For nine decades, the Italian couturier, interior decorator, garden designer, and connoisseur Federico Forquet—subject of Hamish Bowles’s definitive new monograph, The World of Federico Forquet—has been, as he lyrically puts it, “in tune with the pleasures of life.” The scion of an old Neapolitan banking family (they helped finance Italy’s railways and the Suez Canal), Forquet, by his own account, enjoyed a “peaceful” childhood in “a magical place,” a cliffside villa overlooking the Bay of Naples. Even his experience of World War II had its glamorous incidents—the American admiral who requisitioned the Forquet family house in 1943 invited Federico and his parents aboard his aircraft carrier to screen the latest Rita Hayworth, Carmen Miranda, and Betty Grable extravaganzas. By that point Forquet had already begun obsessively covering his schoolwork and his father’s bank statements with his precocious fashion sketches.
During the spring of 1954, Forquet—trained as a concert pianist and expected to succeed his father as manager of the family estates—serendipitously met Cristóbal Balenciaga on the island of Ischia. Having heard about the young aesthete’s drawings, Balenciaga, to the astonishment and envy of the fabled Spaniard’s entourage, in the fall asked Forquet to be his guest, first at his country house near Orléans, and then in his Paris apartment. Impressed with the croquis Forquet produced on demand for him, Balenciaga next employed the courtly 23-year-old to work alongside him at his Avenue George V studio, a privilege conferred on no other assistant.