In Italian Design, The Women Are In Charge

The enterprising women who represent the future of the country’s industry. 

© Danilo Scarpati
OF 16

Molteni & C: Giulia Molteni

Molteni & C, the 82-year-old family-run design brand, is known for its full range of no-nonsense modern furniture and delicate-looking closet and storage systems that are infinitely customizable and display your belongings as if they were in a museum. What began as a small artisan business, founded by Giulia Molteni’s grandparents Angelo and Giuseppina, has since evolved into a hugely successful $300 million company, commissioning designers and architects—including Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel, Rodolfo Dordoni, and Patricia Urquiola—to design everything from chairs to wall systems to beds. Molteni & C now includes subsidiary brands Dada, UniFor, and Citterio, and in 2012 it acquired the archive of the late Gio Ponti, whose furniture it is gradually reissuing.

Giulia Molteni, the tall, elegant daughter of CEO Carlo Molteni, is the company’s marketing and communications director. She and her aunt Mariangela are the only female board members.

The company compound, where Molteni and I meet, is about an hour northeast of Milan in Brianza, a hilly, deceptively wealthy area with vast properties behind iron gates. Molteni is 36 and lives in Milan with her lawyer husband and two children. When she joined the firm, in 2007, after four years in New York working for Italian luxury brand Loro Piana, her father insisted she work her way up.

“I studied economics at university in Milan before I took a job in New York,” she says. “When I returned to Italy, I had confidence. I learned a lot from American girls who believe they can achieve anything. It was never particularly expected of me to join the family business, but I knew my father needed my help. He was happy, but also a little shocked because he’d never worked with anyone who would say, ‘No, Papa, I don’t agree with you.’” She laughs at the memory. “We fight, we discuss, but he listens and we often compromise.”

She got her start at Molteni as a retail manager, opening stores in New York, London, and Paris within a year. She’s been in her current role for two years, focusing on digital marketing strategies, as well as the launch of a museum that traces the brand’s history. (The museum, housed over an entire floor of a former factory within the compound, opened in November.)

Molteni says being a part of the family business can be a mixed blessing. “It’s hard because you’re under examination and people have very high expectations,” she says. “On the other hand, you’re more likely to make sacrifices for your own company. We work hard here. I’m not out playing golf.”

Having a woman in a very senior position marks an interesting moment for a traditional Italian business. I suggest these kinds of family companies have been dominated by men for quite some time. “Si, si, I agree,” she says. “But it’s definitely changing. I’m no longer the only one.”