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From haute couture to landscapes, the multiple vocations of Federico Forquet as seen by Hamish Bowles

Fashion designer, interior decorator, landscape designer and collector, Federico Forquet, still active at 89, is not very well known to the general public. The World of Federico Forquet, a richly illustrated book by journalist and fashion historian Hamish Bowles with the help of photographer Guido Taroni, sheds light on the multiple talents of this fascinating designer, while tracing a part of the societal history of post-war Italy and its dolce vita.

After seventy-five years of a long and rich career that led him to found a couture workshop under his own name before using his talent to design gardens, Federico Forquet is a man who does not regret any of his creations, whether they be dresses or green compositions. Following his inspiration, nourished by a classical refinement mixed with a Mediterranean exuberance, and never ceasing to enrich his unique know-how developed in contact with the greatest, Federico Forquet has demonstrated a perfect ease in the different fields in which he has invested himself.

It was during a stay in Marrakech at Marella Agnelli’s villa that Hamish Bowles met Federico Forquet. Fascinated by the designer’s creations that marked the fashion of the 1960s despite his short ten-year career, the journalist also saw in this meeting the opportunity to deepen his knowledge in the context of exhibitions he organized on Cristóbal Balenciaga, whose Federico Forquet was a disciple.

From the very beginning, the young Neapolitan’s career was placed under the sign of a lucky star. Born into an influential family, he spent his childhood between the family palace in Naples and their estate in Forino, among musicians, intellectuals and members of the Italian royal family that his parents frequented. At the age of 23, he met the great master of couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and joined him in Paris to work alongside him for four years. He then returned to Rome and worked for some of the top fashion houses before deciding to launch his own fashion house in 1961, during the golden age of la dolce vita. Federico Forquet’s singular style, playing on asymmetrical lines and bright colors, reflected the era of Italian glamour and seduced the jet set. The designer dressed the Italian upper class, counting Allegra and Marella Agnelli among his clients, and after designing costumes for the theater and cinema, he was also sought after by many actresses such as Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren and Faye Dunaway. His talent earned him the nickname “Italian Christian Dior” by Harper’s Bazaar. It was a decade of success for this great couturier whose creations also earned him praise from the press and professionals.

However, in 1972, Federico Forquet decided to close his fashion house. For this designer, who was attached to haute couture, the rise of ready-to-wear clothing in the 1970s was an upheaval. He knows deep down that he was not “born to do this”. In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, he confided, “If you create an empire, you become an emperor. But I’d rather be a private, happy citizen of the world. “

Federico Forquet then discovered another vocation by turning to interior design. He decorated his own spaces and his singular style, mixing classicism and Neapolitan influences, earned him commissions from his circle of friends. It was through contact with his partner, the actor Matteo Spinola, that he then turned to landscaping. Together they bought a barn in Tuscany located on a hill overlooking Monte Cetona, famous for the curative properties of its thermal water, and created Valle Pinciole. This place with its magical gardens became the embodiment of their relationship. It was the great landscape designer Russell Page who gave them the idea of bringing together two existing buildings to create an enclosed space of greenery. In 2006, upon the death of his companion, Forquet said: “Cetona has become my reason for living. “Although he decided to bequeath Valle Pinciole to the Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the Italian national fund for heritage conservation, Federico Forquet continued to maintain and embellish the property, which he saw as a living and evolving entity.

The sumptuous book by Hamish Bowles and the talented photographer Guido Taroni, who gathered decades of archives, illustrates the designer’s many talents and sheds light on his quiet nature, which made him prefer a peaceful life to the spotlight. Described as warm and cheerful by those around him, Federico Forquet radiated a joie de vivre rare in the circles in which he distinguished himself, which shines through throughout these pages. Seventy-five years of career that embody a certain idea of Italian elegance.

The World of Federico Forquet: Italian Fashion, Interiors, Gardens by Hamish Bowles

Published on September 15, 2020 by Rizzoli

Contributions by Marella Caracciolo Chia, Sofia Gnoli and Allegra Caracciolo Agnelli, photographs by Guido Taroni