Outside Caffé Sant’Eustachio students and cabbies, bankers and brokers, pundits and senators sip espresso and mock the news. Starbucks, the US coffee...
In 1994, the two sisters, Cristina and Laura Capitanio embarked in a one way flight from their foggy hometown, Bergamo – an urban conglomerate founded by Celtic tribes a few hundred years B.C. in Lombardy, region of Northern Italy – to the sunny Los Angeles – a metropolis risen up in an area which, accordingly to recent archeological studies, was populated by a seafaring culture, starting from 8000 B.C.
I’m sure that comes as a surprise for lots of you. Honestly, dear readers, how many of you would have guessed right to the question: Which, among Bergamo and L.A., is the oldest human settlement? Very few, for sure.
However, that’s not the point here. The fact is that, as far as art and cultural artifacts in general are concerned, Italy boasts a very ancient, intact heritage, while there is hardly any evidence left today of the Native American populations, before their contact with the Europeans.
Cristina and Laura, who have had the privilege of growing up, surrounded by art, displayed a great enterprising spirit, founding the custom wall-covering and decorative painting studio, Sorelle Fine Arts LLC.
I’ve had the precious chance to get a taste of the sisters Capitanio’s zest for life, talking with them, in occasion of their debut at the WestEdge Design Fair-Made Modern (hosted from October 22-25, at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica), which annually celebrates the very best of international design.
Please, tell us more about your background. Where were you born? How did you grow up? What type of education did you have?
We were born in Bergamo, Italy. We were like best friends, since we were very little. We used to play together, then, we started to travel around the world together. Finally, working together seemed to be the most natural evolution.
Cristina attended the “Liceo Artistico” in Bergamo and learned the art of fresco painting and restoration at Studio Manenti, in Brescia. After moving to L.A., she studied interior design, screen printing and printing at UCLA.
Laura, instead, had a background in accounting, then, she pursued her real vocation and earned a degree in Art History. Lastly, she furthered her specialization in precious metal leafing, gilding and screen printing, by also attending restoration and conservation workshops.
Tell us more about the WestEdge Design Fair, Made Modern, in Santa Monica? Is it the first time you’re taking part to it?
This is our first time participating in Westedge. Made Modern presented the perfect platform for us to showcase our products. It has been an honor and an inspiration to be surrounded by all these talented, creative makers, artists and artisans. We were very excited about the wonderful opportunity of attention from designers, architects and other professional in the trade about our unique wall-covering. There is nothing like our product in the market. That represented a challenge: in fact, one may feel totally indifferent towards our creations, because he/she can’t envision an application for them. We made new, valuable connections at the fair, including many outstanding Italian firms. Ultimately, having taken our share of risks, paid us back, since lots of professionals in the trade “grasped” our offer of something different, handcrafted and unique.
Please, share with us some of your ups and downs in the twenty years you’ve been running Sorelle Fine Arts LLC?
In 1994, when we came to the United States, we found this country to be very welcoming and supportive. In those same years, the economy was growing fast because of both the computers and internet becoming mainstream.
The housing market bloomed rapidly and the demand for decorating the real estate grew accordingly. Back then, Mediterranean architecture was fashionable, so we were able to fit right in, with our reproductions of those looks and ambience, whom people were after.
The demand for decorative painting came in every shape and form. Imagine us, just arrived from Italy, working for celebrities, the likes of Eddy Murphy and Kirk Douglas! We were over the moon!
Everything changed with the latest economic recession. Following 2008, the design world shifted from lavish and elaborated finishes to minimalist and bare designs. We had to adjust and reconfigure the services we provided. It was very challenging to reinvent ourselves and our work in a way that was both authentic and fresh.
Right now the design world is shifting back. There is a new demand for decorative accents, which are unique, hand-crafted, durable and precious.
A different challenge came, when Cristina started a family and had children (Nilo, now 13, and Chiara, 11). As a matter of fact, to balance family and work was pretty demanding especially for an Italian “mamma”.
Tell us about your experience as set decorators in Hollywood? What was the biggest professional satisfaction as set decorators?
We loved it! We were very young and for us it was like a dream come true! We also learned to work very fast and to handle the stress of tight deadlines. In fact, set painters are the last to come in, right after the set is built and before the actual shooting start.
Since we were working on small budget, indie films, our professional satisfaction came more from the chance to make a living out of what we loved (that is, painting), rather than from collaborations on well-known movies.
Do you have contacts with the Italian-American community in L.A.? For instance, do you attend the local Italian Cultural Institute?
We love the IIC and attend its events often. We are also part of the DIVE – organization that stands for Donne Italiane Che Vivono all’Estero. About once a month, we take part to the club’s meeting, whose only requirement to join is to speak Italian. We always participate in fun and engaging activities, including museum visits, architectural tours, tombola etc...We also belong to the Minitalians LA - an online yahoo group which connects Italian families in Los Angeles.
We constantly strive to keep our Italian spirit alive. The typical, Italian sense of humor, livelihood and take on life is “engraved” in our spirit, but we also “fuel” those positive qualities, keeping in touch with our community.
To conclude, what do you think about Los Angeles and its surroundings? Is there a specific architecture/design in L.A. that inspires you?
We love L.A., mainly because people come here with a dream. You can feel the energy and it’s always amazing and inspiring to witness people going for their dreams.
We enjoy how the museums here offer very welcoming and approachable events, which pair art and music. We love especially going to LACMA museum, because of its exhibits but also for its concerts in the park. We attend regularly to the salsa/Latin jazz series, on Saturdays, and the jazz one, on Fridays.
In 2013, finally the city of Los Angeles lifted a ban on public murals, that was in storage for, likely, a decade. That brought about a myriad of street art, which can now be enjoyed all over town. It always make us happy and inspire us.
We are also very supportive of the mural conservancy of L.A., which helps preserving this form of art and educate people about the city’s rich tradition of murals.