk of it becoming a pastiche.”
The courtyard CREDIT: GUIDO TARONI
In his elegantly dishevelled office, vintage furniture by André Arbus and Paolo Buffa sits alongside rows of plastic Japanese toys and stacks of fashion magazines. Bodino’s parchment-covered desk is strewn with sketches, watercolours, books and CDs. “I never sit with a blank sheet of paper, searching for inspiration. There’s so much beauty here that the ideas just flow.”