A s one of the four daughters of the ancient aristocratic House of Borromeo, Countess Isabella Borromeo-Arese-Taverna is a beacon of style, grace and savoir faire. The independent filmmaker and mother of three is also part of a distinguished group of some of the world's most glamorous women brought together by Sotheby's as 21st century tastemakers.
Here, the Countess recalls how her step-grandmother inspired her style and selects her highlights from Geneva’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels.
ANDRES WHITE CORREAL: You and your sisters are considered among the most elegant women of your generation in Italy. I have known you since our university days in London and fully concur with this statement! So - what does personal style mean to you?
That is a difficult question because, quite honestly, I don’t really think about it that much. I know what I like, which is, I guess, not easy for everybody. I always knew what I liked. I'll walk into a shop and sometimes I'll walk straight out because I know immediately that that is not my kind of scene or my sort of clothing.
How did you develop your own style?
I had a very interesting character in my life – my step-grandmother. Being the eldest, I was her travelling companion. Her English wasn’t very good so I guess I was her translator! She really tuned into my curiosity. We used to roam the souks and the bazaars and the markets. Even in the most remote villages in the middle of nowhere, we would find something that would be interesting. We had this game that we played in the markets where we would find that one object – that one thing that would be absolutely incredible. Being able to see and touch different objects that were not part of my everyday – that helped me find my own style.
Who would you say is your style inspiration? Who has shaped your outlook on fashion and style?
This is a complicated one because I am a bit of a mixture of things. I come from a very old family. My upbringing was - I wouldn’t say stiff, but very orderly. Very inflexible. Everything was very polished and proper and our education was very strict. We had to behave in a certain way. We had boundaries and you couldn’t go outside of those boundaries. But then I also had my step-grandmother who was completely opposite of that. She was very colourful and cheerful and curious and never obeyed any rules. I was drawn to her. I was very attracted to that because it was completely the opposite of what I was brought up to be.
What was the piece that started your own jewelry collection?
When I was 14, I was given this 1700s cross with tourmalines. There are [now] some rubies because at some point, they lost a stone and added them but originally it had tourmalines and diamonds. My father gave each of us sisters, all four of us, a jewelry piece. We all have a cross and mine was the first one. I wear it still – I always have it on. I’ll usually keep it under my shirt because Rome is not that safe and it’s my piece that I absolutely love. If I have to substitute it because I’m wearing a gown or something, then it has to be a nice piece to substitute. Otherwise it’s staying!
Do you like mixing and matching vintage or antiques with newer pieces?
I don’t know because there’s my old upbringing – the stiff one. I like my symmetry. I like colour-matching. I like things to have their order. I mean, if I am wearing a pair of jeans then I would wear my diamonds. Or with a super nice, important gown, I’d probably dress it down and wear something not so expensive – my jewelry doesn’t have to be so important but it has to have a meaning. It has to have some equilibrium.
I absolutely adore sapphires. There’s something very dignified about sapphires – that profound blue. It’s very classic. It’s perfection to me.
How did you pick your highlights from the sale?
I went for all the sapphires because, as I said, I need my balance, my equilibrium, my colour-matching. I absolutely adore sapphires. There’s something very dignified about sapphires – that profound blue. It’s very classic. It’s perfection to me. Deep blue and deep red are the colours of my family so those two colours are recurring in my life. They always come back somehow. If I have to pick out a jumper and there’s a deep red, I’ll go for that. It’s just automatic. It comes naturally.
What does it mean to be a part of the Sotheby’s group of 21st century trailblazers and tastemakers?
Well, it’s a super honour, obviously. I respect and love all of the other girls in it. They all have very deep personalities. They’re very unique, themselves, and have very broad interests, all of them. Like me. I feel like I’m part of a proper group.
How do you balance being a busy mother of three with your own flawless style as a modern woman?
I try not to fall into the laziness of the everyday, if you know what I mean. When you’re home and handling children, you sort of become a little lazy. You start speaking like children; you read children’s books. So I keep myself busy. I try to keep travelling. I try to keep looking around and I am very curious which helps. I just keep myself always interested.
I still like to wear my diamonds with my jeans which nobody else does in Rome...
How do you bring a little bit of glamour to everyday life?
Well, for example, I live in Rome and Rome is a beautiful city, but not as happening as Paris or London or New York. It’s a little more chilled. But I still like to wear my diamonds with my jeans which nobody else does in Rome. I don’t let go of certain little details that have helped define me all along.
Which designers do you go back to time and time again?
Valentino’s been my long-time favourite; my sisters and I have always worn Valentino. But I have to say, now, Giambattista Valli is fantastic. I adore him. Day to day, I wear Armani. I like Ermanno Scervino because there is the element of being different – of doing things a little crazier, a little funnier. I like that.