James Mollison

‘Building a collection is like climbing Everest’

Five Venetian collectors discuss the objects that fascinate them and why, from coloured glassware to Scandinavian furniture, shoes, Lego figures — and harpoons 

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  • Francesca Bortolotto Possati The president of the Bauer hotel on her love of glass in classic Venetian hues

‘I am fascinated by glass. Venice is a city of glass — we use it every day. I don’t think of it as something fragile; it’s more robust than people imagine. Blown glass has a flexibility that makes it strong. 

‘It’s not appealing to me to buy things that are similar to each other. I collect whatever I see and love — vases, animal figures, abstract sculptures, antique, contemporary. The melting vase with the striped green centre is my own design. I have large amounts of clear glass, but am now more into colour.

‘As with fabric, the traditional Venetian colours are impossible to reproduce using new technology. The many different shades of green — which I find so attractive — are all yellower now. Yellow is easy, and not as pretty. But I am open to anything made of glass. I just bought two huge Japanese sculptures, one green, one white, each a metre and a half tall. They will arrive here soon: I can’t wait.’

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  • Roberto Compagno The CEO of Slowear on the furniture he displays in his fashion stores

‘Good design is always modern and up-to-date, even if it’s 50 or 60 years old. This applies to fashion, which is my work, and also to furniture. I haven’t been collecting for all that long — 10 years or so.

‘My preference is for Scandinavian and Italian design from the 1940s to the 1960s. I have some important pieces — Gio Ponti, Saarinen — but I am not looking for star names or investments. For me, it all comes down to my own taste. If I like it, I buy it, whether it is by Mies van der Rohe or someone I have never heard of. 

‘The black chair is Danish, a little piece of art made by a craftsman who is really an artist. The Italian desk, with its secret compartments, is timeless. Some pieces I use to create a special feeling in my stores. You need to put furniture to work because it takes up so much space. Maybe I should switch to collecting watches.’

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  • Roberta Rossi The shoe guru on why orange pumps would be her favourite footwear

‘Shoes are my life. I grew up in the Riviera del Brenta outside Venice, where luxury shoes are made — I think I started to smell shoes around me when I was one month old. And I was a shoe model for a long time. I am lucky to have size 37 feet — the sample size. Designers have built their shoes around me, sketched on my feet.

‘I have more than 3,000 pairs, and I love all of them. I try to wear each pair at least once, if only for a few hours. I like the Cinderella idea: I want shoes to be pretty, feminine, sexy. A shoe can be like a sculpture. It involves the same issues — the perfect line, translating the idea into material form. But my favourites are plain pumps; they are the essence of a shoe. And I love shoes that are red or orange, because they remind me of the colours of the Venetian sunset.’

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  • Cristiano Spiller The DJ and record producer on his anarchic collection of Lego figures

‘The first Lego figures appeared in the world at the same time as I did — 1975. In their modern form they consist of nine basic parts: head, two arms, torso, two hands, hips, two legs. I think they are perfect in their design. There are almost 1,000 figures on the tiered display, which I built from 7,000 white Lego bricks.

‘Lego was not valued around the time of the millennium, so you could get great deals. I bought 60 kilos of Lego for €30. The rarest figure in today’s market is called Mr Gold. I have seen it offered for €5,000 — and it is not real gold! 

‘Lego purists would be outraged, but I have a few interesting Russian and Chinese fakes, such as the two pink girls in heart T-shirts. Again, though some say it is against the rules, I enjoy mixing pieces, customising the figures.

‘There is one in the photograph that is a bit obscene. I wonder if anyone will spot it.’

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  • Rino Ferro The former butcher on the poetic beauty of harpoons shaped by hand

‘My surname is Ferro — or iron, in English — and quite by chance I started collecting iron objects. I’m also a Pisces, and much of what I collect has to do with fishing, boats, or the Venetian lagoon — although I started with a rusty door hinge when I was 14. But I was quite a good fisherman, and that became one of the main focuses of the collection. I have around 600 harpoons dating from the Middle Ages to the 1950s.

‘After that date, the beauty’s gone. You can design tools with a pantograph and cut them with a laser, but there’s no creativity. Back in the day, people would convert garden forks into harpoons and repair them ingeniously, lovingly, with whatever was to hand.

‘I’ve worn out 20 cars travelling the length and breadth of Italy. Building a collection is like climbing Everest: you can’t do it without sherpas — all those people you meet along the way, who bring you things, who care about preserving our cultural memory.’