The Coat Route

The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan

Book: The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Meg Lukens Noonan
talks, I look at my small notebook. There are so many questions I have yet to ask. I want to know, for one thing, how he defines “luxury.” Stefano puts down the phone. His eyes narrow as he draws in smoke.
    “I think you are a writer—not, thanks to God, a journalist,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “You can’t believe the things I get asked over and over. ‘What is luxury, Mr. Ricci? How do you define “luxury,” Mr. Ricci?’ ”
    I put my notebook in my lap.
    “The word ‘luxury’ has been diluted,” Stefano says, and I realize that he is going to answer the question anyway. “I went to a conference on luxury in Moscow five or six years ago. I was giving a talk. I told the audience, ‘I am very sorry to tell you that there is no more luxury. Luxury is dead.’ Everyone was shocked. I toldthem that companies that don’t have any idea about luxury have abused the word. I said we need a new word. I suggested ‘excellence.’ It is a good word, but now everyone uses ‘excellence.’ ”
    Stefano goes on, unprodded.
    “I wrote a book called
Luxor of Egypt
with my friend Zahi Hawass, the minister of state for antiquities—you know, the Egyptian tomb hunter; he’s always in
National Geographic
, in the hat? And in it I said, ‘Luxury is a fresh glass of water in the desert, luxury is friendship, luxury is love, luxury is health. When you are exhausted, to reach the peak of a mountain, that is luxury.’ ”
    Luxury, it must also be said, is the very sweet convertible Jaguar in which I later find myself riding shotgun, tearing through the streets of Florence, with Filippo at the wheel. We are following his father to Fiesole and the green hills just outside the city, where the Riccis live and have their factory. Stefano Ricci has invited me to lunch.
    Cypress trees line the long driveway that climbs a lazy S-curve toward Il Salviatino, a honey-colored fifteenth-century villa that was once the summer hunting lodge of a cardinal and has just been opened as a five-star hotel. Three men join us—a banker from Milan and two Stefano Ricci managers, whose close-shaved chins are only just starting to shadow. All are in slim dark suits, and all have on bright silk neckties.
    We are shown to the outside terrace and seated at a round table under a white canopy. There are clipped geometric gardens below the terrace and, beyond them, under the milky sky, a view of all Florence. Waiters stand at the ready just beyond white leather chesterfield sofas, hustling over whenever Stefano Ricci seems close to making a request. “Now, what to drink?” Stefano says to me. “Champagne, I think. And to eat? What do you like?”
    “Oh, I don’t know. Everything,” I say.
    “So, allow me. I take responsibility.”
    Conversations in Italian effervesce around me. I sip my champagne and look out at the distant bald knob of the Duomo, bobbing above a choppy red-roof sea. A plate of pillowy
ricotta gnudi
, garnished with gray-green leaves of sage, is placed in front of me.
    “When this hotel opened,” Stefano says, “we were very happy.”
    “We come here a lot,” Filippo says, and I get it. To them, this is the corner deli—a place to grab lunch.
    Stefano tells me that he is about to open a new factory just over the hill from where we are sitting.
    “It is big enough to hold all my toys,” he says, laughing.
    Among them, he says, are a collection of hunting trophies bagged on Ricci family safaris, including an upright, full-grown polar bear, a North American mountain goat, dozens of wild boars, and tusks from an African elephant. Each summer Stefano and his wife, Claudia, along with Filippo and Niccolò, Stefano’s thirty-year-old son, who is the company’s CEO, pack suitcases full of custom-made khakis, leather boots, pith helmets, and hunting rifles (“You have no idea how hard it is to get permission to bring them on an airplane,” Filippo tells me later) and head off in pursuit of big game. Their

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