Style talk | Meet Ilenia Martini


Being true to its own brand story, the power of color palettes and how honesty will be key in the post-crisis world.

We met Ilenia almost exactly one year ago in Milan on a rainy morning during Salone del Mobile. She was on her way to the northern part of the city where she had to check on some hedgy designer showroom in the Bicocca area. We were on ours to the cinematic and somewhat Lynchian installation of Dimore Studio in the eastern part of the city. 

We immediately felt aligned on so many things and got the confirmation that the connection made earlier on Instagram through our mutual content cheering was no accident.

Ilenia's work as a photographer, artistic director, brand strategist, and content producer is spread through Neni Studio - a creative studio she co-founded with business partner Chris Filippone - and her own personal photographic production. Clients as diverse as Vitra, Hem, Samsung, or Luca Nichetto have trusted Neni Studio's acute sense of visual brand strategy and Ilenia's content production has built her a solid 40k following on Instagram.

Deeply relating to her sense of color palette, graphic compositions and ability to capture the epic essence of ordinary daily life moments, we wanted to explore how Ilenia approaches not only her work as a creative consultant but also her aesthetic memories and all things lifestyle.

After having lived in cities as diverse as London, New York, Milan or Berlin she now works her magic out of Gothenburg, Sweden. She's with us today. In the Journal. 

Hi Ilenia, it’s such a pleasure having you with us today. Man, the pleasure is all mine! I love what you have been doing with Les Belles Heures so, extra happy to be talking with you.

Thanks a lot for this. You’re a born and raised Italian, from Rome if I’m not mistaken. I spent 6 months living there and it was absolutely stunning; what memories do you keep from your childhood in such an inspiring place? I was born in a small town an hour outside of Rome and, man, growing up I had no idea I was surrounded by so much beauty. I kinda gave it all for granted (the weather, the food, the architecture, the culture) until I moved away. 

What was your connection with imagery, style, and design growing up? The connection to imagery all happened due to my father pretty early on. Growing up, up until more or less the age of 12, he was documenting everything with his cameras through both pictures and video so I was exposed to stills and moving images pretty early in life. As for the style, well, my mother played a huge role in it as well. She used to sew most of her outfits, coming up with solutions that I think were forward-thinking for the time. 

You’ve lived in a lot of so-called design and creative hubs across the globe; how did all those diverse environments shape your eye? Boy, oh boy! In London, I officially discovered color even though I didn’t embrace it until much later in life. That’s when I bought my first pair of colored eyeglasses. New York has taught me to dress up for myself and nobody else. Once you start realizing that some people can go out with their pjs and nobody else turns around to look at them sideways you realize that you can experiment with your style and do it for you no matter the surroundings. Milan, and I would say Italy in general, taught me all about being put together. Whether you are going out for a meeting or grocery shopping, elegance, and attention to detail matter just as much. As for Berlin, that’s where I fully embraced color to contrast the all-black outfits I constantly saw people wearing around the city.

You have a background in photography; how does it influence how you approach your work as a creative? It had and still has the strongest influence in everything I do for work. Having a photography background helped me with composition, design, layouts but was also instrumental in making me become a good editor with content in order to see what ‘stays’ to make a compelling story and what can go instead. 

Neni Studio “works with brands to define their individuality and engage their audience”. What does define individuality for a brand, how do you build that? We always try to work with brands that have something solid to say (that could be in the form of skilled craftsmanship, fantastic materials, timeless products, great history and so on), but don’t know how to say it quite yet, instead of having to build what’s going to make them unique from scratch. So, I’d say that it’s often all about building a balanced storytelling around what makes a brand unique and have that be the driving force behind all communication efforts whilst remaining personal and authentic.

As for engagement, what do you think makes the difference in such a saturated and fast-paced environment? Honesty. Being true to oneself. I think people are pretty tired of looking at extra-polished lives/things.

Beyond photography, you mainly work as an art director; what is art direction exactly to you and how do you approach it in a concrete way? The majority of the art direction work I do these days comes in the shape of content production for our clients. Whether it’s coming up with a video idea and then producing it, or developing a concept for a photoshoot, or creating the material for their online/offline communication. 

We're in the middle of a global crisis that questions so many things in the way we live. What do you think will be the first and immediate consequences of this crisis on the photography and design industry? The design industry has figuratively hit a wall. The pace at which new products were being pushed around the clock, just to have something new to see (and sell, of course) had to take a well-needed pause. The industry will have to reinvent itself altogether, not just from a creative perspective but also from a communication standpoint. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, so I am hopeful that this forced pause will bring something good.

What will it change in the way you approach your work? The state of the world right now has changed the way we communicate, not just amongst teams and clients but even more so, between brands and customers. It has turned the light on how important and hard the communication work we do, is and has been. Before collectively being affected by this global crisis, brands could very easily oversee the online communication, deemed it as a ‘nice to have but not essential’ and focus all of their efforts on sales (of course), but when things started shifting it becomes evident how a solid online presence needs to be based on something solid and concrete, yet it can’t be improvised. 

What do you think will be the directions designers and brands will take to adapt? The design industry is not one known to be easily adaptable nor prone to change but I sure hope this will be the turning point to bring some honesty back into the process and industry altogether. 

You have a great eye for color palettes; what’s your relation to color? Oh my, thank you so much for such a beautiful compliment, said from you and your impeccable eye for color with LBH products, it feels extra special! Well, I love combining colors; it influences me greatly on both interiors and style alike. As Le Corbusier put it “we are greatly influenced by certain colors which, in turn, influence how we view things”.

How would you describe your own personal style? This might be the hardest question for me to answer. What I like to do is to look for a combination of materials, colors, patterns, and silhouettes that can speak to me in the ensemble. I stay away from matchy-matchy and color-coordinated outfits just as much as specific timely trends or ‘looks’. The experiments of mixing bold colors with clean-cut garments make me happy as much as figuring out how to layer patterns together with color - it’s pure joy!

You wear a lot of scarves; what makes a great scarf for you? Ha, I do love wearing scarves! For me, it’s all about the materiality and the timelessness of the piece - both reasons why I fell head over heels for LBH!

How do you like to style it? I have two main preferred styles: love a tight 40cm x 40cm around my neck layered with a t-shirt and a blazer or a 90cm x 90cm for a beautiful headwrap that can contain my crazy curls! Scarves are that accessory I take with me no matter the season or place I travel to.

We initially met through Instagram, then in real life; what did struck your eye in our aesthetic identity that led you to reach out to us? I fell in love with your color palettes. There is something so unique and effortlessly elegant about monochrome scarves when there’s so much pattern out there these days. I believe you can bring an outfit to life depending on how you decide to accessorize it with a scarf/foulard.

How would you describe LBH in 3 words? Elegant, timeless, and effortless.

Now a few rapid-fire questions; what are your favorite brands? Stine Goya, APC, Acne Studios, Isabel Marant, Alex Eagle, Margaret Howell.

Style icons? Linda Rodin, Gabriela Hearst, Lucy Chadwick, Miranda July.

Favorite designers, and pieces of design? Here’s where I gravitate towards what’s close to home: interior design rather than fashion. Some favorites are Ettore Sottsass, Achille Castiglioni, Alvar Aalto, Jean Prouvé.

Most inspiring photographers? Oh la la, tough pickle here. Love William Eggleston, Anja Niemi, Lars Tunbjörk, Alex Prager.

Who would you like to read next in our Style talk series? Next, I would love to read from Caroline Ventura.

Sounds great! Thank you very much Ilenia, such a pleasure! Boy, this was so much fun! Thank you so much for having me and hope we’ll see each other again soon!

Les Belles Heures is a young Maison revamping scarves as a cool, daily accessory through savoir-faire, craftsmanship and minimalist design focused on color. 

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