Italy: Travel Tips from Laura Lombardi
Vuela blends my love for travel and design. We're super excited to share our latest collaboration with jewelry designer Laura Lombardi, as well as travel tips for one of my favorite places in the world! Laura and I bonded over our love for Italy! While I always dream of returning soon, lucky for her and us, Laura has family she often visits there. I chat with Laura about her design process , this beautiful country and her inspiration.
How would you describe your design approach and creative process?
My interest in jewelry was a natural progression from my my art practice, in which I was focused on sculpture and mixed media. My design process centers around recontextualizing and referencing repurposed material. In the designs themselves, I look to highlight and explore uncommon materials and elements of classic design, creating simple pieces with an understated impact.
When designing a collection, I start with a set of reference images and objects that almost become a bit like talismans - I look to impart the values of these images and objects into all the pieces I create under a collection.
You're now based in New York and frequently visit family in Italy, one of my fave places in the world! Where is your family from and how would you describe that region?
I grew up in between New York and a small town right outside of Florence and on the border of the Chianti region in Tuscany. It’s difficult to sum up an area that’s been the subject of so much interest and has been portrayed in film, television and literature so many times . Through my eyes and experience, I know it as a place that prizes it's culture and tradition, which really enables you to feel lost in time.
What are your favorite places or must-see spots to visit in the area?
I primarily focus on spending time with my family when I'm in Italy, which means spending days at my aunts farm, driving through the hills to go visit various family and friends in and around Arezzo, Pisa, Florence and Siena. In terms of sights, when I’m in the city (Florence) I almost always make a point to go to Palazzo Pitti or the Boboli Gardens.
What are hidden gems or off-the-beaten paths for someone new to that area?
My favorite places in Tuscany are the small Etruscan towns and villages in the Maremma area, some of which dot the coast line, face walls of etruscan tombs and are built into the rock. Pitigliano, Sorano, and Sovana are notable ones to visit. Visiting the tombs, etruscan museums, hot springs, and beaches are all high on the list. I also have a strong affection for a place in this area called Buca Delle Fate, a small wooded area which lets out into a gorgeous small beach.
Mangia! One of my fave things to do when I visit Italy is to enjoy the local cuisine. There is something with the simplicity and freshness of their prepared meal. Nothing can compare to a home cooked meal and gathering with your loved ones, what are your faves food and desserts there? Or any you like to cook?
My family originated from and has never strayed too far from Tuscany - we stick to a lot of very region specific and traditional foods. Family favorites that you'll always find at our table: chicken liver crostini, coniglio arrosto, pasta with a sauce made with wild boar, fresh pasta with truffles and porcini. One of our main family traditions is the Christmas Day tortellini in brodo. From picking out a live chicken to making the pasta every element is made and sourced from scratch, it’s a process that involves the whole family.
For desserts and pastry, I love the Florentine bread Schiacciata all’uva, which could be described as a focaccia made with grapes, and ricarelli - cookies made with almond paste.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat and drink? Any suggestions for ordering or restaurant etiquette in Italy?(e.g. cuperto, primi piatti, aperitif)
My absolute favorite place to eat is a former hunting lodge in the hills of Arezzo named La Capannacia. It's very much home away from home. No menu, just a giant forno, trays of pasta keep coming out of the kitchen, carafes of wine and pitchers of iced digestifs.
In Milan: Latteria di San Marco
My tips / advice: Always be gracious and just be willing to go with the flow. Be mindful of the way your host has intended for the meal to be served, i.e. follow their lead in terms of preparation and please refrain from dumping parmesan on absolutely everything! Always keep an eye out for local specialties, it’s one of the best ways to get a sense of the area’s cultural identity and history.
One of my fave Italian saying is "Il dolce far niente!", how would you describe this saying and achieving that work and life balance for yourself as a designer?
Given the way Italian culture focuses on appreciating and savoring beauty, and how “far niente” rarely factors into my life, I’d interpret this concept as being mindful enough to pause and appreciate the beauty in my environment that informs so much of the work I create.
What is your personal aesthetic? How does visiting Italy inspire you and influence your designs?
My aesthetic is very much a byproduct of my environment and an exploration of both the contrasts and connections that exist between the two places. I identify strongly with classical and medieval art and imagery associated with Italy, and seek to give it context within my life here in New York. The result being an aesthetic that centers on traditional design, but focuses on a contemporary and forward thinking lifestyle.
What are some of your favorite pieces and items you collect for you or your home from Italy and beyond?
Although not religious myself, I have an extensive collection of religious iconography, specifically antique prayer/saint cards, and also cannot seem to stop accumulating art books.
What are some local markets, designers, shops you like to visit in the area?
The weekend market in my family’s hometown is very much an “event”, and is an opportunity for everyone in the community to catch up, grab a coffee and share news which I love. I love Florence’s amazing apothecary and perfumeries like Santa Maria Novella and L’Olfattorio.
What other places in Italy have you visited that you recommend or other places you'd like to visit?
I’m in love with Venice.
Any other Italian word you'd like to teach us? One of my faves is “Andiamo!” Let's go!
It's hard for me to think of the language broken down into singular words or phrases of significance, but I do spend time focusing on and selecting, and some times altering, words in Italian to name my collections. Almost half if not more of the names of the pieces in my collections are rooted in Italian or Latin. I usually reference either the inspiration behind the collection or a visual similarity to an object to decide on the title of a piece.
And finally, I always like to ask this question. Fun facts about you. Secret talents? Any irks and quirks you'd like to share?
I live for karaoke and, although a bit of a health enthusiast during the day, late night pizza.
Whether it's the architecture, food or spending time with family, thank you so much Laura for sharing the joys and beauty of visiting Italy! Grazie Mille!
Photos of Italy and model photo courtesy of Laura Lombardi