The Portfolio

From Here To Paternity

We head to Italy to discover how six stylish fathers and their sons are redefining modern parenthood

It wasn’t so long ago that the father was seen as an emotionally distant figure, whose parental responsibilities were limited to a brief shaving lesson at 13 and an awkward handshake on graduation. Lately, though, that archetype is changing. At a time when 21st-century fathers are taking a more hands-on role in raising their sons, the forces of globalisation are conspiring to make it harder and harder for sons to take the traditional route and follow their fathers into the family business.

In Italy the notion of a family business still seems possible. (Read all about why There’s No Business Like Slow Business in this issue) and so, with Father’s Day fast approaching, MR PORTER took a trip to Italy – where family is traditionally at the heart of both work and home life – to take a look at the modern father-son relationship.

Speaking of Father’s Day (or the festa del papà), from 18 to 25 June, MR PORTER will be donating all profits from the sale of a selection of blue shirts to The Royal Marsden hospital in support of Father and Son Day, a charitable initiative set up by PR executive Mr Daniel Marks and creative director Mr Jack Dyson. Its twin goals are to offer emotional support for children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer and to fund a training programme in robotic surgery. You can find out more about the cause in Mr Marks’ exclusive interview with The Journal, here.

MESSRS LUCA (33) AND MARIANO (72) RUBINACCI

Messrs Mariano and Luca Rubinacci are the second and third generations of the Rubinacci tailoring house, which was founded in Naples in the 1930s by Mr Gennaro Rubinacci. Luca, whose full name is Mr Gennaro Luca Rubinacci, was named after his grandfather. He is Mariano’s fourth child and his first and only son.

Mariano, do you remember the day that your son was born?

M: Absolutely. I had a heart attack!

A real one? Or is that just a figure of speech?

M: A real one. It was such a shock – and a relief – to finally get a boy. My father was expecting one to carry on the family business. Later, though, once I was back home, I started to feel a pain in my chest. I called the doctor and he told me, “Don’t worry, but we’re going to have to take you in. You’ve just had a small heart attack.”

Luca, did you always want to follow in your father’s footsteps?

L: After I realised how hard he had to work to produce one son, it was the least I could do. But really, it was very easy to follow in my father’s footsteps because he does something that’s beautiful, that’s joyful. We make clothes. We dress people. What could be better than that?

Do you talk a lot?

M: Yes… about both the good and the bad. That’s life, though.

L: He talks about business. That’s his hobby. I’m very competitive – I really enjoy sport – so while he’s coming up with ideas, I’m getting inspired to achieve them. We push each other. We make a good team.

Luca, was your father a good teacher?

L: My father did teach me but he did it without telling me. He gave me freedom to do what I wanted to do; to make my own mistakes.

M: I think as a father you have to lead by example. You have to guide your children into a position where they feel obliged to do the right thing.

MESSRS LEONARDO (8) AND RICCARDO (49) FURLANI

Mr Riccardo Furlani works for Valentino as a store planning director. He and his wife, Ms Marina Piano, have been together for nearly 20 years and married for 15. They split their time between Milan and a second home in Miami. They have one child, Leonardo, who recently turned eight.

So, Leonardo is your first child…

…and he’ll be the only one, I think. Marina and I got married back in 2000, and when we thought it was the right moment to have a child, it turned out that things weren’t so easy. It was a miracle that we got Leo, but it took a little while. We were 41 when he was born.

Were you hoping for a son?

Gender didn’t matter. We just wanted to have someone in our life. Both Marina and I are very passionate about life and I think that having a child was the perfect expression of that.

How did it change you?

Not that much to begin with, but I’d say that life is changing now. Now that Leo’s older, it’s possible to have a meaningful discussion with him and find out who he really is and what he really wants. And I definitely feel more engaged and more responsible.

Do you talk a lot?

Sometimes. I’ll have a discussion with Leo and simultaneously be thinking, “Wow. I never spoke about this with my father.” But then the world is changing and we have to evolve to keep up with it.

What about the relationship with your own father?

It was always a little more conservative, a little more traditional. But even that relationship is evolving. Ten days ago, he visited me in Miami for his 76th birthday. We spent three days together and did so many things I never thought we’d do.

Why has he changed?

When you get older, you can either go back to your own childhood and become more conservative, or you can use the energy of the younger generations to evolve. And I think that’s what is happening with my father. I even saw a little bit of Leo in him that weekend.

MESSRS CHRISTIAN (17), ENRICO (50) AND ROBERTO (15) ERBA SPRINGORUM

Mr Enrico Erba Springorum is a key client manager for a luxury lifestyle brand. He is married to PR executive Ms Noona Smith-Petersen, with whom he has two children, Christian, 17, and Roberto, nearly 16. Their sons were born just 17 months apart.

Did you always want to have children?

Not until I reached an age, around 30, when becoming a father seemed a natural answer to these big questions. You’re travelling, having fun, having sex and you enjoy your job, but, what? Where’s it all going? Fatherhood answered those questions. I’m also lucky to come from a very happy family environment, so deep down, before I even thought of becoming a father, I liked the idea of it.

How did it change you?

Hugely. There’s a definite before and after. It’s two different phases of life… the first one is great but the second one I find more fulfilling. Being a father is about unconditional love, which is a wonderful kind of love. It’s about giving. And when you can understand that, it’s so rewarding.

Do you find fatherhood challenging?

You have to be dynamic because your role changes every day. It starts with a little creature who is entirely dependent on you and ends with a fully grown, independent man. You have to be able to adapt and know when to let go.

Is letting go the most difficult part?

Yes – it’s that balance between freedom and control that causes the typical tension between fathers and sons. The father thinks his son is still a kid and the son thinks he’s a grown-up.

What did your own father teach you about parenthood?

He wasn’t afraid of being strict and I’ve realised since becoming a father that it’s not easy to be strict. It takes so much energy and consistency. But it’s very important, because kids need boundaries. I’m pleased with the job that my father did. I consider myself a very happy person – and happiness, ultimately, is on what we should judge our fathers.

Do you feel that your kids can talk to you about anything?

I hope so. I try as much as I can to keep them in an environment where they feel comfortable sharing. On the other hand, I understand that a sphere of privacy has to exist. I will never spy on them, I will never check their computer and I will never go through their pockets. But the more they tell me, the happier I am.

MESSRS MASSIMO (55) AND NICOLÒ (10) ALBA

Mr Massimo Alba is a veteran designer and creative director who has worked at cashmere brands Agnona, Ballantyne and Malo, to name a few. He launched his eponymous brand in 2006, shortly after the birth of his first and only son, Nicolò, who turns 11 later this month.

Was it ever in your plans to become a father?

Before I met Marie, my wife, it was never something I thought about. I realised it as soon as I met her, though. Nicolò is a true love story.

Did you have a strong bond with your own father?

My father was a good man, a happy man. But I was closer to my mother. She was the one who taught me how to be an adult. She was the most important woman I’ve ever met and I was there with her right until the very end. That was important for me… she taught me how to live and how to die.

Did this change your approach to parenthood?

I definitely became a lot more responsible. And not just of Nicolò. It was around this time that I launched my company and I started to sense a great feeling of responsibility for the people I work with, too.

Do you allow your son a lot of freedom?

I do. As a father you have a part to play but you must respect your son’s individuality. This is part of the beauty of becoming a father: you have the chance to see but not touch. Hopefully Nicolò will have the chance to become everything he wants to be, and I’ll be here, watching. It’s like a very beautiful movie – but the story is something he has to write.

What do you try to teach Nicolò?

The importance of other people. I try to teach him to respect those who are different. One thing I hope he learns from me is how important it is to do something that he loves, and to find meaning and purpose in that.

MESSRS FILIPPO (14), PIETRO (56) AND GIORGIO (18) MICHELETTI

Mr Pietro Micheletti is a dentist. He comes from a medical background as the son of a well-regarded gynecologist. He has two sons, Giorgio, 18, and Filippo, 14, with his half-German, half-Spanish wife, Ms Silvia Hofmann.

Do you expect your sons to follow in your footsteps?

No, not at all. Filippo intends to study economics in London and Giorgio is about to start a new life in LA, where he wants to study film. I’d never expect my sons to take my job if they didn’t want it.

How do you feel about Giorgio going to LA? Is it hard to let go?

It means I’ll see a lot less of him. But if you really love your kids, you should allow them the freedom to follow their dreams – even if that means not seeing them for months at a time. And I’m very proud of how decisive he has been.

What lessons have you tried to teach your sons?

To follow their passions. Not to be afraid to say what they think. And to remember that it’s better to have a few true friends than a lot of fake friends.

Do you feel that they can talk to you?

Giorgio is a very private person – he spends a lot of time working on his music. If I try to talk to him about girls, he changes the subject. But Filippo is a little more open.

What do you do to bond with your sons?

We often take a weekend away. I find that there are too many distractions in Milan; it’s difficult to get their full attention. So we travel a lot – Venice, Amsterdam, California – without their mobile phones constantly going off and we actually get to enjoy each other’s company. Travel is very important for us.