Laura Sartori Rimini may be the favourite globe trotting architect of the rich, famous and endlessly chic, but she also has that magical Milanese combo of professional powerhouse coupled with domestic goddess. She walks us through the perfect dinner party, how to get your hands on the best vintage fashion and where to find the freshest flowers in all of Milano.
Take the extra time, handmade food is always better.“I’ve never given my children anything packaged or frozen, things you can find in the super market. I always make sure what I give them is handmade.”
Don’t skimp on a set table. “I always prepare the table. Even if it is just a midweek dinner for my family, there are always fresh flowers on the table, and in the evening there are always candles.”
The dinner hour is sacred, get rid of distractions. “Having a proper meal together is important, it’s a portion of time — half an hour, one hour — that the family talks. No cell phone at the table, no television in the dining room. We talk. We’ve done this since the children were very young.”
To source the freshest flowers, either grow them yourself or head to the market. “I cut flowers from my terrace, or get them at the flower market when I have time. There’s a huge flower market called Orto Mercato, close to Linate airport, where you get the freshest flowers when it’s open to the public on weekends.”
Don’t let city-living discourage your green thumb. “I love having a garden in the middle of the city, I have basil, rosemary, mint, sage, thyme. I love the idea of coming up here to cut the herbs to flavour to my dishes. I don’t care about the Milanese polluted air. I think if you have it every day you probably get stronger.”
Ambience is everything, ditch the electrics lights. “If the party is outdoors on the terrace hang antique lanterns in the evening for ambience, never electric light.”
For the tabletop, pile patterns on top of patterns — the more the merrier. Her setting of choice is antique Richard Ginori floral printed tableware set on top of a luscious indian printed cotton table cloth.
Depending on the season, centrepieces should reflect what’s blooming. In September, it’s tulips and dahlias with berries. “At the end of the summer, flowers come to their end and berries begin. I also love red berries with roses for the table.”
Do not cook out of season items, plan your meal around what’s fresh. “In the autumn, for a first plate I like to prepare timballo de cavolfiore, or if I find artichokes I would prepare a timballo of artichoke with cheese. Always followed by a meat, but it depends on the weather. If it’s warm, I would make thinly sliced roast beef, or if we’re in the cooler, autumn period maybe a Brasato. For dessert, I love making an apple tart with Pastafrolla. Inside, you put apples, prunes and nuts, then envelope it in a sweet crust.”
Dress up your seating strategy with vintage playing cards. “For the seating arrangement, which is always chosen ahead of time, I use Japanese playing cards with a handwritten note with the guest’s name on top.”
Keep the pairs apart. “I always split couples. I do not like to put them next to each other.”
Always reshuffle your guest list. “I prefer to invite people who do not know each other well. I know that it’s more tiring, because you have to get to know each other, but I think it’s more interesting. Otherwise, you always see the same people and you say the same things. I think it’s very nice to share new experiences.”
The meal’s timing is essential. Never overcrowd the table with too many things. “Two courses should never be on the table at the same time. Always completely clear the first course before moving on to the second.”
Paper is not dead: personalised stationary is essential. Sartori Rimini keeps multiple sets. First, the correspondence card, a small card with either your, or your family’s name on it for short, informal messages or thank you’s. A larger sheet with the sender’s address is used for correspondence that requires a response (so they know where to send back a letter, of course). These are usually for longer, more intimate letters to friends or family. She also keeps separate sets of stationary for when she wants to send something professionally, rather than from her and her husband.
Paper stock and font should be high quality, but understated. Pick something that will stand the rest of time. Sartori Rimini uses a chic cream paper stock with a curly black cursive font for letters sent from her and her husband. For personal stationary, she uses a dramatic maroon-coloured ink with her family crest in the top left corner. Envelopes, obviously, have to match. Each type of paper stock should be bought with the corresponding envelope.
Keep a dedicated spot in your house for storing stationary and writing letters. Sartori Rimini has a giant desk in her living room dedication to her multiple sets of letterheads and cards.
Only use the best. Sartori Rimini’s supplier is Raimondi, the old school Milanese institution that is, quite literally, the calling card of all the chicest ladies in the city. “I use it because it’s all handmade,” Sartori Rimini explains of her choice for her correspondence. “They create an engraving for every person or family and keep it on file for when you need to restock.”
When collecting vintage fashion, narrow in on an era and type and expand from there. “I buy a lot of vintage kaftans from an antique dealer in Tangier, Morocco. Mostly 18th century versions, with velvet silk and gold embroidery.”
Diligently organise your delicate gowns and kaftans in boxes according to material. Sartori Rimini keeps sketches she has hand drawn attached to the side to know what’s in them, and packs them with paper to keep material in top condition. “I store my antique clothing in boxes, just with a little bit of paper in between pieces of fabric. If not, the fabric will end up plying. So a little bit of light paper inside helps.”
Let loose and layer your longer Kaftans: Sartori Rimini wears slip-like kaftans underneath another skirt, so just the 18th century hand-embroidered border peeks out the bottom.
If you’re investing in a piece of vintage fashion, don’t hoard it away. “I like to wear antique clothes as if they’re new, I always mix them. They’re quite fragile and after 15 years they’ve been broken and restored again. But I don’t care.” That being said, don’t overdo it. “I never wear antique pieces more than once in a row. I wash them by hand or just take them to the dry cleaner then store them in boxes.”
Keeping your style simple at work is ok, even the most diehard fashionistas have to deal with business casual. “At work, I’m always very simple with flat shoes, trousers and never any jewels. As a woman on a building site, it’s not so easy. The majority of people there are men — craftsmen, plumbers, electricians — it’s difficult because people look at your blue eyes and stop following what you’re telling them.”
But, when the sun goes down, unleash your inner diva and dress up. “When I dress for the evening, I like to have a totally different impression of myself. During the night you have that hidden, dark part that comes out.” She opts for glamorous, ostrich trimmed dressed from her close friend Stephan Janson for a night on the town.
When it comes to footwear, there is no middle ground. Opt for either a lofty heel or stick with something flat. “I never put on mid-height shoes. I like flat, or very high. Nothing in the middle.” Sartori Rimini prefers tried-and-tested Manolos.
Clothes-wise, everything is an heirloom. Keep it all. “I never throw away my clothes. I like to keep them. I still have things I wore at university — it reminds me of that time. Maybe I don’t wear it anymore, but I like the idea that my daughter could.”
– Laura Todd