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Book review: The Last Swan

Large, glossy photographs of yachting in the Mediterranean, sumptuous New York apartments, converted Corsican convents and verdant, elegant Italian gardens, sound like your cup of tea?

The Last Swan

Marella Agnelli and Marella Carraciolo Chia

Large, glossy photographs of yachting in the Mediterranean, sumptuous New York apartments, converted Corsican convents and verdant, elegant Italian gardens, sound like your cup of tea? Then you’ll be drawn into the glamorous, enthralling world of style icon Marella Agnelli in this recent autobiography cum biography, The Last Swan, that was prompted by her grandson (current Fiat chairman) John Elkann.

Inspired by Agnelli’s nickname “The Swan” given to her by Richard Avedon when he photographed her iconic portrait in 1953, this handsome coffee-table tome explores the socialite’s world as seen through her private homes and gardens.

The Neapolitan princess married Fiat industrialist Gianni Agnelli in 1953, helped establish the Agnelli dynasty and went on to become one of the most photographed women of high society in the 1950s and 1960s.

The book explores the Agnelli family’s 10 residences, stretching from Turin and Rome, to St Moritz and Marrakech. It’s a plethora of lavish photographs intertwined with Agnelli’s memoirs as she recounts, among other anecdotes, her romance with Gianni Agenelli, her friendship and consequent falling out with Truman Capote and details of the family’s many exciting travels.

Agnelli recruited many important artists of her era to help her create their numerous extraordinary gardens and houses, some purposely acquired to house their vast and invaluable art collection. British gardener, garden designer and landscape architect, Russell Page; Italian architect, lighting and interior designer and industrial designer, Gae Aulenti and American architect, Peter Marino, are just part of this group.

Aulenti recalls in the book that “a sense of humour [was] always intrinsic to Gianni and Marella’s aesthetic,” and with this in mind, look out for the flock of lambs (the translation of agnelli) by Francois-Xavier Lalanne in their Milan apartment.

PUBLISHED BY: Rizzoli

PAGES: 304

RATING: Three stars

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