When it comes to couples famous for their seamless approach to style, the Agnellis stand out from even the most glamorous crowd. Known for their sublime standards and taste, Italian Fiat magnate Gianni and his wife Marella were and are, for many, their generation’s benchmark for immaculate living. Whether they were socializing in New York, hosting on boats in the Mediterranean or running the family empire from home in Italy, everything the Agnellis did, they did impeccably. Recently, Marella herself has published a book written in collaboration with her niece that draws the curtain back on that immaculate life. Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan is a story told through the various houses, yachts, gardens and apartments she has resided in around the world and a fascinating insight into the extraordinary results that can be achieved when one has that magical combination of an extremely cultivated eye, impeccable taste and access to the very, very best.
Born Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto and a Neopolitan Princess in Florence, Marella married Gianni Agnelli in 1953 and immediately gained access to the extraordinary way of living that being an Agnelli involved, describing the defining moment in her memoirs. Heading soon after her wedding to Paris from Turin by night train, she boarded her carriage to find that their butler Pasquale had already made up her cabin with monogrammed sheets and towels, her favorite soaps and creams and bunches of fresh flowers. From that moment on, together with Gianni, who died in 2003, Marella has lived a life dripping in fast cars, beautiful yachts, international travel and glamorous parties. More importantly, she has also lived one that displays a singular, individual and impeccable approach to style. As Capote’s “European swan numero uno,” she was widely thought of as the most elegant and cultured of that group, featuring on best-dressed lists all over the world.
It was, however, her own unique aesthetic approach that allowed Marella to create the extraordinary interiors shown in her book, be they found in Turin, Milan, Rome, Manhattan, Corsica, St Moritz, Marrakech or floating on the sea. Educated in Paris, she had studied drawing and theatre design and assisted the New York based photographer Erwin Bluemfeld before getting married. She contributed to Vogue in the 1950’s and 1960’s and has published books on her beloved gardens.
With an eye on the modern and a determination to lend her own aesthetic to the Italian grandeur that the Agnelli residences were steeped in, Marella has enlisted at various stages through her life the help of the very best designers, architects and landscapers of her time. At Villar Perosa, the family estate in the foothills of the Alps, Stéphane Boudin helped her concoct a home of impossibly grand, antique Chinese wallpaper festooned salons and sumptuous chintz filled bedrooms whilst the English gardener Russell Sage helped create it’s immaculate gardens. In Rome, she enlisted the help of Ward Bennett to create an apartment that was more an ode to modernism than a celebration of old world Italian splendor. And as they became avid contemporary art collectors, so the Agnellis designed residences to house their new collection including apartments in Milan and Manhattan that were a far cry from the Italian villas they had inherited.
Yet as fond of the pared back and proper and she was of the grand, Marella’s homes became as famous for their abundant vases of fresh flowers and her fondness for rattan and wicker furniture and locally bought Turin baskets as they were for their Matisses and Chinoiserie. Each one displays an approach as confident and cultivated as it was privileged and glamorous. It all came together to give a look that was an individual as it was ornate and display a sense of style that owes as much, if not more, to her aesthetic as it does to the rarefied world she inhabits.