Maria Manetti Farrow is a wonder. Even a quick glance at her evokes the countenance of her friend, Sophia Loren. Her voice is pure whipped chocolate, luxuriant Italian, delicious and delightful. Elegant, cultured, she is warmth and graciousness personified, with an animated spirit and a dazzling mind.
Born in Florence, Italy, one of four children, this resplendent, dark-haired beauty considers herself a true Florentine — "It is the home of the Renaissance." She moved to San Francisco, "for love — I followed my heart," having met and married a Berkeley student. Befriended early on by Cyril Magnin, Maria soon joined the retail establishment as buyer and director of the Gucci franchise, opening 12 Gucci shops at Joseph Magnin.
When the stores folded, Aldo Gucci offered Maria the marketing division of Gucci small accessories collections throughout NorthAmerica.
"I had a vision that Americans would flock to quality. They wanted that lifestyle."
For 10 years, Maria built the business with a staff of 120 employees, traversing the continent, logging 18-hour days.
Later, she ran the North American distributorships of Fendi and Mark Cross for another five years.
She is, according to Howard Socol, chairman of Barney’s "a legend." She considers Bert Tansky, head of the Neiman Marcus Group, a friend.
When the early ’90s recession hit, Maria presciently foresaw the downturn and got out of the business. By 1995, she had decided to "go back to the earth — it enhances the life and soul." She had owned Mille Rose, a 60-acre estate in Napa for years, replete with vineyards and olive trees. Mille Rose now bottles and supplies olive oil to famed restaurateurs Gary Danko, Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, Mike Tusk at Quince — it’s even available at the Golden Door. And there’s balsamic vinegar, too.
Maria believes "Life is wonderful. I love to entertain family and friends." And her list of confreres reads like "who’s who" in art, opera and film: Paloma Picasso, Massimo Ferragamo, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Sherry Lansing, William Friedkin.
She has been a patron of opera and fine arts for decades. Involved with the San Francisco Opera since 1982, she supports the Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles operas under Placido Domingo, the Kirov Opera of St. Petersberg, the Prince of Wales Foundation, FAI: Italian National Trust, Venetian Heritage Foundation, Friends of Versailles and MOMA. She also collects contemporary art, music.
Maria Manetti Farrow’s San Francisco residence, high atop a hill and facing the Bay, is a welcoming abode, rife with photographs of notables and musical artists, and with the ubiquitous presence of her toy poodle, Gioia, who’s almost as well-known as Maria. Capacious rooms, soaring ceilings, formal yet inviting seating, the interiors blend seamlessly with the panorama of the Bay.
This radiant woman of beauty helps guide others, young people, in their careers. It’s as if, as Helen Keller said, "The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen nor heard, but felt in the heart."