The first time I set foot on the Italian island of Pantelleria (located in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea) was 30 years ago, when I made a trip there to visit a friend. Believe it or not, I didn’t like it. I expected it to be more exotic, not so “hard”. There were no nice hotels, no restaurants, no life. We needed a generator to cook. The greatest excitement of the day was when a car went by on the road. But after a few days, I acclimatised to the inactivity. One day, I looked up to that clear sky and everything was just so quiet and calm – a pure silence.
In 1981, I returned to visit another friend and decided to purchase a house there. A few years later I bought another piece of land that was closer to the water and, ever since, this island home has been my summer refuge every August. Of course, these days, Pantelleria is quite different: it has electricity, there are a few hotels, and cars passing by on the road are no longer the big attraction. But it still retains that untouched wildness and beauty, which remind me of that moment when I first bought the house.
The original structures were two abandoned dammusi on this isolated spot where people often picked Indian figs from the giant cacti. (The dammuso is a traditional architectural structure made of natural materials such as rock, red tufo and plaster, and was introduced to Pantelleria in the 10th century.) The two-feet-thick stone walls are constructed from volcanic rock and the white domed roofs are natural forms of insulation and protection from the extremely high temperatures, so the rooms in the house are cool and the air is fresh constantly – it’s even better than air-conditioning!
Strangely enough, the sea was not a priority for me. It was the whole island, the light, and the coarse, wild terrain. It was humbling being surrounded by huge, black volcanic rock – it gave the locale strength. And I needed a natural force that strong to help me relax.
Over the years, I have worked tirelessly on the Oasis garden that surrounds my house. It includes spectacular Tiaré trees, magnificent rose bushes, jasmine hedges, rare cypress trees, and 300-year-old palm trees imported from Sicily, not to mention the local prickly Echninocactus grusonii (cactus) plants and Cycads. Every year, the property is given a maintenance makeover. In fact, last year, work was done to the swimming pool, and I also completely renovated the interiors using pieces from my Armani Casa line.
I chose to work with architect Gabriella Giuntoli on this house for a number of reasons. She is a native of Pantelleria and understands the natural surroundings perfectly. On top of that, she has an innate ability to comprehend someone’s taste and needs, transforming these ideas into a reality that is simple, natural, and, ultimately, luxurious. What do I love most about this house? The outdoor living room terrace that looks out towards the sea; the swimming pool that appears like a natural pool among the wild landscape; the sense of calm and relaxation; and the fact that it is so close to Milan yet feels like I am miles away from civilisation.
This holiday home in Pantelleria mirrors my vision and personal style aesthetic perfectly. As with clothing, one's home reflects one’s personality. That is why it is so important to select items that help to bring out your personality in a natural way. You have to feel comfortable, relaxed and pampered in your own home. I love anything that has its foundation in nature, whether we are talking about material, colour, or form. I have several homes now all over the world. Each one is very different, but the common denominator among them is that they all reflect my personality and the surrounding natural landscapes.
People often ask me to compare my home in Milan with my home in Pantelleria. They are two completely different realities and perform different functions. My home in Milan is where I spend my working life, and stick to the Monday-through-Friday work schedule. It is modern, functional, and linear. I can relax and have people over, and yet be in the office in two seconds. Plus, I’m right in the centre of Milan!
Pantelleria is my summer refuge. I live outdoors when I’m there. It’s the only place where I truly feel I can “switch off” and escape from the stress and wear and tear of working life. I used to visit only in the summer, but recently, I’ve headed there for long weekends in the autumn and spring. It's so close to Tunisia that the weather is always warm and inviting. My sister says it’s the only place that makes my face change. It’s because I’m genuinely relaxed; the stress disappears!