Born in Naples, Willy Rizzo started his career as a photographer in Paris very early inthe 40s. Great photographer of personalities, fashion and greatreports, he has exhibited all over the world: at Galerie Agathe Gaillard in Paris,at Galerie Bukamura in Tokyo, at Maison de la Photographie in Moscow, atMallett gallery in New York and London, at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, or evenat the MUBE in São Paulo.
In 1968, he moved to Rome and began his workdesigner for his personal needs because, according to him, "Scandinavian furniturewere neither comfortable enough nor luxurious enough. " When asked, he creates hisworkshops in 1970 and launched its points of sale worldwide."Imagination and strong modern style" are the words that define his style. Today his Elliptical marble table is exhibited at MoMA in New York.
Willy Rizzo married Dominique Rizzo in 1979. They have three children, Willy Jr, Camilla and Gloria. In 2009, they opened the Willy Rizzo Design and Photography Studio at 12 rue de Verneuil in Paris 7e. Willy Rizzo died in 2013 but his Studio continued to support his work through exhibitions and numerous projects.
Grandson of Neapolitan magistrates, he had a passion for photography from an early age. From the age of 12, at the Italian high school in the rue de Sédillot in Paris, he portrayed his classmates with the Agfa Box offered to him by his beloved mother.
In 1944, still a teenager, he bought his first Rolleiflex on the black market and met a wonderful little-known photographer, Gaston Paris, who became his idol. He said to him: ".... when you take a photo, think that you are making a Fragonard! But in some cases, press and think afterwards. He criss-crosses the studios of Billancourt, Joinville or Buttes-Chaumont by bicycle, photographing all the stars of French cinema who will soon swear by him. He was hired at Point de Vue where he began to report. He goes to Tunisia to photograph charred tanks on battlefields. There, he takes his shots at dusk to have a low and different light. The result is spectacular and Life Magazine buys the report from him. After the war, Willy was recruited by the weekly France Dimanche, headed by Max Corre, who enjoyed tremendous success specializing in the private lives of celebrities. He was sent to Cannes to cover the first Festival without limitation of costs. He will have the most incredible hunting table: princesses, playboys, starlets and stars parade in front of his Zeiss Sonnar 180 lens. But America attracts him. In 1947, the English agency Blackstar sent him to the United States to "photograph what surprised him": from a $ 1 machine that distributes stockings to cinema drive-ins. But he prefers women, fashion and settles in Los Angeles. He discovers California, which is still legendary, and reports on stars: Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, Gary Cooper, Anne Baxter ... who are selling very well.
In 1949, Max Corre calls him to announce that Jean Prouvost is setting up a large magazine in Paris, he returns and meets Hervé Mille. This is the start of the Paris-Match adventure. Willy signs the very first color cover of Paris-Match with Winston Churchill. His report on Maria Callas inspired Hergé who, in "Les bijoux de la Castafiore", created his character: Paris Flash photographer Walter Rizzoto, he and his friend Walter Carone.
A new aristocracy of photographers is being born around this cheerful band of boys, young romantic firsts and daredevils, who had as distinctive sign of nobility their only Leica, brandished like a trophy. Expert Christian Dior will say that the Paris-Match on rue Pierre-Charron was "the most beautiful cabin in Paris".
For twenty years, Willy Rizzo will do hundreds of charming and fashion reports with the same mastery and this constantly renewed invention that characterizes the great press photographer. "Our job is a perpetual challenge," says Willy Rizzo. When you have an hour with a celebrity, talent must be there right away. We must immediately find the idea, the accessory, which synthesizes the personality, for example magnifying glasses to photograph Dali or a record player for Marlene Dietrich. I have a lot of admiration for people like Doisneau or Cartier-Bresson, but they have the leisure to wait hours or days for the magic moment. With fashion and the stars it's different. It's not the same job! ".
"Imagination and strong modern style, which blends very well with any other environment" defines the Italian style of the years 1965-1980 which Willy Rizzo claims. As the designer puts it so well, it all starts in a hair salon, located in Piazza di Spagna in Rome, at the end of 1966. While his wife Elsa is getting her hair done, they both discuss their installation in Italy, where their respective careers take them so often. Willy likes this area, he asks the hairdresser if there is a real estate agency nearby. "Sure, just around the corner but you will need a miracle to find an apartment."
And the miracle happened in the form of a second floor occupied by a shirt manufacturer overlooking the Piazza di Spagna. It was a very abandoned one-room commercial space, with no water supply and practically uninhabitable. He immediately signs a rental contract for six months and returns triumphantly to the hairdressing salon, all in 45 minutes.
With a group of local artisans, Willy turns this room into an apartment. He wants brown and gold walls, a silver-colored kitchen, black floors and ceilings. Then he designs furniture: sofas, coffee tables, consoles, hi-fi furniture and everything in between. The result is very chic. Willy Rizzo never intended to become a furniture designer, just his friends saw what he had done in his apartment and fell in love with his furniture. And since he had many friends in fashion, film, orders poured in. One of his first clients was Ghighi Cassini, a social columnist for the American Hearst newspaper who invented the "Jet Set" formula to describe the universe and lifestyle that Fellini immortalized in Dolce Vita. Cassini wanted a modern apartment in a classic Palazzo. Willy Rizzo has always loved beautiful things, beautiful antiques, he knew how to create contemporary furniture that integrated perfectly with the old. This order has appealed to others from across the Jet Set and high net worthy Italian society.
Salvador Dali has ordered several pieces for him, as well as Brigitte Bardot for the interior of the Madrague in Saint-Tropez. He furnished apartments for aristocrats in Palazzo Borghese and Palazzo Ruspoli. The Rizzo style marked an era. Considered the designer of Dolce Vita, he also embodied him. The demand was such that in 1968, he decided to set up his own company. He installed his establishments outside Rome, in Tivoli where his team increased from 8 employees to 150. In the following years he created more than 30 pieces of furniture, steel tables with travertine top, bronze table lamps, all handmade . His furniture is contemporary in style and always based on natural and noble materials such as wood, marble, stainless steel, brass, wild boar. He opened a Willy Rizzo boutique on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, then several in France and in Europe, as well as points of sale in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. His creations are published in numerous magazines.
In 1978, Willy sells and returns to his first love, the photo. "I have never tried to become a businessman and I am starting to get bored. I miss my bohemian life as a photographer”, he said. During these 10 years, Rizzo, a great admirer of the sophistication of Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Ruhlmann, has developed a style that is very easily recognizable today. These pieces have simple lines with well-marked geometric shapes in carefully chosen materials, inlaid in chrome and brass. He has always remained faithful to the traditional use of materials specific to artisans, avoiding entering the mass production system and the plastic that was in tune with the times. The style was first defined by its customers and the interiors to be decorated. Comfort, solidity and practicality are also important elements. As we could say that his photos are beautiful because they have a rare simplicity, we can say that his furniture works perfectly in contemporary decor because they have an elegant simplicity and a reason for being. The originality of his furniture comes from his independence as a designer who has never copied or collaborated, which explains this striking and very different style.
"I met Willy in Milan at a dinner hosted by ... Playboy Magazine! Since then, we have become great friends. In addition, Willy “looks just like my father”. We meet regularly, and we keep joking. I tease him all the time, I make fun about him and his paparazzi way. I like in Willy's photos a certain French touch, especially in the artistic direction. I consider him a huge photographer and I admire not only his work but also his career. "
Mr. Kravitz describes this sober look of the furniture of this contemporary designer as "very strong, very masculine and really funky".
“Working with Willy Rizzo is a great and joyful game of marbles. "