12:30 p.m.: I arrive at Avon Bistro in Midtown to meet Francesca Mambrini, who is only in New York for two days. Her lovely assistant, Chiara Cattaneo, and FN Fashion Assistant Brittany Sullivan join us for lunch. While Brittany and I have been traversing the city for market appointments and previews all morning, Chiara and Francesca have already made it to Bergdorf, Barney’s and Donna Karan. Lucky girls! Francesca tells us they also made a stop at FAO Schwartz, which she appropriately calls “a place where you can dream.” The goodies? “My daughter wants to be a designer, so I got her a kit where you can design a dress and shoes,” she says.
1 p.m.: Francesca’s itinerary for the afternoon sounds irresistible, so I ask to join the Italian duo. To my delight, they agree. “This afternoon, we’ll aim for a little bit higher [intellectual] level,” Francesca promises. MoMA, the Rizzoli bookstore and Rockefeller Center are on their short list. “And we have to go to that amazing store in Rockefeller Center with all the different little things,” Francesca adds, looking to me for the answer. J.Crew? Brookstone? The Met Store? I can’t think which it must be. “Anthropologie!” Brittany suggests, lighting on the answer. I ask if we will be shopping for inspiration and Francesca replies, “My inspiration comes from people, nature. New York has great energy. It is fantastic to people watch here. But my ideas come more as an inexpressible feeling, a combination between colors or materials, for instance.”
1:30 p.m.: Francesca has come to town for the Borbonese campaign shoot, which she will attend on her second day in New York. As creative director consulting on the Borbonese collection, Francesca will work with Giovanni Bianco, best known as Madonna’s art director, to style the shoot. As we eat, our conversation turns to the designer’s family and background. “I am from Rome, where it’s sunny and people are always happy,” Francesca says. “I am always happy, and it’s probably because I come from Rome. Milan is not so easy to live in — right now, it’s very depressed and very competitive.” Francesca’s husband, a partner at the law firm Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, moved the family to Milan when he was sent to open the firm’s office there. Francesca enrolled in the Milanese fashion school Istituto Marangoni for a master’s degree in accessories. “Alessandro [Dell’Acqua] saw my drawings and asked me to design,” she recalls. And that was the beginning of her connection to the Dell’Acqua and Borbonese brands, which along with Francesca Mambrini, are owned by Borbonese SpA.
2 p.m.: After lunch, Brittany heads back to the office and I act as tour guide for Francesca and Chiara, a native of Lake Como, Italy, who is seeing the city for the first time. We walk to Rockefeller Center and head straight into Anthropologie. Francesca finds a flowered silk robe to wear while drawing. “Sometimes I can draw all day and other days not,” she says. “When I design, I light candles, spray perfume. I can’t create without the perfect circumstances.” The designer also finds a whimsical sweater embroidered with birds for her daughter, Benedetta, and a few other little presents.
3 p.m.: As we walk from Rockefeller Center to the Rizzoli bookstore, Francesca talks about plans for her own line. Her next collection is inspired by circles and geometric shapes and was especially interesting as it taught her to use shapes in different ways — such as a flower made of circles. “I always wanted to be a handbag designer, but I ended up designing [shoes] for Alessandro Dell’Acqua,” the designer admits. “Now I’m launching two new [Francesca Mambrini] bags for day and evening: the Papillon and the Clutch.” Where are they made? Italy, of course. “The quality is the best you can find on the market. It’s extremely important to be made in Italy because there is a great tradition there,” Francesca says.
3:30 p.m.: While walking on 57th Street, the colorful Mackenzie Childs’ store catches Francesca’s eye. “This store is so me!” the designer exclaims, admiring each piece of furniture and decoration. The only suitcase-friendly piece is a quilted velvet jewelry pouch adorned with satin blossoms. As she checks out, Francesca tells the store clerks they have to bring the shop to Europe.
3:45 p.m.: Across 57th, inside Rizzoli, we spread out to look at giant coffee table books on subjects such as the Romanov’s collection of crown jewels, Italian villas and food photography. Francesca and I meet in the fashion department, but after a half hour of browsing in the cozy bookstore, she reports, “I guess there is no news in the fashion books.” She has all the fashion and shoe books offered at this store. I use my (somewhat limited) tour guide skills to recommend we look at the MoMA bookstore next.
4:30 p.m.: On our way to drop off everything at Francesca’s hotel, we stop at the drugstore to pick up American candy and “junk food” requested by Francesca’s children and Chiara’s brother. Francesca’s personal favorite? Cinnamon Tic Tacs. “We don’t have anything like this!” she says, stocking up her basket. Ring pops, gum, Twix and Combos make the cut. Before we’ve even made it out the door, Francesca is happily popping red Tic Tacs.
4:45 p.m.: Better late than never, we arrive at the MoMA, only minutes before closing. My membership card and desperate lobbying make some headway with the guards, who allow us to tour until 5 p.m. Afterward, we peruse the MoMA bookstore and design store before parting ways. I have to run to another preview, and Francesca is so loaded down with gifts and candy she has to head for the hotel. “Ci vediamo,” we promise — “We’ll see each other soon.”