Where does style begin? For many, it begins from the moment you step out of the front door — what you wear, where you go shopping, restaurants and clubs you go to. For Julia Berger and her selected global clienteles, it all begins before that — Style begins on the bed!
Julia Berger is a charming woman, the kind you don’t often meet. According to personal experience, there is a greater chance to find such a person in a neighbourhood full of galleries and antique shops, Via Dei Fossi in Florence for example, where we first met.
I walked into a boutique at Via Dei Fossi, it was the type of boutique that you can’t help looking in the window when passing by, inside you see nothing you need immediately, yet you know that one day you’d step in. When it comes to boutique, I don’t know how many of them still exist today that are worthy of this euphonic name. For, nowadays, you see the same thing everywhere: same brands, similar designs, sometimes, to give a gloss to this embarrassment, shops come up with the idea of city limited, like those city limited cups launched by Starbucks, although what you drink is still of little after taste.
That day, Julia was in a pale blue floral-printed dress, effortlessly chic. A few days later I saw her again in that dress, receiving compliments from a French tourist. I hardly doubt that she is never in short of compliments. Almost no one would leave the door without telling her how beautiful her boutique is or how wonderful she is. And she, as usual, respond with gratitudes. No one would really get tired of compliments, right? She told me she really likes the artistic ambient on Via Dei Fossi, the illustrious tailoring shop Liverano & Liverano is also on this street. As the result, she moved all the way from San Francisco to open a boutique here!
“What time did you opened”? I asked.
“From 10 am to 7 pm.”
“I mean, when did you establish this boutique?” I’m waiting for a vintage year.
“Oh, just last month”. Julia replied blithely.
In 2020, when the raging pandemic swept Europe, Julia decided to move to Italy from North California. I asked her where does this decision derive from, and she told me explicitly about her disappointment about the politics: “America really changed, and not for the better”. Some times, people come to new places as the old ones, although full of memories, no longer appeal to them. But don’t feel sorry for that, it usually means a beautiful beginning, you’ll see what I mean when stepping into Julia B.’s boutique.
“I can live in your shop!” A young lady said to her with amazement. Looking around, everything is about life: about 40% of the products are beddings, 40% tabletops, and the rest 20% goes to gifts, baby’s and stationaries — you can even find curve designed Pineider envelopes that Elizabeth Taylor once used as her personal stationery.
We can sense how the world has been changed by Covid from the elongated queues in the airports, the sky-high energy price on trading screens. But how people changed in the pandemic is intuitive, we starts to pay more attention to the inside rather than outside. I’ve met a lawyer from Rome becoming a leather craftswoman; a New York violinist, who know Bach probably more than anyone else on earth, planning to change his career path; And for Julia, she decided to open the first brick-and-mortar boutique in her life:
Those delicate and gorgeous handmade sheets, towels, and napkins all together pictured a wonderful lifestyle that Julia suggested. Leaving such a dreamland with empty hands is barely possible. However, as for all the second-best things in life, it comes with a considerable price. Luckily, Julia has a group of sophisticated clientele around the globe who would be more than happy to pay for the fully customisable and beautifully curated products that combine traditional craftsmanship with a refined aesthetic. From European royals to American socialites, together with connoisseurs in Hong Kong and Singapore, they couldn’t find a similar experience anywhere else that can parallel to what Julia offers.
Since everything is made by hand, everything, including crystals, silverware, linen, and even ceramics, can be customised. Julia believes it is the perfect time to return to the old way of shopping: “taking the time to be thoughtful about our decision-making”. She explained, “it’s not just ‘oh, I like it and then I buy it,’ but more like ‘I love this, but I want to do it in my colours and wait.’” She’s already got over 13,000 monograms in her brand library for different clients. Besides over a hundred monograms, Julia also designed the font for the alphabet, which she considered the harder part. Compare with the flourish cursive typefaces, Julia prefer those simple art-deco styles. She can be feminine, yet masculine at the same time. It usually takes 6 to 8 weeks from placing the order to finishing the final product. Based on clients’ tastes and the interior design of their homes, they can make their homes one of a kind by personalising almost every detail.
Way before opening the boutique in Florence, Julia was already a very well known figure in American society. Just think about those luxury villas by the coast of California, after the owner spent a fortune on architecture and interior design, it really needs a touch of “home, sweet home” atmosphere for an attractive photograph on the homepage of AD, right? That’s when Julia would be receiving calls from some star designers.
Julia was passionate about making home beautiful since her childhood. Growing up in both Tokyo and San Francisco, she was influenced by her Japanese mother deeply. When she was little, her mother told cooking classes, and she would help her mom setting up the table. Thanks to her parents, Julia’s upbringing was surrounded by artistic environments. She learned the appreciation of pottery and various fabric, including Kimono fabrics and indigo, from her mother. Her home in Japan was in Scandinavian style, those simple and smooth contours formed her personal taste for the years to come. She also loves the wooden structured traditional Japanese architecture and tea ceremony rooms, everything taking place on the tatami is the art of less. She said to me: “I have a very ornate style”, looking around the boutique, “but I have to say that personally, I love modern, I love simplicity”.
Since Julia first established her linen business in early 2000, the idea was “to have a vintage point of view, to return to the past, and to stick with handmade (for machine-made goods lacks innovation to her)”. Reiterating traditional craft from a contemporary perspective can be a platitude in the world of design. Yet it is the execution that differentiates distinction from banality. Julia studied vintage monogram and linen since her 20s, in order to find ateliers and artisans who can do traditional embroidery, she has been visiting Italy for thirty years. Some people collect shoes, some collect handbags, Julia collects countless metres of linens. In her boutique, you will find the giant lamp in the mid-hall made of fabric from a vintage dress, the same for the rectangular lamp in the baby’s room. Many beddings and tablewares she designed embed techniques dates back to the 1800s, or even earlier. By combining vintage monogram and vintage linens in a fresh and contemporary way, Julia revived those old embroideries with a modern glow.
Lightness, that’s the word to describe Julia’s work. Not “beautiful”, not “mesmerising”, of course, they are, but beyond all is the lightness that draws my attention.
To understand the lightness I’m talking about, we must first look at its opposite side — heaviness. In this well preserved medieval town, Florentines are proud of their rich history. Reversely, the way things always are can be a heavy burden for generations-old businesses to carry on in our time. Like the inexorable gaze of Medusa’s, it can petrify objects into stones. As an “outsider”, Julia’s point of view about traditional Tuscany crafts is fresh. Like Perseus, she looks at Medusa through the reflection of the bronze shield, which gives her an edge to deal with the Gorgon, in this case, the tradition. And from Medusa’s blood, the Pegasus, the winged horse, was born. So the heaviness of stone is transformed into the lightness of wind. That’s the sense of lightness you feel when comparing the work Julia’s with traditional local brand’s.
Julia is a woman with vision. In July 2020, when she just arrived in Florence with her husband, she barely know that she’s going to make a significant decision in her life. It was not until February the next year when she discovered the space on Via Dei Fossi, where was once an art gallery: “When I first see the space, I could see everything”, she told me, “I could see it (the boutique) here…”
When driving to Milan from Florence, she looked outside the car window and said to her husband:
“You know what, people are going to come to Italy, first before any other places, and when they come to Florence, they’re going to want this type of experience.”
That moment, she decided: “This is the time to open! Let’s do it, now!”
In September, when I was standing in the boutique with her, everything seem to have been there always.