A life of style

Positano, on an afternoon in late summer: There is a gentle breeze, and the view from the restaurant terrace looks like a picture postcard. Cesare Cunaccia dissects a melon and his memories. “For as long as I can remember, for me good style has always meant remaining true to oneself.” Cunaccia puts his knife and fork to one side and ponders things for a moment. “At any rate my apartments always precisely reflected my situation in life, my preferences and interests.” Just be yourself – that is easy to say if you are such an authority on aesthetic matters. For a good 25 years Cesare Cunaccia, who graduated in Architecture, was the right hand of Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of “Vogue Italia”, truly the bible of the international fashion community. Whenever a fashion show is held in Milan, you’ll find him busy giving interviews on TV, explaining the latest trends. In addition, Cunaccia works as editor-at-large for “L’ Uomo Vogue” and the Italian edition of “AD”; on top of which he has authored a good dozen books on the most beautiful gardens and palaces in his native Italy, home to so many marvelous art treasures.

In his capacity as a style expert the son of an upper-class Austro-Franco-German-Italian family from Trentino even put in a brief appearance on the Italian version of “Big Brother” – with the catastrophic result that was only to be expected. Cesare Cunaccia as a juror on trash TV: It was a bit as if a famous news anchorman were to wind up in a TV boot camp. Given a man of his intellectual reach it is not surprising that the conversation, which was supposed to focus on his apartment in Milan, swiftly moves on to general and fundamental themes. In order to furnish a house or apartment successfully you have to try and uphold the poetry of things, he insists. “There are two kinds of collectors: those who speculate in order to earn money and those who are capable of perceiving the hidden soul of items,” he comments. Speculative collecting can be learned, whereas the unrestrained passion of a collector cannot: “Either it is in your blood or it isn’t.”

As a young man he was himself for a while truly obsessed by one of the most famous sculptures in Western art, the Farnese Hercules. “I started buying up all the reproductions I was able to lay my hands on, in ivory, in marble, large and small.” It was evidently a kind of coming of age, a phase in which his “crazy baroque mind-set” came into its own. “I felt like someone browsing around in a museum – I was wandering through life and heard how the objects called out to me.” It was of course no coincidence that he fell in love with the Farnese Hercules of all things. When, in the 16th century, parts of Roman copies of the Greek original were excavated, it was a true sensation. The demi-god Hercules, lost in thought, leaning leisurely against his club, hiding behind his back the three apples of the Hesperides: It was the ideal embodiment of the effortless lightness that since the Renaissance has been described in Italian with the word “sprezzatura”.

Such nonchalance is a universal category. And of course it applies to as educated and visual a man as Cesare Cunaccia when it comes to his own apartment. “You need an order that does not look too much like order,” is his conviction. “As only then can the hodgepodge of family heirloom, chance purchases, gifts and found objects that have accumulated in a house over the course of time avoid complete chaos.” Sprezzatura it is.

At an early date in his career as a style expert, Germanophile Cunaccia (“Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ is perfection”) recognized that certain art objects, irrespective of the epoch in which they originated, are infused by one and the same spirit. And also that taste changes with the years. In his apartment in Milan everything is therefore consciously kept in flux and yet each item has its firm place: Japanese ceramics, glass art from Venice, Indian carpets, old French fabrics, a 19th-century cupboard and transparent Perspex coffee tables, Old Masters, and fashion photos from 1950s Paris.

“Whether you like living in an apartment,” Cesare Cunaccia states, “depends on whether you succeed in striking the right balance between control and a loss of control.” And doesn’t that apply to life per se? That same afternoon in Positano sees Cesare Cunaccia busy forging plans for the future. Should he perhaps dare to take a major new step and switch completely to interior design? The idea evidently appeals to him; after all, he has everything it takes: taste and sprezzatura.

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Cesare Cunaccia lives at
The mirrored bookcase above is a customized piece, the chair by Sawaya & Moroni. Photo © Marco Bertolini
Left: In the guest rooms, a Louis XVI daybed and a Persian silk carpet from Agra waiting for visitors. Right: Venini on Saarinen: right a "Veronese" vase from the twenties, to the left a two-tone mug by Ludovico Diaz de Santillana, around 1970.
Photo © Marco Bertolini.