Fairytales in the Fog
I’ll never forget my first summer in Milano, the last summer before I’d graduate. Never doubting I’d move up north after college, Milano was the New York of Italia after all. I rented a room near Le Colonne. Neighbourhood of the cool kids, not far from Naviglio, not far from il centro. My roomies were Swedish beauties who’d been studying at IED. Michaela’s Israeli mix graced her with porcelain textured mocha skin and Penny’s crystal sea blue eyes could light up the greyest of fogs. Although viewed by many, the ugliest of Italian cities, it felt like home the moment I stepped off the tram. The girls brought me into their circle of friends and that summer we defined living. The parties, the people, the discotecs, the art and history that surrounded. Milano was alive. I decided to look for a summer job in retail. I wanted to work for a company that also provided the joy of being a customer and understanding how luxury brands did retail was important. I spent a sunny Monday morning strolling down Via Montenapoleone, Via Gesú, an ice cream break in Piazza della Scala, finishing the day with a spritz in Parco Sempione. You had to look up, and around, but Milano was beautiful. The tinted view through my Ray Bans couldn’t compete with the vibrant colours that burned in the summer heat.
Within a week of leaving my printed CV at every one of my favourite boutiques, I received a call from Carlo Cova at Prada. Despite having two semesters left at Polimoda, they were interested and wanted me to meet with the Human Resources director. Stefano Rastrelli and I met at a quant bar in Via Manzoni. I enjoyed those bars right on the side walk. Many cappuccino breakfast mornings I’d spent reading the paper there. People passing dressed as though they cared. It wasn’t about showing off, at least not to my perception, but rather a reflection of self confidence. That bella figura culture — nothing quite compares. He was taller than me, hairless, smooth, shaven, and impeccably elegant. It wasn’t just the superbly cut suit he wore or the perfectly polished tie clip. It was the way he carried himself, a true gentleman. I wore an eggshell silk treated long blouse, untucked and crocodile belted with a silk striped, muted emerald green and cipria embroidered skirt — all Prada — and patent leather caramel coloured Miu Miu four inch pumps. He pulled out my chair and introduced himself with a warm smile. Still one of the best interview experiences of my life. Stefano had a way of making one feel comfortable, open, honest, and real. Prada was about cultivating a family. They wanted people to want to work there forever. They’d reviewed my skills and by the end of that meeting he’d gotten to know me, and believed I’d be a wonderful edition to the team.
Back then, the visual department at Prada was headed by la Signora Miuccia herself and la Signora Manuela Pavesi. It was indeed a very important branch, one full of creative projects. I’d heard they were best friends and found that most inspiring. How working together created such beautiful mastery, was an example of what women could accomplish collectively. As I finished my cigarette, long after the second espresso we took a walk down Via della Spiga. There she was, la Signora Pavesi. An embroidered navy dress, a silk emerald green embroidered headband with jewel toned royal purple raso platforms. We stopped to say hello and make introductions. Her eyes sparkled with a smile that carried a slight smirk, it was warm and sincere all at the same time. She asked my zodiac sign and smiled even bigger, ‘it was a pleasure’ she said, and returned to her team. I’d been approved. The next day I was asked to meet with Carlo and Cinzia Labbrozzi from HR. They were ready to offer me a junior position on the visual team in Milano. Everything about my time with Mr. Rastrelli reconfirmed my love for the brand. What a difference I thought that made in the way the company itself thrived. The offered salary was generous, the perks even more so. At Prada they wanted their employees to be their most loyal customers. Quite genius, I’ve always thought. When you build a team and nurture them, give them the opportunity to grow, allow them to succeed, you get a group of persons that will surely stay by your side.
Of course every company has its nightmare stories, scandals, persons who were disrespected and treated unfairly. This is everywhere unfortunately; thus our work continues. If we’re all human, if we’re all equal, then we must be conscious of no one humans ability to get it right, every time, all the time. It was an offer I would have never refused had I already finished university. I wasn’t going to leave my education unfinished, so they offered me an interim position at the store in Firenze. Headquarters of the esteemed Anna Falabella. She was tough, and had her reasons for being so — I really respected her, we all did. Effortless sophistication, she was the ultimate Prada woman, a cultivated beauty. Confident, a bit guarded, yet vulnerable and nurturing when you least expected. I learned a lot from her and everyone in that beautiful boutique.
As fate would have it, in the end, I chose Vogue. Shortly after making that decision I’d meet la Signora once again, this time as photographer. We’d be shooting Aurora’s editorial for Vogue Nippon at Signora Pavesi’s property a foggy winter day in Mantova. I wondered if she’d remember me, if she’d say anything at all about my decision. I went back and forth on wether it’d be appropriate for me to bring it up. The villa took my breath away. A burnt bordeaux-ish tone of brick and stone. Majestic it sat as she came to greet us with Caio, her black Labrador, and a full teeth smile that warmed the cool tones of grey in the air. Villa Zani was being renovated, still under construction. She was taking it one room at a time, wanting to make each space unique. Inside the room we’d be shooting Kinga Rajzak, the antique furniture smelled of flowers and spice. More jewel tones filled my visual palate. The shoot went along, the photos absolutely divine. At a certain point she pulled me over to the jewellery table asking from whom each were. Before walking away, she leaned in to admire a ring, then shot her eyes right up at me. Smiled and asked allora, come stai?. I understood, her stare, that smirky smile and a wink. She squeezed my hand — bene, ti vedo bene — and turned to answer the call of her husband walking through the unfinished deep royal blue doorway with walnut stained framing. She jumped into his arms, they kissed and spoke softly to one another, laughing. As much as I’d admired her career, all she’d accomplished, her style, her creative mind, there she was, giggling with the man she loved, camera in hand, dog at foot. It was fascinating, a fairytale in real life. Even more so, she knew exactly who I was. That made me feel special, seen, worthy of being remembered.
Many years later back at Prada, we’d meet properly in her office. I’d left Vogue full time, moved to Sweden for nearly a year, creating new memories with Penny, who still remains a dear friend, and was back in Italia trying to decide what I’d do next. Anna Dello Russo never wanted me to leave in the first place and assured I’d have a job should I change my mind. My ego wasn’t ready to admit she was right. I admired and respected her and Sissy too much not prove to them what their investment on me could give back to our industry, to other women. However, I’d seen too much, traveled too often; the idea of being back at Prada in a moment when visual departments were going in a numbers, excel spread sheet only direction, left me unsure if that would be the right decision either. As we chatted about the role, art and photography, she eventually looked at me and said — Kisha, I see you, I know this won’t be for you. You are too creative, too wild at heart. There is something that visual media gives you this job never will. I cannot let you make this mistake, which ultimately would be a mistake for me. I’d loose a valued team member sooner than later. Follow your heart my dear, it will never steer you wrong. You were meant for other things — She was right, she knew before I was capable of understanding it for myself. I suppose that’s precisely how wisdom works. You can plan, but life has its own agenda. I think about la Signora Manuela Pavesi often, how she’d impacted my life in a way even she herself perhaps didn’t realise. I wonder what she’d have to say now, if she’d be proud, if she’d still approve.