Secret Milan: A New Book of Photographs by Robyn Lea

Having lived in Milan for many years, Australian photographer Robyn Lea became privy to some of the city’s best kept secrets. Accumulated over five years, Lea’s new book documents some of her favourite experiences and the seldom-seen wonders of Italy’s second-largest city. 

Growing up in country Victoria, Robyn Lea had little insight into the world of art and fashion. But it was access to copies of Vogue Italia, provided by an artistic couple who were friends of her family, that kindled a lifelong romance with the country’s sophisticated fashions and rich creative history.

At 18, with just $400 in her pocket and speaking almost no Italian, Lea decamped to Milan to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. After working as an assistant, she established her studio in Milan, and has since worked with the likes of Gucci and D&G, the Kirov Opera in St Petersburg and captured actor Willem Dafoe on the rooftop of his New York studio.

Lea noticed that Milan was notoriously difficult for outsiders to penetrate, so its traditions have been seldom documented. Over the past five years, she has become dedicated to sharing her stylish images of ‘secret Milan’, a world she became immersed in after meeting Milanese style icons like Gisella Borioli (who had been at the helm of Vogue Italia when Lea was a child).linebreak


“The best of Milan is hidden, so you either need to be well connected or have dogged persistence,” says Lea. “Milan’s soul is tucked away in courtyards, behind gated streetscapes, and inside anonymous buildings with nondescript facades.”

The 288-page book was handmade in Milan by master printers Fontegrafica and contains portraits of Milanese icons like Carla Sozzani, gallerist, publisher and the creator of 10 Corso Como, and a foreword by acclaimed designer Barnaba Fornasetti, who allowed Lea access to his father’s private archives in the family home. Other collaborators include Armani, Bulgari, Gianfranco Ferré, Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Grand Hotel et de Milan, Alberta Ferretti, Antonio Marras, Trussardi, Etro and Costume National.


“This book is a visual showcase of my favourite aspects of Milan, unearthed during my formative years there,” says Lea.

“It is not a guidebook or comprehensive summary, but more of an aesthetic journal celebrating the people, places and experiences that have moved me in many ways. More than fashion, food, culture and design, I like to think of it as an eclectic ‘art of living’ book, encapsulating the subtle nuances of many creative perspectives.”

Milan: Discovering Food, Friends & Family in a Private City will be available at Berkelouw Books, Madam Virtue & Co. and Minimax in Melbourne, Barneys New York in the U.S., Colette in Paris and on Amazon. 

Words: Carmel Melouney
Photographer: Robyn Lea
Book design: ERD


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