From photography to books; from books to stationery; from stationery to tea; from tea to cups; from cups to personal care. Always looking East, like a modern Marco Polo discovering new objects, aromas and sensations. Marco Beretta tells us about his Stamberga.
When he speaks, Marco Beretta brings a clenched fist close to his heart and raises, in sequence, slowly, first his pinkie finger, then his ring finger, then his index finger... A simple gesture that tells us how strong his bond with Asia is.
A love story that has lasted for many years and that began with what he calls “silent photography”, the solitary search for images capable of making the heart slow down and the soul vibrate.
The subjects are always the same: Buddhist monks from Tibet, India, Burma, Mongolia, Laos, China...their symbols, holy places and moments of prayer. Glances and moments captured by his ever-present Hasselblad permanently captured on impeccable fine art hand prints.
A keen observer of people and places, Marco Beretta is a traveller who owes all the changes life has thrown at him to his thirst for knowledge and freedom. And, when asked, how many lives have you lived, he replies, counting from the little finger, at least 3.
The last one is as the owner of a “shop” of household and personal items. The first, that of a tireless manager committed to opening flagship stores of major international fashion and lifestyle brands around the world.
In between is chance, which, when you go along with it, becomes your destiny.
At some point, chance also comes in the form of a clamour. The word ENOUGH written in block letters within oneself. No more business plans imposed by others, no more impossible sales targets, no more stressed life of a manager. Enough.
Jacket and tie tossed aside at a blow to be in an absolute void where everything becomes possible.
This part of the story, then, we can call “One thing leads to another”.
“I no longer had a job so I opened a photo gallery to exhibit and sell my photos.
At some point I combined the sale of photographs with art and travel books, creating an absolutely independent and anomalous bookshop. To the books I then added stationery, choosing all the things I liked, going directly to the Orient to find them. Natural wooden pencils, handmade papers”.
And then again... one thing led to another, as we said.
“I am an avid and discerning tea drinker and so, after the stationery items, I came up with the idea of introducing tea in the shop. I looked for a brand that I liked, but I didn't find it, because for my way of seeing things, the products were too industrial, so I decided to go my own way again. I created a logo, a snake dragon, the sacred Tibetan symbol circumscribed in a circle, a brand, Auberge Thé Bleu, and set off for Asia to personally select the purest teas to import”.
Today, in the shop, inside an old haberdashery counter lit by octanium-blue rattan lamps designed by Tomoko Mizu for Bonacina, as many as 25 qualities of tea (from Chinese and Japanese greens to Indian blacks; teas brewed using lengthy ancient processes) are stored in blue-painted pine boxes.
“And after the tea came the honey (specially made by a local beekeeper for Stamberga) and then the cups. I took a trip to Japan just to totally immerse myself in the tea culture and there I chose the most authentic Japanese accessories to offer in the shop. Cups, teapots, tea pots, trays.
And,, then, I included soaps and perfumes. I put all the things I like in the shop and, now that I have started travelling again, I continue to do research, looking in Asia for suppliers and objects that can best represent my lifestyle and what I believe in.
My customers buy my photos, read the books in my library, sip my tea in the mugs I have selected for them and devote themselves to their own well-being by choosing my fragrances and soaps. They trust me and I don't put anything in here that I am not 100 per cent convinced of”.
“Many suppliers come in to pitch, but they upset me, because, in my opinion, the commercial logic comes later. I prefer to go and search the world for the right suppliers for me and my customers. It is a search that cannot be done online. I travel and search the world for beautiful things from companies consistent with my values and style. Items from Asia are predominant, but there is also Italian honey, Sicilian soaps, Danish creams and fragrances in the shop.
Each object I select bears traces of millenary culture and thought and expresses a harmony in which craftsmanship, tradition and the ability to innovate come together”.
To ensure this, the choice of supplier is never random. I basically do what I like, because everything has to be consistent and in sync. Everything has to be connected”.
“I don't really know how to define this space yet. II started to call it a concept gallery, because it started out as a photo gallery and because the photos are the backbone of everything, they help you to become immersed in the environment, they suggest a point of view and contextualise, but I also find myself calling it humilis dimora or bottega, understood, in Chinese etymology, as a room, a sales room on the ground floor on the public street, a commercial emporium, where the artisans work and the merchants sell their wares”.
Certainly, a special place that contains multitudes, located at the crossroads of elegant and quiet streets in Milan's Silent Quarter. And it all adds up.
Why the name Stamberga? “It is a tribute to my grandfather and father. Back then, when I was growing up, we often went to eat in trattorias, and in my dialect trattoria is called Stamberga. This word has always fascinated me, it has a very strong etymology. It is a term that we, in Northern Italy, inherited from the Barbarians. Then the Latins erased or modified the meaning of many barbarian words, including Stamberga, which suffered a demeaning semantic process. Stamberga comes from German: Stein Berg, stone room/castle. It was the space where strategies were discussed and the military was housed. A word that expresses a beautiful contrast, but is also a symbol of solidity. Choosing it seemed like a good omen.
Marco, when they ask you what you do for a living, what do you say?” To simplify I say gallery owner, but then I have to explain further and then I talk about my workshop and call myself a merchant. Actually, I would like to be Marco Polo, a merchant who discovers and sells beautiful, well thought-out and well-made things”.