Dinner and Dancing in an Ivy-Laced Courtyard in Italy
Despite the grand surroundings, a recent dinner held in the ivy-accented courtyard of Milan’s 17th-century Palazzo Durini had a surprising sense of ease about it. This was by design. “Nothing should feel too precious,” the host, Isabel Wilkinson Schor, said of the gathering, though she could just as easily have been talking about Attersee, the New York-based clothing and accessories label she founded in June 2021 with the goal of offering versatile, high-quality clothing that wouldn’t need to be handled with kid gloves. “I found there was a disconnect between the pieces I thought were really beautiful and those I ended up wearing every day,” she said. Now, of course, she wears her own designs, which include cotton-linen pop-overs, shorts and caftans, tailored trousers and cashmere wrap coats with vintage velvet trim. She threw the dinner to celebrate her brand’s one-year anniversary, and its debut of shoes, which came in the form of a collaboration with Drogheria Crivellini, a family-run company that started selling furlanes, the round-toed slip-ons traditionally associated with Venetian gondoliers (the shoes’ soft rubber soles leave the boats’ wooden surfaces unscratched), in 1955.
Wilkinson Schor, 36, a former T editor, is American but has a longstanding love for Italy. She’s visited regularly since she was a child, and got married in Florence in 2017. “I’ve always been enamored with Italian art and architecture and studied the Renaissance in college,” she said. “Spending time there, I’ve been able to discover Italian artists and artisans working today, which I’ve come to appreciate just as much.” She became aware of Drogheria Crivellini, however, from afar and through her mother, who, on a hunt to find an everyday shoe more polished than sneakers, came across the brand’s website in 2017 and was immediately drawn to its story and small-scale, artisan-led production methods. Wilkinson Schor’s mother emailed the brand asking if she might be able to purchase a pair of its furlanes. “We got this message,” said Roberto Crivellini, the company’s owner, “and we just kept talking with each other.” He sent a selection of furlanes in different sizes and colors to her mother in New York. Those she didn’t keep ended up in Wilkinson Schor’s closet. “I love products where you can really feel the hand of the craftsperson,” she said.
Crivellini’s parents, Aldo and Bianca, began selling furlanes after the Second World War out of their general store — drogheria means “grocer’s shop” — in Udine, a small city in Italy’s northeastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The shop closed in the 1970s, but his fondness for the slippers, which were originally made from discarded material like burlap sacks and bicycle tires, remained. “They were humble shoes made by people in the countryside,” he said. In 2014, after having worked for several years in the textile industry, Crivellini resurrected his family’s company, which would now focus on furlanes. “At the time, they were almost unknown here in Italy, let alone abroad,” he said.
Even before the brands teamed up, Drogheria Crivellini shoes taken from Wilkinson Schor’s personal collection appeared in Attersee lookbook images, as she thought the style paired well with her own understated designs. Late last year, she decided to see if a more formal partnership might be possible and was delighted to learn that Crivellini was game. She mailed him a selection of fabrics and he landed on a cotton-and-linen herringbone stripe — Attersee’s signature textile, developed with an Italian mill — which his team of artisans made into classic slip-ons and Mary Janes, both of which are available in stripes and solids in shades of sky blue, sage, cream and navy. Once the collection was nearly finished, Crivellini and Wilkinson Schor agreed that, after years of communicating mostly online, it was high time to celebrate together in person, and among friends.
Bringing 40 guests to the Venetian hinterlands proved complicated, so they settled on Milan. Friends of Wilkinson Schor’s put her in touch with Gea and Cristiano Politi Seganfreddo, who run the contemporary art magazine Flash Art, and who offered up the grounds of Palazzo Durini, where they live in an apartment with their young son, as a venue. Built by the noble Durini family in 1645, the gray stone building is considered a prime example of Lombard Baroque architecture and, as Wilkinson Schor notes, “is obviously very picturesque.” The evening started with aperitivi in the couple’s private garden, so guests — the interior designer Fabrizio Casiraghi, the model Sasha Payton and the furniture designer Mario Milana among them — enjoyed Negronis, gin and tonics and Wilkinson Schor’s favorite, spritzers made with sauvignon blanc, soda and a twist of lemon, as they mingled beneath leafy palms or went wandering down stone pathways, stopping to admire the red-bellied residents of a koi pond. As they did, the jazz guitarist Dario Napoli played from a perch in a wrought-iron greenhouse overlooking the water.
Once everyone had arrived, Wilkinson Schor led the group toward the courtyard, where a long table stretched from one column-lined side to the other. “I wanted a single table despite the scale of the place,” she said, “so that it would feel intimate and friendly.” By the time the guests found their seats, it was laid with the evening’s appetizers, which included knots of buffalo mozzarella, soft discs of roasted eggplants with fresh dill and yogurt sauce, generous chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano and crusty homemade bread made with burnt wheat, all served family style on small plates that were passed up and down the table. Guests also poured their own wine — sparkling Franciacorta, Dolcetto d’Alba and a Vermentino from Sardinia. A bit later, the chef Andrea Vigna brought the second course — paccheri pasta dressed in a light lemon sauce and sprinkled with cracked black pepper; flaky white sea bass roasted with cherry tomatoes, olive oil and lemon; and heaping plates of grilled vegetables.
Dessert was more relaxed still. Not wanting to interrupt the flow of the evening, Wilkinson Schor had laid a table at the edge of the courtyard with Saturn peaches, apricots and glossy red cherries, as well as tarts (raspberry and cream, fig and honey) she’d picked up earlier in the day from the local bakery Pasticceria Sissi. “Some got up and grazed at the dessert table, danced or sat on the benches and lounge chairs around the courtyard, while others stayed chatting at the table,” said Wilkinson Schor, who talked with Crivellini until she, too, was pulled onto the dance floor, where a D.J. played classic Italian pop songs and guests passed around a microphone for singing along. The party went until late into the evening and, needless to say, those who’d begun the night as strangers became fast friends. “I really love introducing new people,” said Wilkinson Schor, “mixing different cities, industries and worlds.” Here, she shares her tips for throwing an equally convivial bash.
Don’t Hold Your Guests Hostage
“I can’t stress enough how much I don’t like a formal plated dinner where things come out one by one,” said Wilkinson Schor, who instead opted for a family style service. “I wanted the energy of the table to be as casual as possible.” Passed plates also allow guests to choose what they actually want to eat.
“I brought a suitcase full of things that I use on my table at home with my family,” said Wilkinson Schor, referring to silverware and pewter dishes picked up at antiques markets across Europe and the United States. She arranged these items atop a cream-colored swath of moire silk that she’d had cut to size to fit the 40-seat table.
Make It a Group Effort
The suitcase could only fit so much, so Wilkinson Schor called on friends to fill in the gaps. The interior designer Duccio Conti Caponi brought the linen place mats and napkins from the archives of Loretta Caponi, his family’s embroidery and textile house in Florence. Margherita Ruffo di Calabria, a communications strategist and a close friend of Wilkinson Schor’s, was traveling from Paris and picked up a set of silver cups from Au Bain Marie, Wilkinson Schor’s preferred home goods store in the city, which they used as vases. “We went to the flower market that day and bought a giant bouquet of chamomile, which we cut and placed in the small cups,” she said.
In addition to the other fresh fruit and tarts, Wilkinson Schor had small pewter dishes of fresh blackberries set along the main table so guests could snack as if they were bowls of candies or nuts. “It’s something I love to do when I host at home — just something to pick at while you’re sitting around the table,” she said.
Keep It Moving
“I love when the table comes to life and people are up and down and there are lots of things to do,” said Wilkinson Schor, who, in addition to designating a corner of the courtyard as the dance floor, scattered lounge chairs and benches around so guests felt welcome to shuffle between spaces and conversations.