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When I arrive at Palazzo Durini in Milan, where the event company Villa Eugénie manages its clients, I find Etienne Russo busy with one of his projects. «Busy, busy, busy» I hear him say emphatically to a PR agent on set. Running a company that does event production for brands like Chanel, Dries Van Noten, Hermes, and Moncler - just to name a few - requires a lot of commitment indeed. Inside Villa Eugénie there is a decidedly fanciful air: modern design objects and contemporary artworks make up a studied overlap of styles, imagery, and references. Villa Eugénie is meticulously curated down to the smallest details, but it could not be otherwise, considering the fact that its director Russo has got clear ideas on everything. Dark hues, straight cuts, modular volumes, and shadows blend perfectly with the poetics of the extraordinariness - we move with disarming consistency from a scenic crystal chandelier to conceptual and erotic portraits - of his factory. He cares to point out that he belongs to an era of former glory, quoting Karl Lagerfeld «luxury is freedom of spirit, independence, in short, the politically incorrect». After all, Russo took his first steps into the world of hoteliers, clubbing, and fashion in the late 1970s. «True, in those years a general idea of fun reigned supreme, while I worked hard even on weekends. I learned extreme attention and care for detail, from how to style a shirt collar to how to move in public banally. After that, I started working as a model, which allowed me to travel and learn about the world. I lived in Japan at a time when everyone was obsessed with New York,» Russo explained, «I was in Tokyo for four months. It was the beginning of Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Yamamoto Kansai when he dressed David Bowie. I attended fashion shows where there were 12,000 people, it was all really electrifying.»

After this interlude in Japan, Russo decided to return to Belgium. «Having attended a hotel school, I then became the bartender of a well-known club in Brussels. I wanted to try my hand at something bigger and spoke directly to my boss about it. He told me to come back to him with an idea». He had caught a whiff of something new, something that would soon change the fashion world forever. «After coming back from Tokyo, I got to know the Antwerp Six and I was really lucky to realize that something unique was happening. There was an incredible intellectual ferment and I was happy to be in the right place, at the right time. When Dries Van Noten organized his first fashion show in Paris in the 1990s, he asked: ”Will you come and do it with me?” he continued, «I now see that same energy in Milan and it's the reason why I decided to move here.» His days are «busy, busy, busy,» he says laughing. «Zoom, briefing, call: this constant state of excitement keeps me going. It is not a job where you count the hours, but rather you try (indeed, you have to) to get the best out of every project. Focus on every detail, attention threshold at its highest, and the awareness of taking risks are essential to be able to assess the feasibility of a project. It is continuous and incessant problem solving,» explains the founder of Villa Eugénie lucidly. With magnificent sets, installations, and fittings for the fashion shows of the most important fashion brands, Villa Eugénie is an unstoppable creative hotbed. «It is very important for me to be aligned with my client's needs, however different they may be. If there is a strong idea, I want to defend it at all costs. My job is to add value, to sublimate a story: collection, casting, hair, make-up, lighting, set design, everything is held within the poetics of event production. I tend to be more ambitious than my own clients. It's all about surpassing yourself, continuously,» Russo reiterates. Over time, Villa Eugénie has faced many challenges. «If there is one lesson that I have learned directly from Karl Lagerfeld, it is to never look back.» This approach translates into a continuous exercise in style that has to adapt to the demands of brands and carefully anticipate hypothetical developments. «In February we will bring Moncler Genius to London. We will write a new chapter in the history of the Italian brand, setting it in a new context and opening it up to an audience that is not used to an all-Italian way of doing things,» Russo explained. «Part of my job is also to question an approach, to look at things from other perspectives, to add a new piece to the puzzle».  

One of the most complex aspects of event management is to take sustainability into account. «For the Dior show in Egypt, we worked with 23 local companies, overcoming the difficulties on-site in waste management. The point is that today sustainability must be incorporated into the creative process from the very beginning,» Etienne specified. And Villa Eugénie takes these aspects into account, of course. «I have a multi-cultural team, made up of 80% women and always ready to respond proactively,» he says proudly. «The biggest challenge is always the next one. Right now we are focusing on Milan, but I do not exclude looking at the Middle East in the near future. I like the idea of making a mark, of bridging seemingly irreconcilable worlds,» Etienne concludes. Not by chance, his motto is «you see the trick, you lose the magic»



Photographer: Alecio Ferrari

Light Assistant: Luca Baldini

Digital Assistant: Marella Bessone

Interview: Bernardo Savastano