Romeo Sozzi chose the name of his Lake Como-based company Promemoria as a “declaration of love for the ability to conserve”. “Our mission is remembering the past to improve the future,” says his son Davide, Architect at the Italian luxury furniture firm, in an exclusive interview with Chris Hanrahan.
Davide Sozzi never leaves home without his sketchbook. It’s a habit he picked up from his father. If you ever get a chance to peek into his book, you will know where this handsome and quietly charismatic 44-year-old architect and entrepreneur has been travelling in the past few months. While many of us post our travel images on Instagram these days, Sozzi draws his with graphite pencils on white sketch paper. Created his way, travel images have infinitely more resonance than anything you’ll see on any social media site.
Sitting in luxury furniture retailer and interior design firm Moie’s stately Promemoria show apartment at the very top of Pacific Place Residences on Sudirman one Thursday afternoon in November, Sozzi leafs through the book and shows us his recent drawings of the lively street life in Colombia. A few pages on are sketches of the Louvre and Notre Dame, done during a short stay in the City of Light.
“Mostly, I like to draw architectural subjects – I like ancient churches especially,” says this fearless adventurer who flies seaplanes and sail boats for fun and restores oily vintage British motorbikes in his spare time. “In the last few years, though, I have been trying to become better at drawing people, especially hands and faces.”
Sozzi doesn’t agree with the notion that some people can draw and some can’t – that artists are born, not made. “I think that we can all draw something, and we can all reach a good level if we have the right training and if we practice,” he declares. “I’m no Modern master, but I do love to sketch. It relaxes me and it gives me ideas.”
These ideas go, year after year, into intriguing and never less than impressive collections of high-end hand-made furniture, leather goods, upholstery, engraving and lighting products that, during the past 30 years, have gained admirers among the owners of grand apartments, residences, hotels, resorts, chateaus and palaces in places like Milan and Moscow, London and New York, Paris and Miami – and more recently, thanks to a successful partnership with Moie, in Jakarta and Bali.
Promemoria, the Lake Como-based company Davide Sozzi (as Architect and Designer, in charge of the interior design and projects department) and his two brothers, Stefano (Production Manager) and Paolo (Operations Manager), run under the still watchful eye of their 70-year-old father, Romeo Sozzi, is more than just an upscale northern Italian furniture designer and manufacturer. It has become an increasingly successful furniture designer and exporter, especially since the sons joined the company. “Promemoria is,” as Moie’s Michelle Shang puts it, “the Hermes of luxury furniture – the pinnacle.”
Davide Sozzi likes to view the family business as “as inexhaustible test bench for innovative projects and a factory where dreams are transformed into luxury artisan furniture. The entrepreneurial and manufacturing nature have found a rare synthesis, because my father does not fear small numbers. He often works to measure, but acts in an international space.” He says the “peculiar spirit” that his father instilled into the company “is palpable”.
What has Davide learned from his father? “I took many things from him,” he says. “The thing about working as a family, many times we are fighting. But that’s good, even creative sometimes. When you are running a business, you need someone to tell you when you’re making a mistake. My employees would not dare to tell me when I’m going wrong, but my father and my brothers will.”
You don’t get to the top without expecting employees to meet unrelentingly rigorous quality standards. Romeo Sozzi founded the family business with a passion for high cabinet-making. Davide Sozzi gives a wry smile when asked if he and his brothers give their people a hard time if they are not satisfied with a piece that comes out of the workshop.
“It’s like this,” he says. “If I have the money to buy it and I order a brand-new Ferrari, when the car arrives I expect it to be absolutely perfect. If there’s even the tiniest of microscopic scratches on it, I say: ‘I don’t want it like this. Take it back.’
“Well, I tell my people that it’s the same with Promemoria furniture clients. Don’t tell me that that mark on the leather is natural and there’s nothing you can do about it. The customer doesn’t know that. He or she simply sees a mark, and they don’t want it. So, you just have to find a way to use that expensive piece of calf leather so that the mark can’t be seen.”
Can perfection be achieved? “People are becoming more and more demanding and require unique and personalised luxury experiences,” Sozzi points out. “They have everything. They want something special, tailor-made, exclusive. They pay more attention to detail and look for quality. It is therefore essential to provide unique and customised solutions that combine aesthetics and functionality, produced with high-quality materials and high standards of work.” His philosophy is that the company is engaged in “the search for perfection in execution as a synthesis of the Italian taste, attention to details and uniqueness.”
Fortunately, Promemoria’s employees include many of the best furniture craftsmen in northern Italy, so imperfections are rare. Sozzi says the company appreciates the abilities of its workers and that it invests in nurturing young talent with the aim that that the family business will continue for generations to come.
Located at the foot of the Alps, in the northwest of Lombardy, between Milan and Lake Como, Brianza is a favourite summer resort for the people of Milan. Aside from its scenery and tourism, Brianza is famous for its production of furniture, an industry that employs some 15,000 workers in the area. Brianza boasts a centuries-old tradition of high-quality carpentry, on the basis of which the furniture industry was created in the years after the Second World War. A great many artisan workshops opened in the late 1940s and 50s.
Promemoria appeared in the Brianza area, located at nearby Valmadrera (Romeo Sozzi’s birthplace), in 1988, the founder having made his debut in interior decoration in the seventies. But as Davide Sozzi points out, the company’s roots go back to the 19th century, “in a small town in Lake Como where the Sozzi family ran a shop to restore and repair the carriages of the local aristocracy. The craftsmanship that led to Promemoria developed over four generations.”
In the context of an industry that that is separated into different levels of quality, the furniture companies in Lombardy mainly operate within the medium to high band, and strive to be recognised for the superior standards of their designs. Strong technical and professional skills are to be found in the area, as well as a flair for extraordinary design and a long history of constant innovation.
An area with more than 2,000 manufacturing businesses of different kinds, Brianza has established itself as a hub for designer furniture production. This sector is the true vocation of this area, which is recognised internationally for its renowned brands and historic products. From the processing of wood to the construction of sofas, the furniture sector generates annual turnover for the local economy of more than 2 billion euros.
Promemoria furniture is recognised worldwide as one of the highest expressions in the field of luxury furnishing, synonymous with exclusivity and distinction. It’s been chosen by discerning clients to furnish luxurious villas, exclusive apartments and expensive hotels in many parts of the world.
“Our designs are based on artistic ideas and artisanal savoir-faire,” says Davide Sozzi. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t use new technology to ensure high-end quality. We have invested in advanced numerical control machines. Our R&D department constantly studies materials and new techniques for processing precious materials and finishes.”
In addition, Promemoria has undertaken a process of quality and authenticity control for its designs. It provides a serial number, identifiable and traceable, engraved on a bronze plate on each piece, and on the Certificate of Authenticity that accompanies the sale.
Romeo Sozzi chose the name of his company (which translates as “reminder”) as a “declaration of love for the ability to conserve”. “Our mission is remembering the past to improve the future,” says Davide. Strongly linked to Lake Como, Promemoria often produces custom-made and limited-edition pieces.
The way Romeo sees it, “luxury is a dream, the project is the realisation”. He is a designer, but remains above all an artist, says Davide: “He is an eclectic, an admirer of the sensuality of life, always observing, taking notes, listening to harmonies, breathing fragrances, tasting new flavours, caressing materials, travelling the world.” His son is following very much in his footsteps.
A notebook always in his pocket, with pens and pencils, Romeo is always noting down ideas, says Davide. He might study the profile of a mountain, and that will evolve into a handle. Or the sinuosity of a lake wave may inspire a work in bronze. As well as his notebook his box of watercolours is inseparable. “Smart colors”, Romeo has said, “are to be separated from the stupid colours, which I do not care about.” He has devoted his life to the pursuit of beauty.
Romeo Sozzi loves to travel. When he is not overseas looking for inspiration, he can be found in his company, or immersed in the silence of his villa on the lake. Here he reads, studies, draws, writes, collects objects, consults his precious books, and searches for his muses in small objects, great pieces of art and furniture from all over the world.
The “Sozzi frog” is the symbol of Promemoria. This animal was a source of curiosity and study for the founder long before the start of his business. For many years, Romeo has collected frogs of all shapes and types. One day, he began to draw them, thus transforming the archetype of the frog into small tools in common use, such as candles or doorstops, or refined decorative details. The frog, as a symbol of metamorphosis, transforms the past to leap into the future, becoming the expression of the ability to preserve.