Many Londoners – and even people in the rest of the UK and beyond – have heard of Petersham Nurseries, even if they’ve never been there. Set in the grounds of an enchanting 17th-century country house in Richmond, it occupies an almost mythical status, being part magical garden lit romantically at night by vintage chandeliers and tabletop candles; part shop, purveying an eclectic collection of objets for the home and garden that the owners love; and part restaurant, famous for its rickety old tables, jumble of crockery and cutlery, and fresh seasonal food that usually arrives adorned with edible flowers. To its admirers, it seems like the apotheosis of a certain sort of haute-boho sophistication, a living example of a very British understated eccentric chic, a sort of throwaway “undoneness” – which is curious, because at its heart lies a family headed by a distinctly idiosyncratic Italian, Francesco Boglione, and his Australian wife Gael. Petersham Nurseries and the couple’s own elegantly bohemian home, Petersham House, are entirely the expression of their own personal tastes.
But while many have marvelled at Petersham’s otherworldly charm, few know that it is far from being Francesco Boglione’s only business interest. Behind the scenes, he and his two brothers – Marco and Enrico – own substantial shares in BasicNet, a distinctly worldly business conglomerate based in Turin. Founded by Marco, BasicNet owns some very cool, mostly leisure and streetwear brands – Superga, Kappa, Jesus Jeans, K-Way, Sabelt and its most recent acquisitions Briko and Sebago. The company’s success has enabled the three brothers to bring to life not only Petersham House, but also other chic embodiments of their personal aesthetic in the form of various houses, chalets and seaside villas that are now available to rent for those of us who might like to dip into the very special Boglione way of life.
The story begins in the 1970s, when Marco, then only 20, was invited by a young entrepreneur to join the company Maglificio Calzificio Torinese. MCT had made mostly socks and underwear, until it decided to turn to something fun and more fashionable – and came up with Jesus Jeans. Marco applied himself to sportswear, coming up with the notion of the MCT-owned brand Kappa sponsoring athletes, which was novel for a sportswear label at the time. He helped to convince the head of what is now called the USA Track & Field organisation that it should kit its athletes out in clothes from the latest range. So new was the idea that the committee wasn’t sure whether it was to pay MCT or MCT was to pay it. Kappa ended up sponsoring Carl Lewis, who dominated track and field between 1979 and 1986, as well as football teams such as Juventus, AC Milan and Barcelona for many years.
A couple of years before MCT’s owner died, Marco left and started a company making football and other sporting merchandise for clubs and teams, but when MCT began to fail, Marco persuaded his brothers to contribute to the funds needed to buy it out of receivership, and BasicNet was created in 1995.
Among BasicNet’s initial tasks was to turn Kappa into one of the most sought-after, coveted sportswear brands in the world, and with its striking brand logo of a couple sitting back to back in silhouette, Kappa soon became the uniform for that chicest of tribes – the smart young Milanese of the 1980s, the Paninari. Today Kappa’s iconic Banda tracksuit (£95) is just as likely to be seen on the front row of catwalk shows as on the way to the gym, while its Polo Robe di Kappa (£32) for men is seen at the chicest of regattas, grand-slam tennis events and anywhere else where casual chic is the order of the day. From this winter’s collection, the women’s Omni pants (£130) in black, with side panels featuring black and white graffiti images, and the grey Omni crewneck jumper (£81) from the Like No Other collection, featuring the famous silhouette, are real highlights. For men, it is the denim jacket (£293) with the silhouette on the back.
This inspired the brothers to embark on a buying stratagem focusing on historically important brands where the management had failed and the value of the company had fallen, but the brand identities were still uncontaminated. “We like broken brands that have a long-lasting romance and history,” says Marco, “and, of course, a broken brand costs much less than a successful one.” To reinvigorate the brands, the plan was to collaborate with cool designers. Recently, Kappa’s collaboration with Paris fashion collective Faith Connexion (whose distressed parkas and biker jackets have been snapped up by Saks and Barneys in the US) resulted in this year’s gold-sequin women’s track pants (€1,050) and slouchy sweatshirts (from €380), while striking men’s and women’s tracksuit bottoms (£215) and matching tops (from £143) in green, red or black with bold graffiti down the side came about after teaming up with Marcelo Burlon, the designer behind County of Milan, famous for streetwear, swimwear, bags and sneakers.
Next up for the Boglione treatment was K-Way, bought in 2004 and Italy’s answer to the puffa or Barbour – a jacket no self-respecting Italian of means would ever be without. It homed in on rainwear that is light and packable – and today you still see Italian men walking down Milan’s Via Montenapoleone in perfectly laundered dark-blue jeans, round-necked navy-blue sweater and deck shoes, with a K-Way tied round their waist, its signature zip (orange, yellow and black) highly visible. Its most sought-after product, the Le Vrai Claude 3.0 (from £75), was seen on David Beckham earlier this year at Glastonbury. This winter it launched a new collaboration with DSquared2 – a collection of reversible windbreakers (from £395), anoraks (from £396) and down bomber jackets (from £545). Each piece has the DNA of both DSquared2, with its embroidered patches or red and black buffalo checks referencing its inspiration from trekking and hiking in Canada, and K-Way, with its distinctive zippers, pullers and logo, often magnified and boldly coloured.
Next in the BasicNet rehabilitation programme came Superga, bought out of receivership in 2007. Another golden brand whose reputation belied the difficulties it was in, it is worn by Oscar winners, royalty and sports personalities and is the sneaker of choice for those who want a label that has tradition behind it; it is laidback and cool – but not too trendy. This year Superga brought back probably the chicest design of all – the classic tennis shoe (in black, white, navy or white/navy, £75) that Ivan Lendl wore way back in the early days of his career, and which now bears his imprimatur on the back. Of the many other new models, some, such as the Superga 2754 Efglu (£65) in black, are smart enough to wear almost anywhere. Though there are now some 400 Superga models, the Superga 2750 Classic (£50) still accounts for 65 per cent of sales.
The latest acquisitions are Briko, the performance eyewear (Superleggero sunglasses, €169) and helmet brand (Vulcano, €199), and Sebago, famed for its classic Docksides boat shoes (£115). BasicNet plans to expand the Sebago range into what Marco calls “your life on the blue” – products for the world of boating, including jackets, trousers and glasses.
BasicNet’s clutch of sportswear and athleisure brands taps into an increasingly buoyant market for clothing that is neither super-luxe nor grungy, but has a certain insouciance – and that works for all ages and genders. It’s a model that has proved successful. In 2016, K-Way turned over $60m wholesale, Kappa’s sales grew 10 per cent, as they have done year-on-year, and Superga, once teetering on the brink, turned over $130m wholesale.
While this very mercantile business goes on energetically behind the scenes, the family has a clutch of breathtakingly beautiful houses (the Petersham Portfolio) that can be rented. There’s Gaelforce, a harbourside house in Sydney’s Palm Beach, overlooking Pittwater. It is light and airy, with wooden floors, huge white sofas and wonderful art on the walls (art being one of Francesco and Gael’s passions). The “treehouse” in the garden, surrounded by angophora trees in which the possums scuttle, with its freestanding bath and cool interior, is one of Gael’s favourite rooms. There’s a pool, great balconies for harbour watching, and a jetty from which Francesco’s own boat, a Riva Aquarama, can be launched. The house is for rent year round, with peak weeks costing A$35,000 (about £20,800).
Then there’s the family chalet sleeping 16 in the Alps near Sestriere – Monti della Luna, a traditional wooden cabin “built without a single nail or screw”, says Francesco, and furnished with huge chocolate-brown sofas, beds made from intertwined branches Gael found at Designers Guild, plaid flannel sheets and blankets from Ralph Lauren, and Navajo blankets from Santa Fe. It has fabulous views, can only be reached by snowmobile in winter, and lets you ski straight out of the front door down to the lift stations. The family are ski addicts and so use it a great deal, but when they are not there it is available to rent at prices varying from €15,000 to €25,000 a week.
Newest of the family’s properties is the collection of 10 houses and cottages near Santa Teresa Gallura in Sardinia – a pristine spot light years away from the jet-set shenanigans of the Costa Smeralda. These are simple stone houses of varying sizes, ranging from a small cottage for four people to houses with seven bedrooms. All are done in the ineffable relaxed Boglione style, using a mix of slightly shabby-chic antiques and clean white sofas. They have views of the sea, wooden ovens for bread and pizzas, outdoor barbecues and vegetable gardens – and can be hired with staff and the chance to rent one of the many boats. These are not super-luxe St Tropez-style houses – they offer a simpler, more “peasant” chic, as the Bogliones believe that the sea, the sky and the wilderness are the real stars. Prices range from €8,000 to €12,000 a week.
Meanwhile, the Petersham Nurseries brand itself is busy expanding. For the moment there is the new Covent Garden store in Floral Court – the brainchild of the couple’s eldest daughter Lara, who came up with the idea when she was left to manage the ship while her parents went off to create the ravishing Sydney harbourside villa, and is now its managing director. It too is an expression of the family’s well-honed aesthetic – its two restaurants (opening early next year), delicatessen and home and garden shop have limewashed walls, old floorboards, vintage chandeliers and lots of greenery. Here you could spend as little as £9 on a blue glass tealight, £12.50 on Marius Fabre liquid almond soap (they have a particularly large range of delicious niche soaps and lotions), £60 on a chapeau denim, £140 on a charming khadi-printed leather-handle bag, or £2,400 on a vintage French chandelier. They don’t want to over expand but are hoping to sprinkle some of the Petersham Nurseries magic over one of Italy’s most exclusive seaside clubs – La Macchia in Capalbio just north of Rome. How romantic does that sound?