Julie Adams (a fashion photographer) and Emma Scott (a writer and designer) have a shared love of Italy. And so together they bring to you beautiful, heartfelt, inspiring and often unexpected stories from people all around the world, and their 'affair with Italy'.
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To celebrate the launch of Silvia Colloca's cookbook, Silvia's Cucina, we have one signed copy to give away. For your chance to win post up on our Facebook page your own favourite Italian recipe and let us know why it's so special to you. Winner will be announced on 14.10.2013.
|Jan 2012||Annie||Melbourne, Aus|
|Feb 2012||Mel||Sydney, Aus|
|Mar 2012||Abigail||London, UK|
|Apr 2012||Michael||Dhaka, Bangladesh|
|May 2012||Suzi||Melbourne, Aus|
|June 2012||Christel||Tweed Heads, Aus|
|July 2012||Linda||Chicago, USA|
|Aug 2012||Amanda||Melbourne, Aus|
|Sept 2012||Paddy||Melbourne, Aus|
|Oct 2012||Mary||Ipswich, Aus|
|Nov 2012||Shelley||Preston, UK|
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Pop Up Dining
Join An Affair with Italy and some of the best chefs from around the world for a unique dining experience – superb food and wine, all set in one-off secret locations.
Latest dinner: On Friday evening February 22nd, An Affair with Italy guests arrived at the secret location - diamond and luxury jewellery house, Cerrone - to be greeted by Nick and Carmela Cerrone and their wonderful staff. Guests were invited to explore the stunning showroom and choose a piece of jewellery to wear for the evening. The excitement was contagious; the evening began with a brilliant energy.
To find out more about the dinner, the incredible meal served by Stefano Manfredi and to see photos of the night go to Manfredi Pop Up Dining Experience.
Designer of the MonthCarla Zampatti Click to read about
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About Sue Townsend
- Originally from the English countryside, I now call Florence my home.
- After finishing school, I went to the South of France for a short time before moving to London.
- When I arrived in London, I got a job at a greetings card company off the back of the Times newspaper.
- I currently live with seven dogs and two cats.
- I was one of the founders of international brand, Crabtree & Evelyn.
- After selling my shares, I then worked on various projects including for JP Rothschild and The Prince of Wales.
- I founded Italian soap and scent company, Ortigia, Sicily in 2006.
- The name Ortigia comes from one of the oldest sections of Syracuse, it was the greatest city in the Greek empire.
'I think in life you always think one more time. Everytime I go to sell my car I say, 'oh I will just buy an ordinary car, not a fast car anymore because I am too old', but it never seems to happen, I like the fast car.'
The time is exactly 4.26pm. Julie and I have just arrived back to our quaint little apartment opposite the Sant’Ambrogio markets, in one of the oldest parts of Florence. Having spent the morning in Rome, we had meticulously planned the day to ensure we had just enough time to arrive back into Florence by train, drop into our apartment and collect a few necessities, and hail a taxi before arriving at the home of Sue Townsend at 4.55pm for our 5.00pm interview. However, at 4.27pm disaster struck. I placed the key into the front door of our apartment, went to turn it and ‘snap’, it quite simply broke in two. My face turned ashen as I turned to Julie to explain our newly found predicament.
Now before I go on any further, I need to give you some context around the importance of this impending interview. Sue Townsend, unbeknownst to her, had thunderbolted into my world 2-3 years earlier when I had been travelling through Florence. I was strolling along the very famous Borgo S. Jacopo, that runs aside the river Arno, when I was struck by the most exquisite store front – Italian soap and scent company, Ortigia. A wonderful warm glow emanated from the store, contrasting remarkably with the front door detail – a black silhouette of an enormous, stylised palm tree. An array of brightly coloured boxes, exotic patterns and tantalising Mediterranean smells beckoned me to enter. I am so passionate about design and brand, and to me, this brand was genius – a subtle mix of strength, beauty and luxury. So here began my love affair with Ortigia and my fascination with the English woman who founded the brand – Sue Townsend. Julie and I had heard that Sue was notoriously media shy, in fact we were told she never agrees to be interviewed. We tried various connections to reach Sue, with no luck. Finally, Julie rang the London Sloane Square store and somehow managed to charm the manager into giving her Sue’s personal email address. Julie then wrote to Sue with our request, and to our surprise, Sue wrote back with a ‘yes’!
Fast-forward to the present, here we are locked out of our apartment with exactly 33 minutes to spare, in jeopardy of missing this interview. Julie went into efficiency mode and although claims not to speak Italian somehow managed to call an Italian locksmith, express the urgency of the situation, convince them to arrive in the next 15 minutes, and get us safely back into the apartment and on track for our interview; a minor miracle wouldn’t you agree?
We arrive, only 7 minutes late. Now this would probably be OK if we were meeting Italians, (we have discovered that most Italians are quite casual when it comes to time). However, Sue is English, so therefore I was nervous about our tardiness.
We ring the doorbell. Thunderous noise.
The door opens to a petite blonde woman with an enormously cheeky grin, dressed head to toe in pink and purple Prada, mulberry Prada wedges and a stunning fuschia silk scarf. My nerves evaporate. She is surrounded by a menagerie of misfits, equally grinning – her beloved dogs (seven in total).
Sue: “Oh don’t mind them, they won’t hurt you. I rescued them all from the roadside in Sicily you know. I can’t bare to go to Sicily because of it. There are thousands of homeless dogs there, it’s so sad but I can’t fit anymore in my apartment!”
Sue ushers us into her home, which is really rather grand. It sits right on the river Arno with exquisite views. Antiques and precious things line the sills and bookshelves, beautifully ornate period rugs warm the original terracotta tiled floors and the room in which we settle has a considerable, finely engraved tile fireplace. So many rooms all interconnected and interwoven. As a child I would have loved to explore this apartment, finding secret doors and hiding spots.
We sit down with a cup of tea, two cats wander in, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
I ask Sue: “You were one of the original founders of Crabtree & Evelyn, a global success story, how did this brand come about?”
Sue: I grew up in the English countryside in the 60s with my parents and two older sisters. I was dying to get to London. My parents went to live in Africa when I was about 15, leaving me at boarding school. When I graduated I went to the South of France for a short time and then came to London when I was about 20.”
Sue tells me that when she arrived in London, she got a job off the back of the Times newspaper. In those days there was a section for sort of strange jobs, called Girl Friday. She found a job at a greetings card company.
Sue: “I didn’t have any qualifications. I couldn’t type but in the ad it said must drive and I could drive. I had to go out and take the order for these cards which were pop art, come back and pack the order, take the invoice and deliver it. It was the 70s and London was extremely wild at the time, I was wild.”
“What kind of things did you get up to?” I ask.
Sue: “Well you know this and that, all sorts of things really”, she cagely confesses with a huge grin.
Sue is engaging and warm. You can’t help but be drawn in. She is humorous, lively and there is a hint of naughtiness in everything she says. She has a wonderful aristocratic English accent but is in no way stuffy. In fact, for all her eccentricity she is refreshingly down-to-earth. Everything she says is infused with a ‘I don’t take myself too seriously’ tone.
Sue: “I drove to a trade fair in Frankfurt, through the snow in my minivan with the cards. I was 21. I had changed the design of the cards. The ones they had didn’t sell so I found some old books that my grandparents had given me, used these as inspiration and got into contact with an artist called Arthur Rackens and we started making different cards.”
Sue: “I met an American man, Cyrus Harvey, who wanted to buy the cards for the American market. He was a wholesaler who also bought glycerin soap from a family firm in Switzerland, along with some other items in France. I said to him: ‘This soap is wonderful but the boxes are dreadful.’ We then started a company called Crabtree & Evelyn. There were 3 of us. Myself, Cy and Peter Windett a designer. We made an English company, but we did it for America. Cy had been an entrepreneur but he wasn’t an average American. He married a French woman and spoke perfect French. He was a Eurofile really. We started this company and it just grew and grew and grew. It was marvellous. We were all in different places. Cy was in America, Peter and I were in England. Cy and I would invent the products and Peter would do the design. I sort of ran the rest of the world and Cy ran America. That’s how we divided it.”
“Why do you think the brand was so successful,” I ask?
Sue: “Well, Cyrus was really no nonsense but not stuffy, such a great entrepreneur with a huge amount of energy. When I used to complain that the sales people got too much he would look at me and say ‘honey these people are making you rich, look after them’. We really did it for America, and then the Americans kept coming to England to look for the original, so we thought we had better open a store. We opened in Church St, Kensington in 1980. That was our first English store.”
Sue: “I used to live with the designer, Peter, (which was an added complication). I had the ideas and he would translate them. He and I fought like cat and dog. He would do me a rough sketch and I would say ‘yeah yeah just like that’ and then he would get some artist to draw it and I would say, ‘I like the rough sketch better’. Eventually I left him. I still remember when we split up Peter saying to me ‘nothing was ever good enough for you’. I wanted to go and live with someone else, so I did. It didn’t work out of course but life’s like that. So I left them all to it. Also the company had become enormous and it wasn’t any fun anymore. It was the hardest work I ever did. I just felt tired and I thought it had become too corporate. It sort of lost it’s charm. So I sold my shares back to them and they sold it a few years later to Indonesians. That was it.”
Sue tells me that after that she did all sorts of different things. She was tired of being labelled the ‘Crabtree & Evelyn person’. She felt people expected her to be that person and if she wasn’t then she was nothing at all. She didn’t really want to have her own company again. She ran some private projects for JP Rothschild for awhile, and then as she was rather a friend of The Prince of Wales, she helped him with his gardens and shop at Highgrove and worked on the Dutchy brand.
Sue: “The Dutchy brand was for a charity and I ran it very very tightly. No one could be paid because we were a charity and I had it like this. We made huge amounts of profit. Eventually I thought, ‘here I am I have done my bit for charity and now I want to go and live in Italy.’ I have always come to Florence and loved it, and my Aunt used to live here. I had lived in Nottinghill Gate in the same house for 23 years and I thought, ‘enough’. I must try something else now. I rented a very pretty little place with a garden in Florence just while I tried to learn Italian and then a wonderful woman by the name of Princess Georgiana Corsini (part of the very grand Corsini family in Florence), offered me half of her huge palazzo with a 6 acre garden. She said ‘why don’t you come and live with us.’ And at that point I thought OK but I must bring the furniture and my English dogs. So I sold my house in Nottinghill Gate and went to live in the Palazzo Corsini. I stayed there for about 6 years and got to know everybody in Florence. I always think it is rather pathetic of me to live in Florence. I should live in Rome or Naples which I particularly adore but they are both very big cities and if you live there it is like living in London really. Here I have a bike, I have a house at the sea which is nearby and in an odd way in middle age it is quite nice to have lots of friends around; friends who you can walk to for supper. So I made my life here but of course I travel a lot with Oritigia, I am always running around everywhere.”
“You said after leaving Crabtree & Evelyn you didn’t ever want to have another company, so what made you open Ortigia?”, I ask.
Sue: “I was bored. I had nothing to do. I remember the moment when I was sitting in Ortigia, Sicily and just thought OK one more time. I think in life you always think one more time. Everytime I go to sell my car I say 'oh I will just buy an ordinary car, not a fast car anymore because I am too old', but it never seems to happen, I like the fast car.”
Sue: “This time around I’ve come up with all the ideas and designs myself. I spend my life in museums, in junk shops, with books and get inspired. I did ask lots of friends for their advice but at the end of the day I sort of had to do it myself.”
I comment on how beautiful the packaging is.
Sue: “Thank you but I have made lots of mistakes. Some Swiss man used to come to our trade stand and say, ‘I do not understand, there is nothing cohesive about the design, this one has this bit bigger than that one.’ The man who works things up on the computer for me is Italian and he has no way of keeping things consistent. I say, ‘Daniel isn’t that bigger than the last one?’, well of course I don’t see very well, and he says, ‘more or less’. And I say, ‘Daniel think of the man in Switzerland!’ So it’s always a little bit haphazard. Just before you came I said to my team ‘we have to print the lavender hand cream.’ And Giovanna said, ‘which colour are we printing now? It started pale mauve, then it went darker, then we took out the black, then we went to white.’ We’re always on version 15 and no one can remember which was the last. I blame everyone else for changing it! (They are very long suffering.) So that’s how I do it truly.”
I ask Sue, “what’s the most challenging part of running your business?”
Sue: “Having an Italian company of course. Nothing else could be worse than that! It’s just the bureaucracy. I was coming home from the airport recently and Francesca, my commercial leasor, who deals with things by throwing you the problem (which is quite Italian), and being rather English I sort of throw it right back at her rather abruptly, called me to say that one of our sites we sell to has gone broke. They owed us 9000 euros, to me a complete fortune. We couldn’t even claim back the VAT, which we had paid 21% of, because they hadn’t filed the bankruptcy papers. The owners had done nothing at all, which again is very Italian. I said ‘no, I am not having it. Either they give us back the VAT or they have to file these papers.’ ‘Come on’, I said to Francesca. So then we had to hire a lawyer, pay him 1000 euros. We’re not allowed to go to court on our own you see. This fellow rang Francesca to say that he needed me to drive over to sign something. And I said, “I have a Swiss company. I run my entire Swiss company and I barely ever need to go to Switzerland. Everything works perfectly, while in Italy this man wants me to drive all across Florence to some place called the Via Venezia to sign something.’ So I got on the phone, I was frightfully cross (I had the flu) and I said ‘no no non possible, basta.’
“And he said ‘Signora, the legislation in Italy is very strict you have to do this and that.'"
“I said ‘not interested’. I said, ‘I won’t do it’ and slammed down the phone. Now since I had been so rude to this man I thought I should immediately ring him back and apologise but I managed not to. I waited until the next afternoon and rang him meakly and he said to me ‘I was just trying to ring you Signora, don’t worry I managed to do it all without you’.”
“Anyway, that’s how they are. So it’s very very difficult and you have to be tenacious and retain your sense of humour, but that’s what I love about the Italians also. They are so unconventional, so free-spirited. They don’t abide by the law. It has it’s upside and downside. But it goes both ways.”
I ask Sue about the future.
Sue: “I of course want to grow the brand, but very slowly and this time I am not going to sell. I am going to keep it.” She shrugs. “What would I do with myself if I sold it. I would have to start something all over again.”
Sue’s very dear friend, Ernesto Signorelli, who owns an olive estate and supplies her with Sicilan olive oil for the brand, has just arrived. Together the four of us chat idly, (dogs, cats and all) and then wander up to the terrace to sip Aperol Spritz as the sun sinks over Florence. Ernesto leans over to me and whispers, you know that nobody gets to interview Sue, you are very lucky ladies. I give Julie a knowing look. Yes we are.
Sue's Italian tips:
1. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TIME OF YEAR IN FLORENCE AND WHY?
March, April & May, all the early part of the year is marvellous... Spring is a riot of colour... by March the Camaelia and fruit trees are past & the magnolia blossom... leads very quickly to roses everywhere... just above where I live is the Rose Garden... half way up the path to San Minato... the oldest most beautiful church... where we often take some drinks and sit on the grass for an aperitivo and watch the sun set on the Arno river.
2. WHERE IS THE PERFECT SPOT TO MEET FRIENDS FOR AN APERITIVO (APART FROM YOUR INCREDIBLE TERRACE!!)...?
So many places. Procacci on via Tornabuoni... where they specialise in tiny truffle rolls... washed down with Antinori Prosecco... The Loggia of new little B&B in Santa Spirito.
3. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE LOCAL RESTAURANT/TRATTORIA?
A) Cammillo near my shop in Borgo San Jacappo.
B) La Vecchia Bettola... Cibreo BAR unlike a restaurant... is the same food but much better atmosphere and price.
C) Best of all for authenticity; Sostanza in via Porcellana.. where you share long marble tables... they cook the Bistecca alla Fiorentina... on charcoal at the back. It's been in the same hands for such a long time... completely un-pretentious... famous to the locals... menu NEVER changes... specialities Tortino Carciofi - a sort of Fritatta & Chicken in butter.
D) Also, Lola, although no name outside, is very good and cheap and fun... Lola, via della Caldaia Oltrano.
4. DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR AREA IN FLORENCE THAT YOU LOVE TO TAKE A PASSEGGIATA?
A) North of Duomo around Four Seasons Hotel... lots of old gardens & museums.
B) The area around Santa Spirito on the Oltrano... has the small shops with Artisans still making interesting pieces with jewels & leather... all the best of Italian craftsman... my shop is on this side.
C) Best of all, the Boboli Gardens... go in by Palazzo Pitti... walk up the hill and see the Ceramic Museum & Fortessa... best view of Florence.. leave by top gate and go slowly back down to the river in Giardini Bardini... Bliss!
5. FLORENCE IS FULL OF WONDERFUL SHOPS, CAN YOU SHARE WITH US A FEW OF YOUR FAVOURITES?
A) Food – Pegna... near Duomo.
B) Gelateria della Passera... Ice Cream from daily fresh fruit... in Piazza della Passera.
C) Ermano Schervino... via Rondinelli... VERY stylish fashion... jeans to lace... very pacy.
D) Angela Caputi... really great modern jewellery.
6. WHERE DO YOU LOVE ESCAPING TO IN THE SUMMER? CAN YOU SUGGEST SOMEWHERE TO STAY?
A) Forte dei Marmi good for seaside fashion set... up-market beach life AND shopping... VERY good fun.
B) Venice – Cipriani at Torcello... not the very smart hotel in Venice... same family... but further out on the island of Torcello on the lagoon... heavenly place... wonderful food and beauty... only six very simple rooms.
C) Bellagio – Hotel Serbelloni, an old fashioned 5 star hotel on Lake Garda... best location, best views, very chic and marvellous service.
D) Napoli – Hotel Vesuvio, go in Spring & Autumn.. .on the Lunonare... looking at Vesuvius & Capri... old fashioned 4 star... take the suite with terrace and dinner inclusive rate... charming staff... they serve a perfect dinner on top floor terrace... one of the wonders of Italy.
E) Cortina - Aguila, a small charming hotel in middle of the prettiest town in Dolomites... skiing and summer. Cortina is chic, beautiful and fun all year.