For many years, Francesca Villa was creative director of one of the most famous Italian jewellers, designing collections for the big names of the luxury world. In 2007, a profound desire for experimentation and innovation led her to launch her own brand. We are so happy to welcome Francesca among our designers. Read her interview and discover her story.
1. We’re delighted to welcome your jewellery pieces at WHITE BIRD. Can you tell us about how jewellery came into your life?
I believe I have to go straight back to my childhood. Memories of my grandmother Mara come to mind, of her beautiful villa in Castelletto, a lovely neighborhood of Genoa facing the sea and the harbor. I remember filling the long, hot summer afternoons opening what I called her “magic box” where she kept her beloved jewellery. Rather than trying it on, I loved listening to my grandmother talk, describing each piece with details which I couldn’t fully understand, details that somehow instilled in me the passion for craftsmanship, for precious stones, for everything about jewellery.
Probably, the most valuable lesson I learnt from my grandma was that every piece had a life of its own, the meaning of which went far beyond the material value or its evident beauty – in my grandmother’s mind, a jewel was a memory, a connection to a time, a place, a person, maybe lost, maybe still close, something that gave each piece a great sentimental value. A lesson I’ve never forgotten.
2. You quote Proust who wrote “every journey is an addition” in À la recherche du Temps Perdu. How did you come up with the idea of collecting small elements and to adorn them with precious stones?
I must go back in time once more. My childhood memories are filled with stories of voyages, the ones my great grandfather Nino, a captain of commercial vessels, made around the world always bringing back tales and souvenirs of new places.
Many people work in their own atelier considering it to be a place to hide, while I prefer to free myself and get in touch with the world by travelling, a unique chance for discovery and enrichment, inseparable from my work. Yes, "every journey is an addition": leaving implicates rethinking one’s identity, reaching out towards something unknown to replace the familiar places of the soul with new, disorienting landscapes. Sights, images, flavors, sounds, settle indelibly into our mind and leave us memories. I always come back from a journey with something I collect: sometimes it’s a precious item, sometimes not. One day I simply decided it was time to put together the two things I loved the most, collecting and jewellery. That day FrancescaVilla’s jewellery was born!
3. Please, tell us how you manage to collect those small things.
As I wrote before, it’s the outcome of my many journeys around the world. Travelling must come without purpose, just for the pleasure of it. But there’s never such thing as coming back home without bringing something back with me. For this reason I always look for collectors, antique shops or flea markets and spend quite sometime looking for something that attracts my curiosity and manage to take it back with me.
4. On collecting, is there a special story that comes to your mind that you would like to share with us?
Collecting is, most of all, getting in touch with people. First and foremost, those who owned that specific object trouvé, for sure more than one as the item has passed from hand to hand during the decades, even centuries sometimes. I feel their presence, I truly do. I imagine their lives, I invent stories, I sort of hear them talking to me. Collecting is also getting in touch with those selling object trouvés: chatting with this people, so fond of their jobs, to fell the passion driving them, to learn more about their lives, this is something I love so much.
5. Travelling seems to be essential to your life as an opportunity for enrichment - both moral and spiritual. How did you manage with the restrictions during the past years of international pandemic?
Let me be straight: I didn’t manage it at all! It’s been hard for me not to be allowed to travel, I did feel like drying out.
6. So far, can you tell us about the greatest journey you made in your life?
I’m so happy whenever I can travel with my family by my side. Discovering the world with my husband and three children (Emma, Bianca and Vittorio), is a reward in itself. When they’re not with me, I always wear a bracelet, named Dire Fare e Baciare: their three pictures are set in between a poem by Emily Dickinson: a way for me not to feel far from home, from my beloved ones. As per a special journey we made, I believe that the three weeks spend in Iceland still occupy a special place in my heart.
7. We find that your jewellery is at the crossroads of craftsmanship and art. What’s your definition of creativity?
I believe it’s written in the etymology of the word itself: in Latin, creativity is about giving birth, about growing. Actually creativity is never an act of pure freedom, I always have to look back, to work not in a blank space but to populate the vacuum with all the things I love. And sometimes with those I don’t. And from there start building something that will take me further, again without forgetting where I come from.
8. Who are your favorite artists in different fields? And why?
I love music, from soul to jazz, classic to rock. I must admit my husband has been a good and patient mentor! Paolo Conte is an Italian musician/song writer I like: his capacity to perfectly balance music and words is close to poetry itself. I love the work of Cindy Sherman: the same subject, Cindy herself, throughout all her work, the transfigurations she continuously deals with, the estrangement all this provokes to me: her art attracts me and keeps me at distance at the same time. That’s why I like it. Orhan Pamuk is my favorite writer, the one I feel closer to. The Museum of Innocence, the book as well as the incredible museum he himself realized in Istanbul, are a font of both pleasure and inspiration I couldn’t do without.
9. The uniqueness and the unrepeatability are very important in your jewellery. We love the choice of French words you have made such as “ cabinet de merveilles” (cabinet of wonders) and “objet trouvé” (found object) to describe your pieces and the utter delicacy of the poetic narrativity around your jewellery. Where does it come from?
In jewels, in items in general, I see beyond the object. I see the relationship that will be established with its owner, the patina life will deposit over the surface, the joys and pains that will permeate the inanimate object. That will, as a consequence, come to life, a life of its own. The more so, if the item is unique, a one-of-a-kind one!
10. Experimentation and innovation are at the center of your jewellery. To whom are your wonders destined?
I’m always surprised to see how different my customers are from each other. Whenever we have a chance to meet their heterogeneity strikes me deep. But then I remember that it’s the same diversification that can be found in my creations!
11. What do you like most doing aside from travelling and when you are not working on your treasures?
I adore walking. Walking in nature most of all. Nothing relaxes me more, nothing helps me regenerate as much. Body and soul!
12. You are Italian, what influence does it have on you as a woman and as a jewellery designer?
Most probably more than I tend to understand myself. I perceive it when I’m abroad. It’s not about the longing to go back, not at all. It’s the feeling of being part of an environment, a culture, a way of life. And then be able to free myself from it: Italy and being Italian as a point of departure rather than arrival.