Living La Dolce Vita at Il Pellicano

31 August, 2017

Marie-Louise Sció grew up at Il Pellicano, the legendary hotel owned by her father in the ’70s in sun-soaked Porto Ercole, Tuscany. Famous for expressing la dolce vita in its purest form (think: saltwater pool, speedboats, and starry dance parties beside the sea), the hotel became the getaway of aristocrats and artists from all over the world. Now its creative director, Scio has a very different perspective on why hotels like the Il Pellicano continue to be so revered and cherished.

Among luxurious, unforgettable hotels in Europe, we can think of only a few, and Il Pellicano is one. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Il Pellicano was built in 1965. It was born as a kind of a club, so that has stayed in the DNA of the place. Although it's not a member's club, it still very much has that feeling of home and of being kind of a club for people who like to travel in a certain way.

What do you think makes a hotel legendary? And how do you create a legacy?

What makes a hotel legendary is probably the story. The story that you don't necessarily need to know, but the stories you can imagine took place there. I think there's a real relationship between a guest and a space. What a guest brings to that space. I think the storytelling aspects of a hotel is really what creates a legend. Then it's because of excellent service or excellent people working in there, like Dimitri Dimitrov of the Sunset Tower. He's an absolute legend. Or Colin Field at the Ritz in Paris. Those are incredible hotels, but they also have these kind of legendary figures working there.

“What makes a hotel legendary is probably the story,” – Marie-Louise Sció.

Do you think these stories need to be true?

Yes. I think it always needs to be true. I don't think you can fabricate them. What you can do is enhance them, highlight them, but I don't think you can make that up, because people will feel that's made up. It's like with people: if they're not honest, and if they're not honest with who they are, you feel that, and I think the same goes with a hotel.

When a hotel like yours has a genuine culture, how do you capitalize on it without exaggerating it?

By capitalizing on its history. I’ve seen so many hotels tend to scrap history and throw that away. They want to start from scratch. I think it's a pity, because everyone has their own story to say. For me, it was really important to go down the rabbit hole, and find out what it looked like historically, and how people lived there, how they vacationed, and kind of keep that but also create the dialogue with contemporary ways and contemporary service, bringing in contemporary culture.

‘The Grand Opening, June 2, 1965’. John Swope, 1965 © Hotel Il Pellicano

The book with John Swope, Slim Aarons, and Juergen Teller… was it your idea?

Yeah. I was looking at Slim Aaron's pictures, because I wanted to see what Il Pellicano looked like. I remembered it as a child, but wanted some imagery. Then I just felt we should make a book. And after working so well with Juergen on this one, the second one was an organic, natural decision to just say, "Let's do another project together." I’d wanted to do a cookbook for years, and it just felt right to do it with him. I really like his photography. And photography is maybe in the DNA of the hotel.

Would you say the culture of Il Pellicano arose organically?

I think so. That's the way I like to do things here. Many ideas came out of conversations with people, like the cookbook: it was just a chat with Juergen about it, and it came out, and it built on mutual respect and friendship. The Paolo Roversi event last night: I didn't call his agent, I met him at the hotel, and it was just a very natural and organic thing. And it goes back to what I was saying before. It has to be a natural and real relationship.

What does glamour mean to you today?

I'm not sure. Glamour, for me, is really something flashy. What we do is very different from that. I think it's an understated kind of elegance, a way of living surrounded by beautiful things. Everything's really curated and taken care of, but it does not scream and shout. That's not the way we do it. It's just very nice, in a balanced way.

‘Hotel Il Pellicano,’ published by Rizzoli, 2011

Do you live at the Pellicano?

No I live in Rome, but I spend a lot of time at the Pellicano in the summer and at the La Posta Vecchia, our other hotel, as well.

How do you translate the hotel's history into digital, social media, and the website? What's your strategy?

Don't look at the one we have, no! Because it's not so good. But the one that's coming up is going to be much better. The approach is really to create, as I said before, and I tend to repeat it, a dialogue between the past and today. It's through the use of archival pictures, but not too much, so it doesn't feel nostalgic, the use of the fonts, and how we're going to lay out our new site that feels more or less like an intimate diary. There's an intimacy about travel and about hotels now that we're trying to keep. Social media, especially Instagram, tends to flatten it out, but we try to curate our social media and enhance it.

What feeling do you think the Pellicano provides?

What I hear always is this saying, I really feel like I'm at home. I think it's very overused today, so even big hotel chains say they’re your "home away from home." It's a great concept, but what makes the Pellicano a home for many people is that it’s multi-generational. So you're having dinner and there's a 25-year-old and on the other side you have a 90-year-old. That feels like home. It feels like your grandmother's there or your little cousin is there. I think having that kind of mixed audience, which is very refreshing in some way. The staff is very formal but very warm, and then a lot of the same staff year over year, and they remember all the clients who come. We have a very high percentage of repeat clientele, so a lot of people meet again. People who come at the same time, and I think the fact that it's treated and decorated and curated as if it was someone's home really reinforces that. The emotion is the feeling of belonging somewhere, and feeling that a little bit of that is yours.

“What emotion does Il Pellicano provide? The emotion is the feeling of belonging somewhere, and feeling that a little bit of that is yours,” – Marie-Louise Sció.

Also the breathtaking scenery…

Absolutely… it's a non-obvious location. Because Tuscany by the beach is not so known.

You were mentioning informal conversations at the bar. Is that a cultural event you're having, once in a while at the Pellicano?

Yes, and they're bringing in people who I know, Italians, just giving guests a chance to chat with very interesting people. Just last night we had Paolo Roversi come and talk about photography, then we had three generations from Missoni. We have nice people who are friends of the Pellicano, and who have a drink, and very informally chit-chat, and it's a way of learning things in a very informal way. It’s about weaving the past and the present for the future, and that's what my aim is to do.

Do you announce it in the hotel or on Instagram?

Yeah, we put it on Instagram, on social media, and in an invitation to come for our guests the night before, and we advertise it publicly in the hotel, also that people can join us. It's literally as if you're going to the bar and having a drink with 10 friends. So, one of those 10 friends is Paolo. It's literally a little salon for the living room, and not more than 12 people fit on these couches, and some people stand around, and we all have a drink and relax. And people sing in the hotel. So, it's very deconstructed.

Marie-Louise Sció and friends, poolside. Juergen Teller, 2009 © Juergen Teller

Are there other hotels in the world you think deliver a similar experience to Il Pellicano's?

Put it this way: I don't think that experience depends on the amount of stars you have. I think that there's a lot of hotels in the world that are incredible, that move me, and that I personally really like that are generally not five-star hotels. Like Deetjen's Inn in Big Sur or the Rose Hotel in Venice Beach in L.A. I love the Sunset Tower in Los Angeles, but that's a five-star hotel. I love The Greenwich in New York.

Is there's a connection between Los Angeles and Italy, the Mediterranean, dolce vita, and Hollywood golden age?

Yeah, I think there's a lifestyle in some way. There’s a very high quality of life on the West Coast. You have the beautiful beaches, and the mountains, and the food, and the sun, and it's similar in some way, but obviously very different.

And there’s the cinema, the movie industry.

The cinema history, the Golden Age. I think it's changed from what it was a long time ago. Unfortunately, I don't think Cinecittà is what it used to be, and when I think of the glamour of Hollywood, that was glamour!

Words by Marie-Louise Sció and The Editors. Header: ‘The Swimming Pool.’ Slim Aarons, 1973 © Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive.

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