Closing the bustling shopping road of Milan’s Via Torino, hanging trams roam near chain stores such as Like Zara and Sephora, in Via Nerino, with its stately gray stone buildings keeping the narrow lane in the shade, it’s like stepping into an alternate world. However, 1st Street marks the southern boundary of the city’s historic Cinque Vie district, which was built over the remains of an ancient Roman settlement and is home to a thriving network of art galleries and craft workshops. Among them, behind an inconspicuous carved wooden door on Via Nerino, is the workshop of Laboratorio Paravicini, the hand-painted ceramic line that Costanza Paravicini founded in 1995 and now runs with her two children, Benedetta and Margherita Medici di Marignano.
The brand inhabits a series of former storage rooms converted into pottery-painting studios and galleries, and sits at the rear of the complex. Rooms overlook an inner courtyard surrounded by palm trees and vines. Inside, it’s littered with utensils: on shelves and tables and hanging on the walls are rows of elaborately hand-decorated dishes depicting everything from blue dwarfs and deep pink carnations with swirling insects to Chinese-style forest scenes to smiling trapeze artists to air balloons. Hot that looks like it might float to the surface of the plate directly. There’s also a wealth of abstract motifs – with its blue and red flowers set against a geometric background, the brand’s Izmir collection references traditional Turkish pottery, while Gymmetria uses one an Art Deco illustration that looks as if it were segmented by a kaleidoscope. If the dishes look romantic, so is the way it turned out.
Paravicini, 61, who grew up in the three-story building and still lives upstairs, was interested in drawing and painting even as a child. “I always had a pencil in my hand,” she says. After studying at the Istituto Orsoline di San Carlo in Milan in the late 1970s, she worked as a freelance illustrator in a graphic design studio and drew cartoons for small trade magazines. With four young children in the house, finding the time and space to work was a challenge. So you decide to look for a place where you can paint in peace and say, “Leave my brushes and paints behind.” I asked her older sister, Benedita Paravicini, who was also artistically inclined, if she wanted to share a rental studio with her, “but she said, ‘Why don’t we make porcelain instead?'” ‘, given today’s simple-minded preferences, had a hard time finding cutlery that suited her most extreme and nostalgic taste. “If you’re looking to buy something white, you have a world of options,” she says. “But for something ornate, it was– And still – it’s hard to find something you really like.”
The two sisters’ early pieces were inspired by those of the 18th century produced by companies such as Florence-based Richard Ginori, now called Ginori 1735, and the Manifatura Felice Clerici of Milan, founded in 1756, whose intricate graphic scenes, in turn, were inspired by porcelain from China and Japan. right on time , Paravisienne created original patterns. Their first studio was a rented garage, and they practiced their skills there until they felt confident enough to present their wares to the public. In 1995, they took a booth at the Artigianato e Palazzo craft fair in Florence and caught the attention of Sue Fisher King, whose San Francisco-based store of the same name introduced the brand in the United States, which is still their largest market. “In Italy, everyone actually painted the porcelain that they inherited from their grandmother,” Costanza says. “They’re not really looking for something new to buy.” When Benedetta passed away in 1997, Costanza partnered with good friend Aline Calvey, and soon after Calvey retired in 2014, the younger Benedetta, 38, and Margherita, 36, joined the company to help with sales and marketing.
“We all get along very well. We talk a lot — maybe a lot,” Benedetta says of the family collaboration. “But we understand each other right away.” The new groups were born, she says, after a long process of collaborative decision-making, and since she and her sister joined , some felt a little more modern—see Zodiac’s 2017 collection, with one plaque per astrological sign. (Gemini features a pair of dancing cherubs, and Taurus a charging bull.) Paravicini also credits recent growth to her daughters.” At first, it was just talk. Oral,” she says. “But after they built the website and Instagram, we really got on the move.” Now, they have 12 employees working between the drawing studio and the office, and boxes ready to ship to customers are stacked at shoulder height.
Admittedly, the idea of artisanal entrepreneurship was not unfamiliar to the family. Costanza’s father, Ludovico Paravicini, inherited his father’s manufacturing company, which produced machines for making bobbins. On the weekends though, he was an accomplished carpenter building furniture and objects for the family in his home workshop. Then he started another project. On his and his mother’s honeymoon to Sri Lanka in 1956, he picked up a variety of semi-precious stones, which he brought back to Milan to carve into ashtrays and bracelets. In the end, what started as a single operation with a single carving wheel in the same courtyard that Laboratorio Paravicini now looks at, evolved into a 70-person workshop on the outskirts of town making stone objects and jewelry for luxury brands like Chaumet and Dior.
However, as someone who can spend up to 10 hours on one piece, Costanza isn’t overly concerned about size. She starts with a cookie shaped dish, which means it’s been fired in the oven (the brand takes most of its firing to a workshop outside of downtown) but remains unglazed, brushing it with a pigment powder that you mix with water. She explains, “Coating directly onto the biscuit, before polishing the piece, is harder because the surface isn’t smooth, but it does ensure the dishes can be for everyday use and are dishwasher safe.” This distinguishes Paravicini’s work from many other fine hand-decorated ceramics, and requires them to be more meticulous in their technique, which she likens to watercolor painting – the porous, unglazed clay acts almost like a sponge, absorbing paint and distorted lines drawn by non-beginners’ hands. Once each painting is decorated, it is dipped in glaze, which slightly degrades the illustration, but also lends it the serendipity and imperfection that Paravicini finds alluring. “It gives her a special kind of magic,” she says.
Lots of others agree. Last fall, at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, the brand presented a collaboration with New York-based jewelry label Foundrae that consists of miniature plates decorated with mystical symbols (lion, compass, pyramid) representing ideas such as strength, karma and protection. This spring, the women plan to publish a book detailing the history of Laboratorio Paravicini, and launch a new collaboration with Milanese brand Lisa Corti. However, the majority of business comes from commissions. When I visited the studio, Paravicini showed me a set she designs for thirsty fox hunting—11 panels with beagle graphics pouncing over or through a monogram made of jagged green letters, and 12 panels decorated with a single fox. She enjoys working directly with clients, which pushes her imaginative limits, even though the exchange goes both ways. “Often they come up with a solid idea of what they want, and they leave wanting something completely different,” she says. “Sometimes, I feel like a psychiatrist.” This leads me to ask which dishes you like the same. She stops and laughs, saying that despite the colorful mountains of dishes that surround us, she uses a simple kit with a solid green paint at home. “It’s crazy, but I don’t have time to paint for myself,” she says. “After all these years, I’m still waiting to get my own.”