While we’re waiting for the snow to melt: some welcome – and welcoming – holiday escapism with Marie-Louise Sciò, creative director and curator of contemporary Italian hospitality.
It’s been almost a year since the Italian government became the first in Europe to impose Covid-19 related quarantines, locking down 11 municipalities in the northern part of the country. As the quarantine measures spread, the Italian hospitality industry – which accounts for 13% of the country’s GDP – was hit hard. And, as restrictions subsided and intensified across the Continent, Italy’s hotels found themselves on the forefront first of crisis, then of adapting to its impact: some were repurposed, others saw their textile suppliers going into PPE production, and everyone had to reconsider the architecture – literal and figurative – of the industry. Planning for economic survival is challenging enough, but even less tangible, perhaps, is how to maintain the spirit and legacy of hospitality that gives certain establishments their edge amid so much adjustment.
At Il Pellicano, lifestyle legend of the Tuscan coast, creative director Marie-Louise Sciò saw an opportunity in e-commerce. The in-hotel boutique was already known for its selective edit of clothing and product, and Scio saw a opportunity in scaling that up, not down, expanding Il Pellicano’s retail scope – bringing Italy to a distanced clientele yearning for a remote dose of dolce vita. Enter ISSIMO, a retail platform self-styled as a “cabinet of Italian excellence” covering artisanal homeware, culinary provisions, fashion, content, and highly curated selection of “souvenirs” – available even to those unable to roam. After a year spent in equal part at home and lost in our own memories of travel, our conversation with Scio began with a simple question:
What does “hospitality” mean to you?
It means to make someone feel genuinely WELCOME, to make them feel at home and part of the world they are entering, comfortable and at ease – to give them a sense of place.
What actions, rituals, or associations do you use to create that feeling of welcoming?
Smiling is everything. It’s the human connection that makes a difference – spending time with people, and being genuine. When it comes to Italian hospitality, family-run hotels are the ones raising the flag. It’s precisely the characteristics of a family that make one feel at home, just as being generous, open, and warm does. It’s the human connection that makes a difference – spending time with people, and being genuine.
Have the last 11 months made you see things differently, more clearly, more essentially?
That’s a definite YES! This year has been a great teacher. I love growing, learning, and I love spending time alone, too – 2020 gave plenty of time for that. I’m more present in what I do and I most definitely spend more quality time, among fewer people.
At the moment, we aren’t physically welcoming people into new spaces. Is it possible to create welcoming feelings in a world of distance?
I think it is possible to make people feel included and part of our world. That’s why we created ISSIMO: as a reflection of our philosophy, our style, our taste, and our curious minds. It’s also about spontaneity, inclusivity. Issimo brings a slice of la dolce vita that one can take home, an experience into curated design, or a journey into the life. And while you dip into the dream from afar, you’re also by supporting the local craftsmen that make Italy the wonder we love so much.
Who is the ideal ISSIMO “guest” to this experience?
Someone brilliant, fun, curious, open, who is not afraid to show their true colors and doesn’t hide behind structures.
A quick list of “bests.” Best alternate description for a host?
An orchestra director for the senses.
Quotes for entertaining?
„Live the questions,“ by Rilke. The poet makes a beautiful case for the importance of embracing uncertainty and allowing for intuition.
An author for Italian immersion?
Italo Calvino, writer of renowned short stories and novels in the postmodern folklorist style.
Scents for ambiance?
Tobacco. It’s rich and deep.
Candles – they add warmth and magic.
Pasta al pomodoro, or brodo – they feel like home.
Blue, brown, and burgundy.
I just selected a list of some of my favorite Italian movies for an ISSIMO x MUBI collaboration – they all transmit something about Italian hospitality and welcomeness.
Are there any universals when it comes to taste in hospitality?
I don’t think so.
How do you accommodate that diversity in a way that makes everyone involved welcome, whether that’s in e-commerce or a luxury hotel?
It is about the many points of contact with the guest – from the music, to the books, to the bottle of juice in the minibar. Each one of these points of contact will be picked up and will resonate with different people. Each tiny detail is an opportunity to create a memory, a sensation, an experience.
“ISSIMO” is a superlative, meaning more, extra, better, bigger, VERY. Was it important to provide a sense of largesse or expansion?
ISSIMO is about uncovering and discovering Italy – and ISSIMO raises the Italian flag. We want to become the place to go for everything Italian –with a twist. We want to help everyone discover quality, so it’s an invitation. It’s important to provide quality in a world where value is lost – quality in people, quality in places, and quality in things is our motto. But it’s the superlative that brings everything together.