Damiano Biella, the new creative director of Braun Büffel has been in Singapore for less than a year, but has already created a stylishly cosy home for himself.
To say Damiano Biella is an art aficionado may be an understatement. The Italian was 24 years old, working for Céline in Paris, when he stumbled upon an art gallery not far from his office. He saw and fell in love with a portrait of a woman that was painted during the era of French emperor Louis Philippe in the 19th century.
“I became so fascinated with the beauty of this woman that for six months, I went into the art gallery to see it every day. I didn’t have the disposable money then so I asked the gallery owner to hold it for me, but he said as a businessman he couldn’t do that. So I told him I cursed the portrait so he could never sell it to anyone but me.” Biella recalls, laughing. “He was this elderly gentleman in his 80s and we became friends eventually. After a few months, he accepted that the painting was really jinxed and told me I’d better put money aside to buy it.” Six months later, Biella used all of his savings, a work bonus and a large salary advance to buy the painting. “It was the price of a car, but I couldn’t be happier,” said Biella. “It was an exceptionally cold winter evening in Paris. It was minus 20 degree Celsius and so cold that snow was falling out of the sky. But I went to that gallery that night with all the money I had to finally purchase that painting. I ran home, alone on the streets of Paris, with this painting under my arm.
I had drilled the wall the night before and when I finally hung the painting up, I was so happy.”
That was the beginning of Biella’s art obsession.
“That painting is not the most expensive in my collection but it’s the closest to my heart. I will never sell it,” exclaims Biella. “In fact, when I’m dying, I would probably ask to have it in my tombstone with me.”
Such is Biella’s passion for all things creative and inspiring that he’s become a magpie over the years. He has an array of art and furniture, which he has collected on his travels, stored at his home in Rome. And seeing as he has lived in 11 homes across a few countries over 15 years, this collection is still growing. Biella’s bases have included Milan, Paris, New York, Rome, Munich, Florence and now, Singapore.
Having started his fashion design career as Tom Ford’s assistant at Gucci in Milan, Biella moved on to Céline in Paris where he remained for five years. He then relocated to New York to become Creative Director for Carolina Herrera in New York, helping Herrera to launch CH Carolina Herrera. He soon captured the attention of Valentino Garavani and went to work closely with the maestro in Rome where he was Design Director. After three years, he moved again to Munich to take over the creative helm of Escada. Right before his current stint in Singapore as Creative Director of Braun Büffel, Biella spent two and half years in Florence as accessories label Gherardini’s creative director.
The highlights of Biella’s professional life have also spilled over into his apartment in Singapore’s Balmoral neighbourhood. Original prints of Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, David Bailey and Irving Penn, gifts from close friends and ex-bosses such as Ford and Garavani, are scattered throughout his two-bedroom home. Juxtaposing these photo prints are his oil on canvas and acrylic possessions such as one done by Dutch painter Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck in 1629 and more from Belgian Anthony van Dyck and Dutch Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, most of which were acquired through Christie’s Auctions in London. Right underneath his Verspronck painting is his bull figurine, which was customised by local fashion designer Alfie Leong, that Biella auctioned for during the recent inaugural Büffel Art Auction, a charity initiative with Very Special Arts Singapore as beneficiary this year.
With a huge appetite for art, Biella’s antique collections also include 17th-century Japanese and 18th-century Chinese ceramic vases—some of which sit above Biella’s television console in his living room. “There’s just something about these large vases that fascinate me,” pondered Biella. “I love their shapes, curves and colours. I also love statues. General objects are always sources of inspiration.” Biella has also amassed thousands of books. Sitting on his coffee table and bedside tables are books on Dutch artist Rembrandt, fashion books on Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Kate Moss and Richard Prince and a book on Peranakan history in Singapore. “I buy books every week.
I honestly have no idea how many I have,” Biella said, shrugging. “There are some here, some back in my home in Rome and some in storage.”
The music that plays on Biella’s Harman Kardon sound system also has a wide range. From soothing German classical tunes to Björk’s haunting voice to the soulful electric beats of The xx. “I’ve been obsessed with this track from The xx,” Biella said, while searching for the song “Angels” from the band’s latest album Coexist. “But I really listen to everything.”
In contrary to his art and music collections, Biella’s wardrobe is extremely edited. Wearing mainly Prada, Valentino, Cos, Zara, Ermenegildo Zegna, Car Shoe and Sergio Rossi, Biella is also a recent New Balance convert. “I take a lot of walks now so the sneakers come in really handy and they are chic yet comfortable.” Biella counts Singapore Botanic Gardens and Labrador Park as favourites. “Botanic Gardens is a stone’s throw away and that’s what I love about the location of my house,” explains Biella.
“I’m completely surrounded by greenery yet I’m right here in the middle of the city. I wake up in the mornings hearing the frogs croaking and birds chirping. I love it.”
The one thing Biella misses most about living in the northern hemisphere is “putting on a sweater first thing in the morning and thinking about the way of life by identifying through the different seasons.” However, given Singapore’s endless summer and abundance of affordable and delicious cuisine from all over the world, it’s not something Biella would give up anytime soon. “I love Indonesian, Thai and Chinese food. Especially the dim sum from Taste Paradise and chicken rice from basically everywhere,” Biella gushes. “You know, Da Paolo also does very good Italian food. Their tiramisu is as good as the ones I can find in Rome so it’s not hard to not miss the food back home.”
By Ng Yi Lian, Harper’s BAZAAR Man, September 2014.
Photos: Roy Zhang