What does one pluck out as the leading information about Martina Mondadori? Is it her Italian upbringing as heiress to the hugely influential publishing powerhouse that she shares her family name with? Perhaps it was the years spent travelling the world, cultivating the collector’s instinct and curator’s eye that would go on to serve her with such distinction as founder and editor-in-chief of the much celebrated interiors/lifestyle-focused magazine, Cabana. Maybe it’s her own familial tendencies that have seen Martina settle with such aplomb into the magnificent Kensington home she now shares with her husband and children.
Of course, the answer is that any attempt at a definitive ‘hook’ is inherently reductive: it is impossible to isolate any one of these conversational strands that emerge over the course of a relaxed afternoon with Martina in her home. Instead, as the first hesitant rays of June sunshine dance about the boldly colourful fabrics adorning her first floor living room, it becomes apparent that Martina’s life is subject to the same ebb and flow as the trends she witnesses across the worlds of fashion and interiors: “It’s cycles, as with everything. You can’t just keep on going with only black and white forever…”
The subject of ‘cycles’ comes up more than once, notably when discussing the vision for Cabana, and the distinctive voice it has carved out for itself amongst the glut of interiors and design-focused titles out there. The magazine is unabashedly vibrant and tactile (each biannual issue features textile covers, the latest of which have been created by Alessandro Michele from Gucci’s storied fabrics). It was predicated, says Martina, by a disillusionment with minimalism and industrial design: “The comeback of unique pieces, the importance of craft, texture and layering.” Martina is also quick to describe the publication as a lifestyle one. It’s an oft-overused descriptor but to hear Martina use it in relation to Cabana you’re struck by just how much the emphasis elsewhere is usually placed on the style part of that phrase, at the expense of the life. Martina sums it up succinctly during a conversation about instagram (of which she’s generally a huge fan): “When a big star or celebrity says something like, ‘oh I can’t live without my Manolo Blahniks’ - maybe it’s true but maybe there’s some huge contact behind that…” Flipping through the pages of Cabana then, one thing you get above all others is a sense of life - of journeys taken and inspiration run wild. “People travel much more, so when you go to the Middle East, to Africa, to South America… It’s not something you’re scared of, and it doesn’t look ‘too rich’ or ‘too old’”.
There’s also the name of the magazine itself, which instantly conjures a different mood to the more conservative and stately alternatives out there: “Cabana is not only about the lavish Roman palazzo or Chatsworth House,” says Martina. “It can be a lodge - or a cabana! - because the chic of an interior can be literally anything as long as it is authentic and layered. Nothing [resonates] like a mix of amazing art pieces and flea market finds. That’s the fun of it.”
For Martina, it seems that ‘authenticity’ - that crucial weapon in the arsenal of the aesthete - is found by looking outwards. It makes a refreshing change, perhaps now more than ever, from many contemporaries who retreat into themselves in search of the same thing. This expansive perspective arguably informs everything Martina does, from pioneering collaborations (most recently, Cabana worked with Alessandro Michele and Gucci on a bespoke set of chairs and magazine covers) to a defiant love of flea markets around the world.
It also leads to eloquent and thoughtful discussions about the ways we negotiate a time of increasing uncertainty and bleakness. One statement echoes as our conversation comes to a close and a staircase descent becomes the impossible task of trying to drink in every lovingly selected, gloriously eclectic, perfectly lived aspect of Martina’s home - a home that both informs and is informed by Martina’s vision of Cabana:
“When the world out there can be so cruel… you want to feel cosy when you’re back home.”
By James Darton for Semaine.