How Mr Fabrizio Casiraghi Lives Like A Local In Paris
Earlier this month, 10 of France’s most celebrated writers gathered in a private dining room at Drouant, a historic brasserie in the heart of Paris, to select the winner of the 2019 Prix Goncourt, the nation’s most prestigious literary prize. The choice of venue was hardly a surprise – the literary organisation Académie Goncourt has been congregating at Drouant for more than a century. The restaurant is such a part of its traditions that members are even referred to by their designated places at the dining table.
Nevertheless, on walking into the restaurant on the morning of the ceremony, les 10 couverts (the 10 covers) would have been forgiven for not recognising their surroundings. Gone were the tired beige walls and 1990s-era black leather banquettes. In their place were dark wooden panels and elegant chairs upholstered in roughly textured golden velvet. All that remained of the old Drouant was its famous wrought-iron staircase, installed in 1924 by one of the leading figures of the Art Deco movement, Mr Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann.
“That was my point de départ,” says Mr Fabrizio Casiraghi, the interior designer responsible for Drouant’s recent transformation. “As soon as I saw that staircase, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.” This immediate clarity of vision was just as well, because the project’s pressing deadline left little room for indecision. “We had the time from last year’s Prix Goncourt to this one to get it done,” he says. “We had to be absolutely ready for the ceremony on 4 November. So, we opened for one day, then closed again in order to apply the finishing touches.”
“As an outsider, I feel I have a clearer perspective on what French style is”
The completion of the restaurant (just three weeks ago) marks a major professional milestone for Mr Casiraghi, who considers it a great honour as an Italian to have been chosen to redesign a French institution as beloved as Drouant. He also acknowledges, however, that his lack of Frenchness may just have acted in his favour. “As an outsider, I feel I have a clearer perspective on what French style is,” he says. Born in Milan to a family known for its connections to Italian royalty and high society, Mr Casiraghi reaped the benefits of a worldly education, travelling often with his parents and developing an aesthetic sensibility rooted in an old-world, European kind of elegance. “I dislike anything shiny, bling-bling or ostentatious,” he says. “Anything that exists to show wealth. I prefer an understated kind of chic.”
After completing a degree in architecture and urban planning at Politecnico di Milano and spending a year in Paris at the atelier of French starchitect Mr Dominique Perrault, he returned to Milan and took up a position at Fondo Ambiente Italiano, a foundation responsible for the maintenance and restoration of historic Italian properties. It was there, he says, that he first fell in love with interior design. “It was a revelatory experience for me, coming from an architectural background. There I learned about colour, about atmosphere, about light. I learned how to mix.” This was followed by a job at one of Milan’s most famous interior design agencies, Dimore Studio, where he further honed his craft before eventually setting up his own studio in 2015.
He decided to establish his practice in Paris for a number of reasons, both personal and professional. “It was an easy choice to make,” he says. “I love Paris. I come from a Francophile family and I grew up with romantic notions of the country and the city. It’s a good compromise between a big hectic city, such as London or New York, but with a Latin atmosphere. The way of life here feels very much like that in Milan.” As an interior designer, was he seduced by the city’s iconic Haussmannian apartments? Not at all. He lives in an artist’s atelier with 4m-high ceilings and a glass façade. “People think of Paris and they picture the parquet floors, marble fireplaces and gilded mirrors,” he says. “I love the other side of the city, too.”
Mr Casiraghi’s Paris
“Drouant is one of the great dining institutions in Paris. I didn’t want a stereotypical brasserie. I wanted it to have a sense of place. When I first arrived, it looked stuck in the 1990s. Lots of leather and neutrals. It wasn’t at all unique. It felt like the kind of place you often find outside Paris. Quite bourgeois. I tried to bring in colour and texture. I love the rough velvet of the upholstery because it already looks old. I don’t like things that feel too new. There are elements here that I’ve used before; the alabaster lights, for example. I have certain codes in my work. It’s less a signature, more a sensibility.”
“Galignani is an eclectic place. It’s another French institution – the very first English bookshop in Paris – but it was founded by an Italian. It’s the city’s number-one bookstore for decorative arts and interior design. They don’t just have the must-haves, the reference books by Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé, or all the most influential architects of the last century. They also have other books that you won’t find in other bookstores. Just today, during the shoot, I found two books that I really wanted to buy. This city has a wonderful literary scene. There are bookstores everywhere. You might find independent bookstores like this in London or New York, but they tend to be a little more hipster and sell a lot of magazines. Only in Paris do you feel this extreme passion for literature. Everyone is always reading a book. People are very well informed.”
Esplanade Des Invalides
“The only thing I miss in Paris is the feeling of being close to nature. In London, you can be in Hyde Park and feel as if you’re in the countryside. Here, you have to leave the centre to experience that. Place de la Concorde, Place Vendôme… these places are beautiful, but there’s not a lot of green. I love coming to l’Esplanade des Invalides because it’s the only place in the centre that has this open-air feel. You have lots of trees and this very long perspective, an uninterrupted view all the way across the bridge to the Hôtel des Invalides. It’s a very calm neighbourhood, very quiet. I like to come here in summer and enjoy breakfast at Café de l’Esplanade. You can sit outside, have a coffee, and you’re not on some busy narrow street. Café culture is one Parisian stereotype that’s absolutely true.”
Mr Fabrizio Casiraghi is represented by Desselle Partners, Paris