May 2, 2018
Some may know him best for his furniture and lighting designs, but Italian renaissance man Willy Rizzo actually got his start as a photographer. In the 1940’s he was a photojournalist for a number of French publications, eventually covering the historic Nuremberg Trials and even traveling to Tunisia to photograph the conflict in North Africa, which was published in Life Magazine.
As his reputation grew, he was hired to take portraits of the rich and famous at events such as the Cannes Film Festival. A few years later he was invited to join Paris Match magazine as head photographer, shooting the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Fred Astaire, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
Rizzo later became the artistic director of Marie Claire, and collaborated with other fashion publications, including Vogue. He made close friends with many famous personalities along the way, including Jack Nicholson, who he photographed in a variety of candid moments. He was also known for his story-telling abilities, and is said to have been one of the only people capable of inducing a smile from Coco Chanel.
He became such a renowned chronicler of the “jet set” lifestyle of celebrities, politicians, and royalty, that he was immortalized as paparazzo Walter Rizotto in the comic series The Adventures of Tintin‘s twenty-first volume: The Castafiore Emerald.
Rizzo married Italian actress Elsa Martinelli in 1968, and they relocated to Rome. There they purchased a pied-à-terre, and Rizzo says he got into furniture design “by necessity”. He recalls, “I wanted to decorate [my home] in a modern style, so I created things for it— and my career went from there”. His “glitterati” friends saw the pieces in his home, and began commissioning him to create furniture and design for their own homes.
He launched his furniture line in 1966, and was inspired by Modernists such as Mies van der Rohe, and his close friend Corbusier. From steel-banded travertine dining tables and bronze table lamps in his inaugural collection, to his iconic rotating round cocktail table with a built-in champagne bucket, Rizzo’s designs are strong and masculine with an emphasis on clean lines, geometric forms, and unique combinations of luxe materials, such as wood, marble, stainless steel, brass and leather.
Jean-Marc and Jean-Noël found a pair of timeless signed Willy Rizzo console tables on their most recent buying trip. Click through to see the beautiful patina and other details, or stop by the gallery to view in person!