A Short Film Offers a Private Look Into the Life of an Italian Architect and Design Enigma

A close-up of Mollino-designed chairs in his Teatro Regio.

A closeup of Mollino-designed chairs in his Teatro Regio.Photo: Courtesy of Oscar Humphries

Though he was one of Italy’s most influential mid-20th-century architects and interior designers, very little is known about the inner world of Turinese legend Carlo Mollino. Born in 1905 in the northern Italian city of Turin, Mollino became a figure of fascination for design enthusiasts worldwide, many of whom were transfixed by his hidden private life and ability to create dreamy, sensuous spaces inspired by his various obsessions—which ranged from the voluptuousness of the female form to symbols and talismans of witchcraft and the occult. At a time when the style of the day was, for the most part, defined by a movement known as Rationalism (led by fellow design giants like Gio Ponti and the Castiglioni brothers, who looked to architecture primarily as a self-effacing entity, created more for streamlined functionality than for decoration), Mollino’s work was particularly unique, overtly romantic, and a far cry from the goings-on in Milan.

Carlo Mollino’s RAI Auditorium, built in 1952.

Carlo Mollino’s RAI Auditorium, built in 1952. Photo: Courtesy of Oscar Humphries

After graduating from college, where he studied engineering, architecture, and art history, Mollino began working for his father’s architecture firm. There, he entered several design competitions and won for projects like the Agricultural Federation in Cuneo, Italy, and the Turin Equestrian Association headquarters, both of which, for buildings intended for public use, were unusually artsy and illustrated his predilection for sloping forms and circular spaces. After Mollino left his father’s firm, he spent the rest of his life picking and choosing his own projects, many of them commissions for private homes that were hidden from public view. His most famous work, the grand Teatro Regio in Turin, an opera house, is one of his only buildings still standing today.

As Mollino’s oeuvre has grown in appreciation over the years, the scarcity of what is available to view and acquire has only added fuel to the fire. In 2005, a Mollino table earned a record-high sale for 20th-century furniture at Christie’s, going for $3.8 million. “Its great appeal is the immediately seductive look,” a former director at Christie’s, Philippe Garner, told The New York Times in a 2009 interview. “The fact that virtually every piece can be traced to a specific commission and that production was very limited add the appeal of rarity.”

 The chairs in Carlo Mollino’s RAI Auditorium.

The chairs in Carlo Mollino’s RAI Auditorium.Photo: Courtesy of Oscar Humphries

It was only until Mollino expert and curator Fulvio Ferrari and his son Napoleone discovered and restored an apartment Mollino had been secretly working on did the doors to the architect’s world open. A social recluse for most of his life, Mollino spent years creating and decorating a home for himself on the River Po in which to live out his later days. Inside, both his dark strangeness and genius were revealed: Rooms immaculately decorated, strange voodoo imagery hung on walls and ceilings, and hundreds of erotic Polaroids taken of women who modeled for him were found. Obsessed by the Ancient Egyptian mummification process and beliefs, Mollino also created a wooden boat-like bed that served as a symbolic vessel of passage into the afterlife, placed in a room prepared meticulously for his death. Though he never actually lived in this apartment, it spoke most aptly to his deep love of all things beautiful, revealing how carefully he tried to construct the world around him. It is within this space—now known as the Museo Casa Mollino, a highlight for visitors to Turin—that Mollino has been brought back to life.

In a beautiful new short film—directed by Felipe Sanguinetti, produced by Oscar Humphries, narrated by Fulvio Ferrari, and given exclusively to Vogue—we are offered visits to Mollino’s Teatro Regio and Casa Mollino. It provides private insights into Mollino’s mind and how he saw the world. Shot from around corners and through half-opened doors, the visual narrative is atmospheric in its secrecy, just as one would imagine for spaces of Mollino’s. His presence is palpable and, in many ways, evidently vulnerable in the navigation of the camera’s lens: As viewers, we get the distinct impression that we are walking side by side with Mollino himself, reseeing the spaces so close to his heart.

The completed Teatro Regio, 1973.

The completed Teatro Regio, 1973.Photo: Courtesy of Oscar Humphries

“Mollino is so famous for the Polaroids he took and his iconic pieces of design, that as an architect he’s often overlooked,” said Humphries, who shot the film with friend Sanguinetti in June. “But he was an architect first, and we wanted to show that.”

Of the film’s humanized perspective, Sanguinetti noted: “I wanted to share what I felt in these two spaces. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and what Mollino brings out in people is such a unique and emotional response to his work. I hope the spectator, when watching the film, can feel that.”

n watching the film, can feel that.”

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