“I’m married to Venice!” Toto Bergamo Rossi talks about taste

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My personal style identifier is probably my choice of jackets. My style is very classic – not trendy – I have a more timeless spirit. I’ve been wearing the same things since I was a little boy. I almost always wear a jacket, by Loro Piana or Zegna, or one that is handmade in Naples because the tailors there are the best. I also often wear a ring engraved with the coat of arms of my mother’s family, the Colleoni. Bergamo Rossi is my father’s name but he wasn’t from here and I’ve never spent time with that side of the family – I don’t feel connected to it. I grew up alone with my mother in Venice.

Curiosities on his Studiolo desk © James Mollison
A book of travel sketches
A book of travel sketches © James Mollison

Last thing I bought and loved was an 18th century Venetian mirror – it hangs like it was born in my house. It is made of walnut wood, covered in gold and rocaille and has many other small mirrors, all engraved. I got it from an antique dealer in Modena. You can actually buy these things now for a reasonable amount of money.

The place that means a lot to me is my city, Venice. It always has. I think that’s the reason for my existence. I’m still single, so I’m married to Venice! That’s what I thought when I was a little boy: I have to do something for my city. I have always observed the facades of their churches and drawn them, although I have never been religious. The city was truly Renaissance New York. You walk around churches, you will find a Titian, a Tintoretto, a Bellini… they are all still there.

Bergamo Rossi looks into one of his antique mirrors

Bergamo Rossi looks into one of his antique mirrors © James Mollison

A place I can’t wait to go back to is my little place in Croatia. It is a former nunnery on a small island across from Dubrovnik; It extends over two floors, each the size of a large room. It dates from 1484 and also has a chapel. When I found it everything had collapsed so I gave it new roofs, new floors, new everything inside – the chapel now has some nice old chandeliers back and a crucifix. But everything has remained very simple. A few of us have homes there, including architect Steven Harris and Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza. We are 5 foreigners and 200 locals and no cars. Whenever I have to finish a book, I go there. No distraction!

The best book I’ve read in the last year is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I had read it 30 years ago and it was nice to come back to it. I loved the imaginary dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo: it inspired me in my struggles against my city’s decay. I thought let’s get more articulate and inspired so I went back to Calvino. Also, I don’t have a TV. So at night – books.

A nautilus fossil and books on an Italian neoclassical table
A nautilus fossil and books on an Italian neoclassical table © James Mollison
The entrance hall of his house, with a wooden coat of arms (left) and a lantern of a Venetian galeo
The entrance hall of his house with a wooden coat of arms (left) and a Venetian Galeo lantern © James Mollison

My style icon is Paul Newman – especially when he was young. He had the most beautiful face in the world. Stars in the 1950s and ’60s were always classy with that preppy chic: It was a time when America was dressy. That’s 90 percent gone now.

The best gift I’ve given lately is the exhibition I just curated at the Ca’ d’Oro in Venice, From Donatello to Alessandro Vittoria 1450-1600: 150 years of sculpture in the Republic of Venice. I organized it with the support of Venetian Heritage: this work and history is very close to my heart. Otherwise, I like to give books – I recently gave an architect friend of mine a book with architectural drawings of Venice from the 18th century – or a good piece of cashmere.

You can always find it in my fridge very little. I’m not a good cook.

His 18th-century cast of the Borghese Hermaphroditus
His 18th-century cast of the Borghese Hermaphroditus © James Mollison
The main drawing room, his favorite room in his house

The main drawing room, his favorite room in his house © James Mollison

I have a collection of casts of sculptures. Some are ancient, others are by Antonio Canova. I have a cast of his Hebe statue – Bellissima! – and also the Borghese Hermaphroditus, the original of which is in the Louvre. Mine is an 18th century cast so the patina is beautiful. I love having sculpts lying around, but if I can’t own the originals, a nice cast doesn’t hurt.

His panama hats
His panama hats © James Mollison
Bergamo Rossi overlooking the Rio Marin

Bergamo Rossi overlooking the Rio Marin © James Mollison

I recently rediscovered Sex! No, seriously – I actually started psychotherapy again three years ago. I have a great doctor. We do it very “gently” – we don’t make joy anymore. Since last year I am a new person. I have to keep improving.

my favorite building is La Malcontenta, Villa Foscari. I love all those Palladian villas in Veneto – they are to die for – but La Malcontenta was renovated in 1924 by an amazing man, Albert Landsberg, who was stylistically the predecessor of Axel Vervoordt. He used coarse linen for his tables and had very little furniture. The owners have kept Bertie’s decoration and it remains timeless a century later.

The slippers from The Erose
The slippers from The Venice Venice Hotel shop, The Erose © James Mollison
His striped pants, bought from The Erose

His striped pants, bought at The Erose © James Mollison

The last clothes I added to my closet are some drawstring pants from The Erose, a shop in a new hotel called The Venice Venice. I got two pairs for the summer, one in white and blue stripes, the other in beige. The hotel’s owners are a couple who used to own the shoe and accessories brand Golden Goose: they bought and transformed a beautiful Byzantine palazzo that was abandoned and falling apart. There is a restaurant where you can have lunch or dinner and this shop too. Sestiere Cannaregio 5631, 30121 Venice

When I need to feel inspired, I just go for a walk and observe. It’s all there – you just have to take a closer look. And traveling inspires me too: I love going to Paris. I like staying with my friends Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière who have renovated the Hôtel de la Marine and also the Hôtel du Duc de Gesvres where they live. They have such passion for what they do – they are like me but in a different area. Whenever I go and stay with them, breakfast starts at 9am and lasts until 12 because we talk and talk and talk. And afterwards there’s a train of antique dealers coming with this or that…

My wellness guru, alongside my therapist, is my local public pool in the Giudecca – the Sacca Fisola. I love swimming and this pool is great: it has a big glass wall so you can see the lagoon outside.

toiletries in his bathroom

Toiletries in his bathroom © James Mollison

The care product I can never do without is the room spray Ernesto from Trudon – I use that for myself. I love that smell; I think it suits me. But otherwise I get up, take a shower, Basta.

Bergamo Rossi at home
Bergamo Rossi at home © James Mollison

My favorite room in my house is the yellow room, the main salon. It is yellow because the ceiling has frescoes painted by Tiepolo’s favorite assistant, Jacopo Guarana, depicting the Triumph of Flora – and the picture is framed by a yellow border. So I had the walls painted a Venetian yellow, very pale. The frescoes are just some of the frescoes I discovered when I bought the house. The place was in a terrible state – all the rooms were partitioned and the ceilings were covered with one faux plafond. And there was only one bathroom… a nightmare! I also restored the garden, which is a rarity in Venice – the city is so built up.

His silver dinner service

His silver dinner service © James Mollison

©James Mollison

The best advice I’ve ever received was “be consistent”. It was from my late godmother who was Unesco director for Venice and she trained me – she was like my second mother. Italians don’t know much about consistency, they don’t have the attitude towards it. So I made it my own to be more like the Anglo-Saxons. It’s a way of working – professional, but also focused and pragmatic. If it doesn’t work in a way? do it in another

A pleasure I would never do without is my glass of wine in the evening. I never drink it during the day, but by 9pm I’m like, “Ahhh – fuck everyone!” and I have some. I have a large glass for my red wine – half a bottle fits in there.

in another life, I would be the Pope! You live in the most beautiful place. But the Pope in Renaissance times – not now.

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