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In Milan Eric Egan Has a Taste for ‘Sprezzatura’

This article is part of our Design special section on how looks, materials and even creators evolve.


MILAN — Across the street from the medieval Sforzesco Castle, up an iron cage elevator and through a dark-paneled foyer, sits a showroom that is a shrine to the bespoke with a particularly Italian attitude.

L’Artigianato is a Milan-based studio led by the American designer and creative director Eric Egan, 54, who found his way to this city two weeks after graduating from Brown University in 1990 and established his current business here in 2015.

During one particularly fateful year in the early ’90s, he was studying architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan and got a job at Gucci, hired by Dawn Mello, the former president of Bergdorf Goodman. He moved around at the company, working in licensing, duty-free boutiques at airports and new store openings, and it was at the last that he found his calling.

Tom Ford was then designing women’s wear for Gucci. After he left, he invited Mr. Egan to help him decorate his houses in Milan and Paris. “And it was he who suggested that I needed to really learn my craft,” Mr. Egan said. Mr. Ford recommended attending his own alma mater, Parsons School of Design, from which he had graduated with a degree in interior architecture. “I followed his advice,” Mr. Egan said.

The showroom itself opened in 2019 but was partly transformed into a residential environment for the 2022 Design Week in June. “Milan is having a real renaissance and there’s a lot of design energy, fashion energy,” Mr. Egan said. “You see it on the streets.”

The firm’s name is Italian for “craftsmanship.” According to Mr. Egan, the Italian ideal is not perfection (French couturiers would probably disagree), but something more relaxed.

“There’s an Italian word, ‘sprezzatura,’ which means a sort of an offhand, casual elegance. Italians do it better than anybody else,” he said. To illustrate, he pointed out the Instagram page @sciuraglam. “It follows old ladies who are not trying to be young — just glam old ladies in fur coats.”

L’Artigianato represents a Sciuraglamorous apartment in its confident mix of (mostly) hand-painted wallpaper, intricate passementerie and Andy Warhol prints. The design companies featured in the decor share Mr. Egan’s reverence for artisanship, detailing and luxurious materials.

He often collaborates with Fromental, a British company that supplied the striking floral wallpaper on a deep green ground in a large room overlooking the castle. The paper was originally meant to be hand-painted in China from Mr. Egan’s own design, but then China went into lockdown.

Tim Butcher, Fromental’s co-founder along with his wife, Lizzie Deshayes, offered to digitally print a Japanese pattern with peonies and send it to Milan. It was beautiful, but not the couture extravaganza Mr. Egan had in mind, so he augmented it with strips of hand-blocked paper he had sourced in Venice a decade ago and braided trim that he had introduced earlier this year in collaboration with the French company Houlès. (The trim is part of a collection, called Imperiale, dripping with silky oblongs inspired by Fabergé eggs.) The ceiling is so high that Mr. Egan needed Houlès’s entire stock — 87 yards — ending up with only 16 inches to spare.

Fromental also supplied the needlepoint upholstery on furniture pieces designed with the French company Rinck. (Mr. Butcher started out as a weaver, and Ms. Deshayes has a passion for making tapestries.) They trained 15 artists in India to execute the designs, which take about 50 skilled hours to create a single square foot.

In the “bedroom,” furnished with a bed and headboard borrowed from Mr. Egan’s apartment down the street (he slept on a mattress on the floor throughout the studio’s Design Week transformation), elaborately patterned linens from Loretta Caponi were on display. The family company, founded in Florence in 1967, supplies couture lingerie and a home collection.

One of Ms. Caponi’s grandsons, Guido Caponi, the company’s chief operating officer, traced some of its success to two particular customers, Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria, who later became the queen of Belgium, and the actress Jane Fonda. “Thanks to these two women, these two queens, Loretta Caponi became known to an international clientele,” he said.

All of the linens are designed in the company’s atelier and made in the homes of the embroiderers, who use manually operated machines to stitch the elaborate patterns. “It’s really complicated. Every different shadow means changing the thread in the machine by hand,” Mr. Caponi said. “It’s a technique that takes a very long time to learn.”

Other upholstery fabrics and draperies came from Rome-based Colony Fabrics, founded in 1976 and, unlike many Italian companies, is still producing in Italy. The majority are woven in the southern town of Caserta, where the craft was spurred in the 18th century by the construction of the Reggia di Caserta, a palace influenced by Versailles. Some of Colony’s fabrics were used in the 2006 Sofia Coppola film “Marie Antoinette.”

The Warhol prints have an Italian pedigree, too: The series is called “Ladies and Gentlemen” and was printed in 1975 in Milan. Mr. Egan said the prints were undervalued because of their subject, drag queens. He purchased them one at a time over the years, for very good prices, he said. Their placement over a pair of Empire-style chairs upholstered in a Fromental red petit point with a sunburst pattern, and another pair of midcentury Venetian chairs in a Colony damask fabric with Houlès trim, was yet further evidence of Mr. Egan’s particular talent for mixing.

With a little American ingenuity, he managed to acquire everything for the showroom (original wallpaper aside) during the pandemic. “We have zero supply chain issues because everything’s made in Italy,” he said, exaggerating only slightly. “We get in the car and go and get it. I drive a big white Lincoln Navigator straight from America, and we can haul anything in that.”

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