Willy Rizzo the Italian photographer and designer known for his images of celebrities and his decadent furniture designs, in the sixties and seventies has died in Paris at the age of 84. The announcement came through his studio.
Born in Naples in 1928, his first major job was covering the Nuremberg trials, following World War II. He also documented the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. In 1947, the English Blackstar agency sended him to the United States to photograph a $1 machine which distributed nylon stockings in drive-in cinemas. He prefered women’s fashion and soon started a new life in Los angeles. Max Corre, with whom he had collaborated in France Dimanche soon called him to announce that Jean Prouvost was creating a big magazine in Paris, he returned to France and met Hervé Mille. This was the beginning of his Paris Match adventure.
Rizzo soon became part of the new aristocracy of photographers emerging around the young. They were the first wave of romantic daredevils who like distinctive sign of their nobility with a Leica camera brandished like a trophy. In 1959, he became the artistic director of Marie Claire and collaborated with the biggest fashion magazines like Vogue, where Alex Liberman asked him to work. He photographed Brigitte Bardot, Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe among the many who posed for him in pictures for such magazines as Vogue and Life.
Imagination and necessity launched Rizzo into the world of furniture design. As a photographer of playboys and starlets, he had a ready-made customer base eager to build their living quarters around an ultra-modern Rizzo piece and items that remain as timeless as his images. Rizzo’s original venture into furniture design began in Rome and took place during an often reported visit to a Roman hair salon on the Piazza di Spagna in 1966. By testing the hairdresser’s knowledge of local real estate agents, he ended up signing a six month lease on an abandoned commercial apartment, barely habitable and without running water. Rizzo quickly set about turning the empty office into a living space, complete with brown and gold walls and custom-designed sofas, coffee tables, consoles and hi-fi storage units.
Using a small group of local artisans who assisted him in completing the customised apartment, which acted as a template of sorts for the majority of his commissions to come. Though never his intention to become a furniture designer, Rizzo’s friends, clients and contacts, many forming the upper crust of the fashion and film industries, fell in love with his creations and he was swamped with orders and requests. Rizzo’s best known furniture design is his revolving coffee table which can be seen on the set of the Graham Norton Show in the UK.