I’ve been living and working in Como, in northern Italy for twelve years. Initially I moved from London as I wanted a change of scenery and accidentally fell into event management. Now I am owner and CEO of The Lake Como Wedding Planner, overseeing a team of 14 including my son and daughter. We cater for overseas brides-to-be, who come from as far afield as Texas, Hong Kong, Sydney and Dubai. A former client is A-lister Chrissy Teigen.
I like events to be cohesive and have a natural flow – it’s less about the aesthetic and more about the experience, or a series of events which create contrast. My weddings are typified by their colour and unconventional components. We have been focusing on sustainability – rather than flying in roses from Colombia, for instance, we invest in textiles, fabulous candlesticks or ceramics from Laboratorio Paravincini and Richard Ginori, both designers based in Milan. Last summer we designed a wedding at the iconic Villa d’Este hotel – on the same day Amal and George Clooney arrived with their houseguests, Michelle and Barack Obama, which created a buzz. That’s typical of Como. It’s great for people watching.
There is quite a young crowd in Como and they have a very polished style. The older generation is also very fashion-conscious – I am obsessed with the Sciura – glamorous grans in their 70s who have a huge following on Instagram [@sciuraglam]. While there is a mix of iconic hotels, Como is unassuming and the scenery and climate mean it is an outdoorsy place, which in turn affects my own fashion choices.
I’d define my style as unconventional: I enjoy mixing things like smart jackets with trainers. I hate feeling buttoned up. I’m all about comfort and practicality – the cobblestoned streets of Como are not conducive to heels. That said, my weaknesses are Chanel handbags and unusual jewellery.
Having worked in fashion design and fabric development at Marks & Spencer, I have inherited its policy of quality. I don’t believe in throwaway fashion and really do believe you get what you pay for. I’m a boutique shopper – I like to build relationships with owners, and I have a few go-tos in the area. Tessabit in Como, Antonioli in Milan and Lugano, and Fox Town Outlet in Mendrisio. Labels you’ll find in my wardrobe are Missoni, Rick Owens, Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons, Ann Demeulemeester and tailored pieces by Dolce & Gabbana. I like a sharp element to what I wear – either a structured top or blazer with casual pant and trainers. Como is a former silk-producing region and I enjoy wearing silk palazzo pants and shirts by local designers, such as Francesca Ruffini’s For Restless Sleepers.
Like the Milanese, I am not drawn to something of the moment. I’m a hoarder. I recycle and love to bring out vintage clothes. For example, my wedding dress was a black Vivienne Westwood bodice, which I paired with a long white skirt – I’ve worn the bodice many times and it has given me pleasure to lend it to friends also, even though it is almost 30 years old.
One of the many side effects in the rise of fashion exhibitions such as Savage Beauty or Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, is they have made people rethink clothes as collector’s items and the value of keeping an archive of clothes. My daughter certainly loves to dip into my wardrobe. I have recently set up a secondary company, Rachel Birthistle Events, to give myself more creative flexibility for the future. Like my career, my wardrobe is hopefully future-proofed.
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