On the second floor of an early-1900s apartment building in Milan sits a Chanel doormat that is shared by two adjacent one-bedroom apartments. The first belongs to 47-year-old fashion director Anna Dello Russo. The second belongs to her clothes—and if you are, say, a crystal Miu Miu stiletto or a leopard-print Lanvin dress, you’ve got all the trappings of an aristocrat in preunified Italy.
The furniture in apartment number two is 19th-century Italian, and the space is filled with a pirate’s booty of glittering designer shoes and costume jewelry. The walls are covered in blown-up photographs of the grand, gilded interiors of Palermo’s Palazzo Gangi, the location for Visconti’s Il Gattopardo; the one concession to modernity is the green marble bathroom and its updated plumbing. “You never know when the clothes might need a bath,” Dello Russo says.
Such a living arrangement might be considered unusual by anyone who didn’t own 4,000 pairs of shoes and 250 black tuxedo jackets and wasn’t 100 percent fueled by fashion. “Anna would eat clothes if she could,” says Sophie Djerlal, a colleague at Vogue Italia, where Dello Russo was a fashion editor in the Nineties.
Back then Dello Russo was, in her own words, dressing “like a man.” But now, having helmed L’Uomo Vogue and served as fashion director of Japanese Vogue, she has morphed into Miss Maximalist—picture the ballsiness of Lady Gaga and the inventory of Imelda Marcos rolled into one supercharged style hurricane. During Fashion Week in Milan, she changes (usually in her chauffeured car) into rare-bird-of-fashion outfits no fewer than two or three times a day. In such getups as a gold sequined minidress by Emilio Pucci at three in the afternoon and a Roksanda Ilincic suit with huge feather humps that conjure a dark-angel linebacker, Dello Russo has become the crowned queen of street-style bloggers, who know that what she wears is likely to be bigger, bolder, and more trendsetting than what will be on the catwalks. “She truly loves fashion,” remarks Scott Schuman, whose Sartorialist blog ardently chronicles the stylist. “What makes her unique is that there’s a real sincerity. She respects the clothes.”
Dello Russo’s fixation came early, and from out of nowhere. “I was crazy about fashion from the day I was born,” she says. As a child in Bari, where she grew up with a psychiatrist father and a not-clothes-obsessed mother, Dello Russo stalked her friends’ mothers’ closets and tortured her Barbies with relentless restylings. Her first important spree was at age 13: a Fendi handbag, umbrella, tissue holder, wallet, and key chain that she wore all together. “It never rains in Bari, so my friends asked, ‘What are you doing with the umbrella?’ And I said, ‘How should I know? It’s part of the look!’”