Fabrizio Ferri is a resourceful man. This became clear on a morning this past May, when a small gang of travelers, en route to visit the well-known fashion photographer on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, found themselves stranded at the Palermo airport. Among the group was Ferri’s ex-wife, interior designer Barbara Frua De Angeli, who was laden down with six huge boxes of decorative items meant to serve as the finishing touches on a makeover of Monastero, the jewel-box resort that Ferri owns on the island. When the announcement came that flights were canceled due to high winds on Pantelleria, Frua De Angeli frantically called Ferri. “Don’t worry, I’ll find you a boat,” he promised. But as it turned out, bad weather made travel by sea impossible too. And, to further complicate matters, ash from the Icelandic volcano was rapidly floating toward Italy, bringing with it the possibility that Palermo’s airport might have to shut down. Ferri, however, remained undaunted and soon called with a solution: He had intercepted a pilot he knew who was flying nearby and convinced him to make a detour. Within an hour, the travelers were roller-coastering their way through gales of wind in the only mechanical device to reach Pantelleria for the next three days.
Ferri, 57, a larger-than-life creature with a salt-and-pepper beard and feline green eyes, has a long history of bringing the seemingly impossible to fruition. And nowhere has this ability served him more handily than on Pantelleria. Twenty-two years ago he bought an entire village of derelict homes on the island and turned them into a luxe, hugely atmospheric lodging. In the time since, jetsetters, artists and even a few one-named celebrities (Sting and Madonna, to be exact) have come to stay at Monastero; earlier this year, Ferri further upped the chic quotient with a major renovation and expansion.
Ferri first visited Pantelleria in 1985. “I was living in Milan and needed a place that was exotic enough to shoot fashion photographs, but not too far away,” he recalls. “A friend mentioned Pantelleria and I had never heard of it, but I decided to give it a try.”
The “daughter of the wind,” as Pantelleria is known, is certainly exotic. Though the island belongs to Italy, it’s actually much closer to Africa, 43 miles from the Tunisian coast. Grapevines, olive groves and wildflowers abound, cropping up among sharp-edged black lava rocks. “I was taken by the unique quality of the light and the intensity of the landscape,” Ferri says.
He was also taken by the island’s traditional architecture. Pantelleria’s rural houses, called dammusi, are cavelike, with thick walls, small windows and domed roofs. By the time Ferri arrived, most were in a sorry state, having been traded for modern apartments. The photographer, however, immediately saw their charm. “By the time I got back to Milan,” he says, “the keys to my first dammuso were rattling in my pocket.”