Countess Bianca Arrivabene talks personal taste: Part Two

The Venice representative for Christie’s concludes her style file with Maggie Smith, skinny jeans and Sant’Elena Island

Countess Bianca Arrivabene driving her boat on the Grand Canal, Venice
Countess Bianca Arrivabene driving her boat on the Grand Canal, Venice | Image: FABIO MASSIMO ACETO

My style icon is Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. It’s not so much her clothes that make her fabulous but her sharpness, sense of humour and intelligence. Do I want to dress like the Dowager Countess of Grantham? No, but I admire her style.

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a pair of black skinny jeans from the Diesel shop in Venice, which is particularly cool. I live in jeans and love these ones because they are so long that I have to roll them up; I usually find trousers are too short. Via Salizzada Pio X 5315, 30124 Venice (+39041-241 1937;

Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey | Image: Nick Briggs

An object I would never part with is my wedding ring, a traditional Neapolitan alliance ring that Giberto had made in Florence by Simone Rucellai, who inherited his mother Aloisia’s jewellery company. It is yellow gold and engraved with Giberto’s name and “Amor, Amor”.

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose my own, San Polo. Venice is more like a village than a city and good shops are few and far between, but you can buy everything you need to prepare the best meal at the Rialto food market – fresh fish, amazing fruit and vegetables, wine from the Drogheria Mascari cellar, stracchino soft cheese. Then there’s Kiriku for beautiful children’s clothes and Pied à Terre for lovely handmade Venetian furlane, or gondolier’s slippers; I have to go once a week because all my friends want a pair. There’s also a stationery shop called VeneziaStampa with an old printer that looks like a 19th-century car engine, but out of this black and greasy machine pops the most refined stationery. The owners Luca and Michele are stars – they will produce anything you like in a short time with no fuss. Kiriku, San Polo 1463 (+39041-296 0619). Pied à Terre, San Polo, Rialto 60 (+39041-528 5513; Rialto Market, San Polo 42. VeneziaStampa, Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini (+39041-715 455;


The beauty staples I’m never without are my Philosykos scent by Diptyque – I’ve worn it for 15 years, although in summer I might swap it briefly for Red Roses by Jo Malone and Clarins hand cream. Clarins Hand and Nail Treatment, £21 for 100ml; Diptyque Philosykos, £72 for 100ml; Jo Malone Red Roses, £78 for 100ml;

The site that inspires me is Sant’Elena Island, which is connected to Venice by three bridges. I go early in the morning to escape the tourists and walk the entire shoreline, listening to the Italian singer Mina on my iPhone.

Diptyque Philosykos scent, £72 for 100ml
Diptyque Philosykos scent, £72 for 100ml

The book on my bedside table is Vanished Years by Rupert Everett. I adore contemporary writers and autobiographies. It was recommended by a friend who shares my love of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series, which is funny and moving in equal measure. Rupert has a hell of a sense of humour, so I’m hoping it might make me laugh.

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Punta del Este in Uruguay, where we went on a spectacular family holiday. The sky there is so vast and the landscape is reminiscent of my childhood countryside in Tuscany – only bigger and brighter. Two of my five children have left home, so it is rare that we are all together.

Vanished Years by Rupert Everett
Vanished Years by Rupert Everett

And the best souvenirs I’ve brought home are memories from this holiday – and one in particular: we had a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s beautiful finca, which involved a great asado, drinks and lots of dancing.

The person I rely on for wellbeing is my trainer at the gym Formamentis. I really believe in mens sana in corpore sano, so I try to go every day. I work out and do Pilates and Gyrotonic, which is a combination of yoga, dance and gymnastics. San Samuele, San Marco 3227, 30124 Venice (+39041-724 1104;

San Nicolo e Ducezio Palace in Noto, Sicily.
San Nicolo e Ducezio Palace in Noto, Sicily.

My favourite room in my house is my eldest daughter Viola’s room. It is made up of bits and bobs of leftover furniture – a table from an old kitchen, a crockery cupboard from the pantry, two mismatched beds pushed together – and it’s full of character. I hide away in there to work, take a nap or watch the sun setting over the Frari Basilica out of the wonderful windows.

If I didn’t live in Venice, the place I would live in is Noto, a tiny village on the top of a hill overlooking the sea in Sicily. The climate is idyllic and every time I visit I want to stay. There is Caffè Sicilia, which is fabulous, and you could sit there all day, reading the paper and chatting to the villagers. I would buy an apartment and spend my time at the beach, where turtles come from afar to lay their eggs, and visiting the beautiful places nearby – Ragusa, Siracusa, Modica and so many more. It would be a nice life. Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 125, 96017 Noto Siracusa (+39093-183 5013).


If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be an architect. I live in Venice where every building is a miracle. I am obsessed by how they stand up and aspire to have a mind that works like that.

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