In the business of fashion, the most critically acclaimed journalists typically have a hard time getting themselves dressed in the morning, while the top-shelf stylists can’t put pen to paper. The exception to this rule is Donata Sartorio, a Milanese media powerhouse who has spent the last 40 years breaking down the writing, editing and styling divide.
Sartorio began her career in 1973 as a junior stylist at Bella magazine and later worked her way up the Fashion Director ladder of many of Italy’s leading magazines of the era.
“It was a magical moment,” she says of the late 70s and early 80s when Italian fashion was polarized between the traditional haute couture houses based in Rome and the radical ready-to-wear scene emerging in Milan. “In Rome we did our shoots after the couture shows at night on terraces around the city, rushing to photograph the clothes before the rich women came in the next morning to buy them,” she says, sparkling at the memory.
Meanwhile in Milan, where fashion magazines were (and continued to be) based, young designers such as Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferré, Franco Moschino, Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia (and later, Miuccia Prada, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana) were just planting the seeds for their soon-to-be fashion empires.
“Armani was without question the best and the most serious,” Sartorio recalls of the Milanese designer race (and she still has a closet full of his minimal clothes to prove it). “But Moschino was the most beloved. He challenged everyone and everything, but still managed to be charming.”
Sartorio developed close friendships with both Moschino as well as Ferré (both of whose bold, colorful clothes she wore incessantly at the time), just as she began to segue into fashion journalism for Lei, Lui, Donna and Moda, while simultaneously serving as Fashion Director at those magazines.
“It was way before It-Girls were fashion journalists,” Sartorio says. “I believed that fashion was serious and deep. I encouraged people not to follow trends. Style is made of having less things that last longer. This is also my personal philosophy and style.”
Sartorio grew up in a classic Milanese family with jet-setting parents who summered on the Lido in Venice and skied in Cortina in the winter, and a better-behaved sister who “never crossed her legs [only her ankles], never smoked and always wore slips under her skirts.”
Sartorio was the opposite back then and continues to be so today. “I understood very quickly that I didn’t want to be a housewife,” she says. “I wanted to work. I was atypical from the beginning.”
Sartorio’s impeccable taste captured the admiration of top-notch international photographers, including Juergen Teller, Peter Lindbergh and Lord Snowdon, all of whom she has collaborated with. Her wicked pen, meanwhile, made her an esteemed magazine writer at titles such as Vogue Italia and Uomo Vogue, as well as more recently the author of several books dedicated to the idiosyncrasies of proper Italian style, including Young Italian Gentleman, and The Italian Touch. “[They] were all about men who knew everything about fabrics and tailoring and would rather cut off their arms than wear Prada,” Sartorio says drolly.
Though the subjects of her books are deeply classical, Sartorio is not handcuffed to Milanese conventions. Her pastel-colored home is well appointed, but not obsessively so. It is cozy and cluttered, like a box of well-worn jewels. She has the requisite massive silver collection, but it tumbles freely over the shelves in her open-air kitchen rather than locked in a closet. Mid-century chairs mingle with turn of the century tables and gilded beds. Her beloved food and fashion books crawl over her two-floor apartment like vines stretching up to the apartment’s double height ceilings. Her carpet-lined bathroom, meanwhile, features more bottles (some empty, some full) than the basement beauty floor at Berdorf Goodman. She prefers to serve meals to her guests herself. Her housekeeper is not kept on call. And when she’s not spinning around town on her bicycle (which is a proper Milanese activity), she’s a die-hard Pilates girl (which is definitely not).
“I’m not very Milanese,” she observes. “I don’t gossip much. I don’t listen to it, either.” Even more scandalous to the locals, however, is that Sartorio has been an obsessive vegan for the last 25 years in a country that takes its culinary rules extremely seriously. “It’s looked upon very badly in Italy,” she says of veganism. “They look at you like you’re crazy.”
But Sartorio does it anyway, and is very happy to shock the locals with her all vegan dinner parties. “Every time I have people over to my house to eat, they all come fearing they will starve to death,” she says, rolling her eyes at the nonsense. “And they all leave surprised by how well they eat.”