If I had to come up with the perfect words to describe the material embodiment of escape, they would certainly be: Casa Malaparte.
Not many houses have a history like this one. Conceived in 1937 by Curzio Malaparte, an Italian journalist, writer, dramatist and diplomat, the house was built by local stonemasons with the original draft Alberto Liberia radically remade. It was completed between several of Malaparte's arrests under Mussolini. While initially in his party, Malaparte fell out with him and became a communist after the war.
Only a misanthrope, anarchist and romantic like him could dream up this house, and it eventually became his self-portrait made of stone. He called it Casa Come Me ("A house like me") and in 1940, described it in an essay as a "Portrait in Stone". The house is minimalist and brutal — ironically, the style of brutalism only appeared 15 years after. A sloping terracotta parallelepiped on Cape Massoulié overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, it's only accessible by boat and a steep climb up 99 steps cut into the rock itself. It's a real edge-of-the-earth destination.
It is in this surreal, historical setting that I find myself face to face with Louis Vuitton's second installment of Acte V, the maison's fine jewellery collection. Titled 'The Escape', the collection is dedicated to streamlining, inspired by the Art Deco style of rounded contours and long horizontal lines.
The venue of the presentation tied in perfectly with the idea of travel and escape. In many ways, the year 1937 was the apotheosis of streamlining. It was in an era of movement and all the new ways of rapid transportation — cars, trains, ships, airplanes — and with it, the rise of the jet set. Malaparte, who travelled halfway around the world as both a journalist and a diplomat, was one such member.
As the winded guests clambered up the roughly hewn rock steps (ladies were urged to wear flat shoes), the legendary staircase to the roof emerged out of a slab of rock, which Brigitte Bardot famously ran through in Jean-Luc Godard's film, Le Mépris. For most guests, Godard's film was, up to this point, almost the only opportunity to see the interior of this secretive house — and now, here it was, open for us to explore after all these years.
Beyond the hallway — decorated with furniture made from sketches by Malaparte himself — lies a pure white space with stone floors, a massive polished wooden table with wavy edges and a fireplace. This was the backdrop for models who walked around in black suits and sandals emblazoned with the familiar letter "V" and, of course, the jewellery. The mise-en-scène was entirely Godard-like: beautiful girls in suspended positions at the windows on the floor, with a view of the impressive Faraglioni rocks, one of the most famous views of the sea of Capri.
That's not to say the view indoors was unimpressive. Long necklaces, with tassels of pearls and a big onyx inlaid with sculptural shapes (typical of the Art Deco style and extremely difficult to perfect when working with such large surfaces); diamond bracelets and earrings curved and twisted into a spiral line, Newport-style; turquoise enamel grand feu (a color difficult to achieve) covered with guilloche in a fan-shaped central element on a Beau Rivage necklace, its deep hues reminiscent of the sea. Another piece resplendent in its extraordinary purity was the Capri necklace, where the depth and size of the central African tourmaline dazzled its viewers in a scintillating aquamarine color. The most impressive of all was the Majestic necklace, with a large triangular black opal its central focus. Its rounded edges were fixed only on the corners, which held this piece open to the light, catching and reflecting in shades of dark purple to flashing red — almost psychedelic in its visual effect.
After a leisurely afternoon of exploration, dinner was served on the roof patio, which doubled as a solarium and held textbooks on the architecture of modernism. Hamdi Chatti, vice president of Louis Vuitton's jewellery and watches division, opened the evening: "In no other place in Italy is there such latitude horizon or a depth of feeling. This is, without doubt, a place that is suitable only for the strong and free of spirit."
In the pink and purple twilight of dusk, the sharp scent of lemon trees wafting on the breeze, it seemed that those words perfectly summed up the evening.