l Tamu & l Francesca
How does a Jamaican girl from gritty New York slip seamlessly through Milan’s sleek streets and into it’s chic mid-century salons? Street-style star and blogger Tamu McPherson’s best asset is Francesca Taddei, her fiercely chic suocera. Boasting a similar brains-to-beauty quotient as Miuccia Prada, Tamu’s Italian mother-in-law is a voracious intellectual and esteemed former professor at the University of Bologna who is just as obsessed with art, culture and contemporary Italian history as she is with new runway arrivals at Gucci.
“When you come to Italy as a foreigner, you definitely don’t fit in,” Tamu recalls of her bumpy first years in Milan, before founding her style blog AllThePretty Birds.com. “It was so intimidating. Francesca taught me everything. She introduced me to the city, brought me to La Scala, told me exactly where to grocery shop, and how to decorate the apartment. I would have been lost without her.”
Take it from an American who knows: la suocera — even for a well-seasoned local — is more often than not a tricky character in an Italian household. But McPherson won the lottery when she moved to Milan 11 years ago from Manhattan with her soon-to-be husband Galileo. With Francesca, she was handed that rare, wonderful breed of Italian woman who effortlessly juggles high-caliber work and meaningful family moments, civilized cocktail hours propped up by a well-oiled household regime, and profound arguments against deep dives into frivolous beauty.
“The cool thing is that she’s very old-school and extremely chic,” says Tamu. “At the same time, she was a very important historian of contemporary Italian history and was one of the youngest professors ever.”
A rare disciple of feminist liberalism in Italy, Francesca went to work pregnant with her first child (unheard of in the early 1970s) and returned two weeks later (even more unheard of). Her mentor at the University of Bologna was Giovanni Spadolini, a tough-as-nails editor for the Corriere della Sera and former Prime Minister of Italy. But even then, she was as obsessed with Gucci handbags and Azucena couches as she was with academia. Today, she’s happy to dive into a discussion about what she plans to buy from Prada’s runway show, how much she loves Alessandro Michele and whether or not to buy his latest red satin wrap around skirt with light blue hem at Gucci.
“Clothes are not important, meaning that I think there are way more important things in life, but I love them,” admits Francesca, who skips around town in 1940s style Miu Miu shoes. “I notice clothes, I remember them and I like them as I like beautiful paintings, places and monuments.”
As one of Milan’s most stylish young photographers, Tamu already had a nose for fashion before coming to Italy. But Francesca opened up a new, more sophisticated world for the young transplant, introducing her to refined Italian fashion and design, and schooling her on manners as well as how to efficiently run a household for her husband and young son Piero.
“My suocera is an organizational power house,” Tamu says. “She found me the housekeeper. She found me the baby nurse. She made my closet look like a high end boutique. She was hard-core.”
Though she runs a tight ship (the closets, Tamu says, are color-coded, perfectly folded, shoes are spotless) and has a well-earned right to hard-nosed snobbery, Francesca cooly embraces aesthetic democracy. She loves lofty fashion and has stocked her house with furniture by design gods Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Italo Gamberini, but she simultaneously has a love for cheap knick-knacks, great deals, and low-end memorabilia, mixing them effortlessly throughout her home as only a true tastemaker can.
“In St. Moritz, she hikes for 17 miles and then she pops into the dusty Salvation Army with her friends,” Tamu marvels. “She lives in bric-à brac and second hand shops, but then obsesses over what’s new at Miu Miu. She really has excellent taste.”
For all the juice on Francesca’s top Milan spots that Tamu loves, click on the Insider’s Guide here. Meanwhile, for secrets on Italian style, and the detailed routes to household glory that Tamu has learned from her suocera, read The Sciura Rule Book Here