An Italian Home Overlooking the Sea on 5th Avenue

Swide by Dolce & Gabbana

Talking with Larsen Montenesi, the creative who began working with Dolce and Gabbana in 1986 and today creates new concept stores for the two Italian designers.

Larsen Montenesi has the calm wisdom of the creative who knows how to allow himself follies without giving in to the desire to impress. In New York, on the shores of the sea of shopping that is 5th Avenue, he has mounted a rock face dotted with prickly pears in the windows of the new Dolce & Gabbana boutique. In this way, the Mediterranean has landed in Manhattan with all its visual and poetic charge: not even the Romans had dared so much for Mare Nostrum (Latin for the Mediterranean). Yet looking at the windows of this new store, opened at the beginning of May to the sound of a concert curated by the Metropolitan, you get the relaxed feeling of a slow-moving landscape, of space conceived as a soft suspension among the angular convulsions of large multinational luxury boutiques.

In 1986, when he was just a boy, Larsen Montenesi was one of the first to work with the designers on the collections that were to become over time the stylistic code on which the Domenico and Stefano have built their success story. "I went to the interview wearing a suit that I had sown myself, taking inspiration from Comme des Garcons and I remember that I spoke about Henri Cartier-Bresson which really impressed Domenico, even then a great lover of photography".

Larsen Montenesi remained with Dolce & Gabbana for eight years. "I was at their side when the first collections were born and I was their assistant. At the beginning, he often went to Sicily, to Polizzi Generosa in the province of Palermo, the village where his father of Domenico, a tailor, and the whole family lived. They had an aristocratic tailor’s business, with which we moved from Milan to work on the first Dolce & Gabbana collections”.

Those were times of sacrifice, but also times when everything seemed possible: "Domenico and Stefano travelled between Milan and the surroundings in a coral red Renault 5 with rust holes in the flooring; but they were so full of enthusiasm and had so much to say, and I remember that I could feel that energy very strongly".

Larsen Montenesi worked with Dolce & Gabbana until 1994, by which time he had become a father, when he gave in to the flattery of Patrizio Bertelli who wanted him to work on window design and special projects for Prada. "Larsen is a futurist, a craftsman of ideas; he always knows how to be artistic without ever being vulgar; he taught me to be versatile but to always seek extreme elegance and is a person who is continually fascinated by what’s happening now; he is a true creative and, like all true creatives, knows how to teach only those he likes,” says a guy who had the good fortune to have Larsen as a teacher while working with Miuccia (Prada).

At the end of 2012, Larsen returned to work on the visual story of Dolce & Gabbana, again captured by the enthusiasm of "those two guys who appeared to still have the same enthusiasm as when we were moving around in the Renault 5 full of holes” – to start a new story of stores, a story that could narrate on a global scale the aesthetic and stylistic DNA that Larsen had seen being born, almost thirty years ago, in the tailoring’s business of Domenico father.

What was the first input you received from Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana for the window dressings of the new Dolce&Gabbana store on Fifth Avenue in New York?

It all started in a very spontaneous and calm way. Domenico and Stefano told me about the original idea they had for designing the store – to open their ideal home to the public, a place where they felt comfortable and safe and where they could express their aesthetics in the furnishings. They left me a lot of freedom, so I thought of a typical Mediterranean setting. I remembered a trip several years ago to the Aeolian Islands, where I was fascinated by a high lava rock overlooking the sea, with thousands of prickly pears clinging to it. On the spot, I decided to use this image for the store windows, imagining that the mezzanine on the facade of the store was the terrace of the ideal home, and underneath the lava rock and prickly pears lined by the tides and waves of 5th Avenue.

Can you think of some keywords we could use to sum up your creative work?

The idea must be "simple" but "strong". The execution must be "high-level". The most effective things are always the simplest, and the least designed and worked out. I dedicate little time to design and spend a lot of time in the labs testing and getting my hands dirty. To give an example: to faithfully reproduce the lava stone, we went to Etna to make the cast of a rock wall.

The store windows display huge prickly pears: why this "macro" approach?

5th Avenue is a very wide street. The evaluation of dimensions had to be made thinking about what passers-by on the pavement on the other side could see, so the increase in the scale of reproduction was absolutely necessary.

Fifth Avenue is one of the most non-places in the world. Media exposure and the passing of large crowds from all over risk trivialising the quest for a certain slowness and depth, both feelings that are dear to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. How did you try to interpret this dualism?

This approach to the work of Stefano and Domenico is my good luck. They leave you a lot of room, they are confident and very calm. We worked thinking about an excellent result and this first project respects their vision, because it brings a glimpse of the Mediterranean to New York. I think that the dualism you talk of can live peacefully on 5th Avenue; actually, I would say that, in the end, this contrast manages to bring the store out in the right way for interpreting the intentions of Domenico and Stefano.

And we will continue to design unique and special installations for this store, trying to stimulate the awareness of the public and trying to entice them not only to enter the store and buy, but also to visit the Mediterranean, Italy and Sicily.

The interior furnishings of the store are interspersed with numerous trunks, some of which have been designed by you. Why is there this theme of travel and how have you interpreted it in Dolce&Gabbana style?

Many original Sicilian period furnishings unearthed after a very long search are on display in the store. The inspiration of Stefano and Domenico was to imagine a traveller of the last century returning home and opening his trunks in the midst of baroque mirrors and sofas and needlepoint carpets.

I tried to recreate that atmosphere using crackle leather, broken up by the use of velvets and damasks. The womenÂ’s trunks are small tabernacles, full of niches and doorways inspired by the geometry of Sicilian churchyards.

What instruments do you use for designing?

I donÂ’t like using a computer for designing. ItÂ’s an instrument that you canÂ’t ignore, but I try to use it as little as possible. I love hand-drawing and painting with watercolour. ThatÂ’s when I'm really happy. Head, hand and pencil make a good team. But the things that I consider most important are contact with suppliers and following implementation down to the last detail.

What are you planning for the new gentlemanÂ’s store in London (opening on 15 June during London Fashion Week complete with catwalks)?

I donÂ’t want to give too much away, but I can say that the Sicilian tailoring of Domenico's father was a great starting point for inspiration. It seems like heÂ’s still in front of me, small and quiet, among the busts and fabrics. He only said three words a day, but they were the three words I needed.