The Marzocco family have reached the top in Monaco, both literally and metaphorically. Leading real estate developers, Groupe Marzocco specialises in giant projects that ooze ‘ultra-prime luxury’ and attract superlatives. Tour Odéon, one of their developments, not only boasts the title of Monaco’s tallest building; its penthouse apartment allegedly went on sale for a world record €388 million. Brothers Daniele and Niccolò granted a rare interview to Telegraph Luxury (an occasional, glossy supplement of the Daily Telegraph) and I was commissioned to make their portrait.
I hadn’t visited the Tour Odéon, our chosen location for the portraits, since 2013, when the tower was only half-built. I’d been sent on assignment as photographer for the New York Times, to capture the view from what would become the penthouse flat. External walls were not yet in place, and my vertiginous ascent to the top, hauled up the outside of the building in a fold-out construction cage, open to the brisk breeze that swung it to and fro on its pulley rope, had left certain mental scars. This time, assistant Nitin and I were whizzed up to the 43rd floor in a reassuringly solid, smooth lift, to set up for the photoshoot in the tower’s second-biggest, empty, apartment.
Niccolò Marzocco and his brother Daniele, both directors in the business, joined us respectably close to the appointment time. Impeccably dressed, suave and courteous (in the way that perhaps only Italian men can be), the brothers were good to work with. Theirs is no nuclear family: I was told there are 40 Marzocco family members around today (some of whom actually live in the Tour Odéon). The brothers had in fact commissioned American photographer Steve Curry to take a family portrait of (only) 15 of them the year before. The result had been technically correct, and a good record, so they said, if slightly underwhelming, and I wondered briefly what it takes for the world-renowned, Magnum photojournalist to do family portraits.
Yet for all their connections, wealth and Italian origins, mafiosos the Marzoccos are not. Niccolò and Daniele’s father moved his young family to Monaco in the 1980s after himself being terrorised by the mafia when he refused to give in to their demands. Kidnapped from his office in San Remo, close to the France-Italy border, Claudio was hooded and driven for hours to Calabria, where he was tied up and thrown into a pit. It was only thanks to a flint he was given to light a cigarette that he managed to cut his ropes and escape, 2 weeks later. Monaco, where his grandfather was a property developer, seemed like a good idea for a quick relocation afterwards.
Photo editor Andy had made a moodboard for this photographer brief. The idea was to “concentrate on composition as the visual tool to illustrate the dynamics between two people in a portrait together”. Oh, and also to shoot something a bit “fancy pants” (it was for Telegraph Luxury, after all).
On site, I spent some time, composing and preparing for the first portrait at a particular spot on the terrace, where converging lines, shade and the dramatic view of Monaco below, all worked well together. However, just as Niccolò and Daniele arrived and got into position, a sudden flurry of soap bubbles came floating in on the air. We all paused, momentarily puzzled, before a window cleaning lift’s rope and pulley came into view (what is it with me and lifts on ropes outside this building?). I pursued the idea of a balcony portrait regardless, after Nitin’s speedy change of the lights, but the composition elements just didn’t come together so well a few metres further up.
Indoors it would be then. The empty, white apartment at midday was bright to the point of painful, with sunlight flooding in through giant, south-facing windows, yet the brothers’ co-operation, positioning themselves patiently in precise spots of shade, and Nitin’s sterling work with the lights, made the feature portrait come together well…with no window cleaner in sight.
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