Sonia & The Cities
Imagine. There is a woman who decides not to marry until her mid-40s, and instead spends her time traveling, mingling with the world’s interesting people, and working on her creative endeavour, which has gotten the attention of major luxury fashion houses such as Valentino, Balmain and Nina Ricci. There’s nothing unusual about it, if describing the worldly life of a modern-day socialite. Except, the year is 1958.
The woman we are describing is Sonia Petroff, the jewellery and accessories designer of our eponymous house. As this is the first post to delve a little bit into her incredible story, we thought about the elements that defined the peripatetic Sonia best: travel, independence and creation.
Sonia’s social and professional life was nothing short of dizzying. From garden parties with Marlon Brando in Paris one day to garden parties with several Italian Dukes in Rome the other, in going through her archives, we can hardly keep up - even in hindsight. But there are definitely certain places in the world that she loved most.
As Joan Didion, a renowned female writer from Sonia’s time, once said, “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” Here’s what we pieced together.
Sonia, playing polo in Argentina, could never just be a spectator.
Sonia was born in Bulgaria to an aristocratic family, but after the rise of communism in the 1950s, fled to Buenos Aires. It was there that she discovered a love of jewellery making. The cultural epicentre of South America during the 50s, 60s and 70s, Argentina’s capital city served as one of the top five destinations in the world for the jet-set. There, among a smorgasbord of exiles, you would often find the likes of famed Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and actress Ava Gardner during a night at Teatro Colon. There were also of course, polo events, and private parties at estancias in the Punta del Este (South America’s answer to the Hamptons).
Today: The closest thing to Sonia’s Buenos Aires now is the design-led restaurant Isabel, in the neighbourhood of Palermo. Of course, there’s still Punta (as the locals call it), which never loses its mystique.
Like any independent, fun-loving, artistically inclined soul, Sonia loved New York City. The nightlife of post-war New York is the stuff of myth and legend. From The Loft and Studio 54 to Copacabana at 10 East 60th Street (and yes, of the Barry Manilow song of the same name), NYC allowed for endless evenings of gallivanting. And in the day, the Fashion District in midtown allowed for sourcing the best materials with which Sonia created her couture-quality pieces.
Today: There is still a remnant of Sonia’s New York at Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle on the Upper East Side, which opened in 1947, and where today you can still sip on a Champagne Cocktail and listen to renditions of Cole Porter under the gold ceiling.
Yet another base for the international jet-set and who’s who of literature, music, art and fashion (you’ve all seen Midnight in Paris), Sonia spent much time in the French capital attending both social events in the 16th and work meetings in the 1st.
Today: Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris in Place Vendome still captures the atmosphere of Sonia’s times.In Paris, with iconic actor Marlon Brando and friends.
And then there’s Rome, where Sonia spent much of her time later in life. From partaking in aperitivos in Trastevere to creative dealings at Via Condotti, and nights at Caffè dell'Epoca, where movie stars partied after long days filming at Cinecittà, Rome allowed for a slightly more settled approach to the pace of life that Sonia was used to. And of course, allowed for her collaborations with Valentino.
Today: There will never be anything more Roman than al fresco dining near a Piazza somewhere. Pierluigi, near Piazza Navona, was a Sofia favourite. Prelude and/or follow up with drinks at Terrazza Borromini, which has the best skyline views.
From the archives: Sonia’s earlier costume jewellery and accessories.
While jet-setting was de rigueur among women, who like Sonia, were born into wealthier families, one thing is clear: she wasn’t a swan. Sonia had a career, and spoke seven languages. She was a global nomad. Ahead of her time, Sonia inspires, perhaps even more than she did then, for us to live ahead of ours.