Crespi crafted her objects and furniture with a sense of glory and rumination for nature. In all her homes, she never let curtains or screens block the natural flow of light and air. In a sense, it was her way of allowing the universe and the cosmic energy of nature to move freely in her space while invigorating her authentic person. Her daughter Elisabetta described her mother’s style as spontaneous, yet consistently elegant and sophisticated. She loved large dramatic hats and exotic finds from her travels; yet, she never failed to make even the most basic cotton tunics look luxurious. Soigne was part of her upbringing; she continued to carry herself with an effortless sophistication as she moved through her exciting life as an artist.
“I remember her in a magnificent haute couture Roberto Capucci long cape, which she wore in Madrid during one of her openings, where she presented her collections of objects and furniture to society friends and buyers. I had accompanied her there, and I have vivid memories of how naturally regal she looked, as if she were born wearing that cape.” Elisabetta Crespi.
Daughter of a jewelry designer and a mechanical engineer, Crespi was the perfect amalgam of creativity and technical exactitude. In a very Milanese fashion, her designs showcased both form and function, never sacrificing one for the other. Elisabetta recalls, “She patented all the mechanisms that made her sculptural cabinets open like clamshells, and her tables extend elliptical wings, like futuristic spaceships.”
During the 40’s though it was considered inappropriate for a woman to have a career, let alone one in architecture, Crespi studied art at Milan’s Brera Academy of Fine Arts; then she enrolled at the Faculty of Architecture at Milan’s Politecnico Institute. Perhaps it was her unstoppable need to create that kept her so ambitious and ready; Her drawing pad was always with her.
In the 50’s, she lovingly began creating small objects for her girlfriends. These small creations included baroque style trinket boxes, textures of wood and velvet, and metallic finishes with poetic phrases engraved. These unique pieces screamed luxury and desire, so much that the Maison Dior immediately purchased them for its Paris Boutique. Crespi shortly thereafter opened up her showroom in Milan. Her effervescence both within herself and her designs brought along some notable fans turned friends such as Audrey Hepburn and Hubert De Givenchy.
Crespi’s line of furniture, Plurimi, was a hit in the 70s—she showcased a series of polished, golden brass tables. However, it wasn’t uncommon for the designer to magnify her contrasting styles. Her love for futuristic shapes and luxury finishes never diminished her penchant for humble, natural materials like bamboo. At 65, she plunged deep into a simpler life, focused on meditation, karma yoga, and silence. She spent 20 years in the Indian Himalayas studying the many faces of her Karmic journey and spiritual growth. After suffering from a hip injury, she returned home to Italy, closing this sacred chapter of her life.
In 2015, her series of reeditions of her most famous creations were featured at Milan’s Salone De Mobile. Even at 93, her oigné, charisma, and need for creation were still very much in tact. She passed on February 14, 2017. When once asked what her greatest pleasure was in life, she responded, “Start anew from zero. This is my greatest pleasure.”
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Milan Design Week 2019, Dimore Gallery hosted Visioni, a poetic installation of furniture and lights by the late Italian artist-designer legend Gabriella Crespi. Photography © Nick Hughes/ Yellowtrace.