lCAROLINA & lBÉRANGÈRE
Palazzo Crivelli, which sits hidden behind a stately courtyard on Via Pontaccio, has long been considered one of Milan’s top residences, but for jewelry designers Bérengère Lux and Carolina Neri, it’s simply the city’s greatest party pad. When the duo first launched Ca&Lou, their niche costume jewelry label in 2010, they threw a raging party in the home’s public park-sized backyard, watching as the crowd swelled unexpectedly to 600.
“Everyone freaks out when they see it,” says Milan-born Neri of the 17th-century private home located on the building’s northern wing. “Last September we had another Ca&Lou dinner here during fashion week that exploded to a party for 200. People just kept flowing through the doors.”
An open-door policy at the grand three-story palazzo has been the unwritten rule since the 1970s when media magnates Achille and Diana Mauri, Lux’s in-laws, began hosting rowdy salon-style gatherings for the city’s creative set, including Memphis ring leader Ettore Sotsass and artist Lucio Fontana.
“It was very bohemian and very intellectual,” says Lux, whose husband Santiago Mauri, grew up in the home. “The disco ball in the living room tells you about the mood here—it’s a fun house, very open and very eclectic.”
Plastered with works by revered Italian artists such as Marcello Dudovich, Mimmo Rotella, and Mario Schifano, the twelve-foot walls are a moveable, unstuffy collage of paintings from the Futurist and Arte Povera periods up to today. Photographs by Ugo Mulas line the hallway, the skeletal doors to the bathrooms were designed by Fontana, and the living room boasts several pieces by Fabio Mauri, Lux’s uncle-in-law, who was just exhibited at New York’s Hauser and Wirth. Meanwhile, an enormous metal robot by recycling artist Fabius Tita stands guard in a cloakroom overlooking the lush backyard.
Lux’s in-laws are about to move out of this historic home. Until now the space has never been photographed, and none of its brilliant interior cacophony is observable to—or even hinted at—the people who walk by the palazzo’s ordinary façade.
“It’s all about closed doors in Milan,” explains Lux, who was born in Geneva and worked at Jimmy Choo and Tabitha Simmons in London prior to moving to Milan in 2004, where she first met Neri. “There are amazing courtyards you’d never imagine and people you wouldn’t expect.”
Neri, on the other hand, was born into a straight-laced, classic Milanese family and raised right around the corner from Via Montenapoleone at a time when that tony street wasn’t yet the nucleus of the fashion retail world. “You used to have a green grocer where Moncler is now, the flower shop was where Fratelli Rossetti is, and you had the bakery where Ralph Lauren is,” Neri recalls. “I miss that.”
Still, Milan is base camp for Ca&Lou, a brand they modeled, to some extent, after vintage 1930s jewelry but tweaked for today. “We just felt there wasn’t any beautiful costume jewelry available on the market,” says Lux. “You either had super cheap jewelry or a 3,000 euro bracelet from a top designer that would break.” Not all of Ca&Lou’s jewelry looks vintage, but all of it is made the old-fashioned way, using lost-wax handwork instead of industrialized mass machinery.
Launching a new business in Milan is tough, as these girls well know. “Young designers are not supported by the establishment here,” says Neri, who was a PR executive for nearly a decade before launching Ca&Lou. “When we started, all the American and UK press came to see us, but the Italians didn’t show up.”
The duo nonetheless made an international splash with their high-quality, well-priced costume jewelry, especially the signature crawl-up-the-ear earrings which they introduced in 2010, well before that trend began to rage on the runways.
“The funny thing is that neither of us liked or wore earrings,” says Lux, whose own earlobe today is stabbed with Ca&Lou’s best–selling Suki ear clip. “So we made ones that were different. We just wanted to rethink the earring.”
Now that Ca&Lou is becoming increasingly hip—not to mention stocked in top retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks.com and Ikram—the cold-shoulder from the locals is starting to soften. Their success, which has forced them out of the tiny ateliers of mom-and-pop Milanese artisans and into proper factories that can handle larger production numbers, is making the home-work balance all the more precarious.
“We’re both working mothers on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” Lux says with a laugh. But the good news is that Palazzo Crivelli has allowed for plenty of partying in the small slivers of their free time. “And by the way,” Lux adds, climbing triumphantly onto an elegant velvet-covered settee, “We can absolutely jump on the couches!”