By Ashley Davis
Designer Roberto Faraone Mennella died June 4.
New York—Jewelry designer Roberto Faraone Mennella died Thursday at his family estate in Italy.

He was 48.

Rewind exactly 30 years to June 4, 1990, to a friend’s 18th birthday party. It’s the night that marks the start of three decades of partnership between Mennella and Amedeo Scognamiglio.

They’re the same age and from the same small town outside of Naples. Their families have known each other all their lives. But this is the occasion where their relationship begins in earnest.

“That’s the summer,” recalled Scognamiglio, from Mennella’s family estate. “We started both going to the same university and became friends more and more.”

Scognamiglio described the totality of their relationship as: “A human partnership, business partnership and soul mate. At one point, we really didn’t know anymore what came first.”

Mennella is Scognamiglio’s first kiss that summer. The two have no way of knowing he’ll be the last hand he holds before he dies of cancer.

Mennella originally pursued law, studying at the University of Naples Federico II, but credited his grandmother with encouraging him to pursue design.

He went on to obtain a degree in design marketing at famed university The New School Parsons School of Design in New York City.

In 2001, he launched Faraone Mennella with Scognamiglio.

Part of the brand’s folklore is a chance encounter with Patricia Field, costume designer for “Sex and the City”

Mennella’s designs were prominently featured on the show, a centerpiece of the cultural zeitgeist. TV’s iconic show led to iconic retailers. Bergdorfs came calling.

In the year before his death, Mennella experienced somewhat of a design renaissance, executing jewelry abstractions that bring to mind exotic underwater creatures, expressing movement and energy, rendered in psychedelic shades of titanium.

“We realized our customer was, yes, very wealthy and very well-traveled and sophisticated, but she was different from the old-school jewelry client,” Scognamiglio explained. “She was wearing Alaïa and high heels and dancing on a yacht, so her jewelry had to be in the same spirit.”

The collection has been a hit, but it was one of Mennella’s very earliest designs that was his career-long best seller: the Stella necklace, named for the grandmother that inspired him to follow his passion.

20200608 Roberto stellaFaraone Mennella 18-karat gold “Stella” necklace ($10,300)
“I couldn’t believe while Roberto was dying and I was holding his hands I see my phone and the notification from our website that they just sold two of those necklaces. I said, ‘Can you believe that those necklaces will never go out of style?’ That’s the biggest accomplishment for any designer.”

The two worked together under the same creative umbrella for the entirety of their jewelry design careers.

An Iconic Partnership
Especially in the beginning, Mennella and Scognamiglio designed jointly, but, creatively, Faraone Mennella bore the stamp of its namesake, delivering Italian classicism and elegance, as wearable now as it was two decades ago.

“You can see a client still wearing jewelry they bought at Bergdorfs 20 years ago and it’s still fresh and cool and relevant because it’s timeless. That was our intention when we designed always,” Scognamiglio said.

“His house in Italy is a beautiful 18th-century estate that he kept like a jewel. It is timeless and that’s what he was really obsessed with—to create timeless jewelry, not the earring of the moment. If [a style] is still current after 20 years, they will be in 50 years.”

Mennella and Scognamiglio formed a company, RFMAS Group, and launched Amedeo, a modern take on Scognamiglio’s cameo-carving family business, dating back to the early 1800s. Both brands are produced in the same in-house Italian workshop.

“With Faraone Mennella I wanted it always from the beginning to be about Roberto, and I was his assistant designer. He would [sketch] something and show it to me, or at the bench with our jewelers and I would say, ‘Oh OK. It’s beautiful but it’s not us.’

20200608 Roberto amedeoRoberto Faraone Mennella and Amedeo Scognamiglio“That was our thing. Is it us or is it not?”

The two brands opened stores in New York City, where they neighbor each other on the Upper East Side, and in Capri.

“The difference when I design,” said Scognamiglio, “is he has final say.”

The last piece on which he solicited Mennella’s advice was a large dragon cameo. “I didn’t know how to set this piece that’s not boring, and he designed so contemporary, so modern.”

Per Mennella’s suggestion, Scognamiglio set it in titanium.

A New Chapter
Scognamiglio finds it symbolic that, a week ago Saturday, he drove Mennella the entire 10-hour trip from Milan, where he received his last cancer treatment, to Naples, so he could die at home.

Typically, Mennella would be the one behind the wheel, just as he was “in the driver’s seat” for their three decades of partnership as RMFAS Group.

Scognamiglio is now the company’s sole owner and creative director. He considered dissolving Faraone Mennella immediately following the designer’s death, questioning if he was “good enough” to continue his work, but quickly realized he could best honor him by continuing his legacy, following the blueprint they laid together over the last 30 years.

“I think that I need to bring Faraone Menella to the next level in honor of Roberto. When I sort of mentioned it to our team—the jewelers and the office—they said, ‘Amedeo, absolutely we will continue. We learned so much from Roberto; we will live on. We will make mistakes but from up there he will say, ‘What’s that necklace? That earring is horrible!’ and we will feel it.’”

20200608 Roberto titaniumThese titanium, diamond and sapphire “Kaleidoscope of Hope” earrings are from Mennella’s latest collection and represented a new chapter for the designer. ($22,000)
Calling Mennella “the great designer I’ve ever met,” Scognamiglio aims to increase the brand’s reach and influence, landing it on the same level as some of the industry’s greats.

“It can be the Bulgari of the next 50 years. Now I have the new motivation to honor Roberto’s life and work and no one is going to stop me. I am going to be fierce.”

In their entire partnership, the two had the singular achievement of only working for each other, and never had a more significant romantic relationship, a fact that is still taboo to say aloud in conservative southern Italy.

“Roberto and I were partners in life and in business in a very unusual way. We don’t know anything else other than our friendship and our business. We never worked for anyone else or with anyone else.”

Ultimately, Scognamiglio says his greatest achievement wasn’t their businesses or stores or success.

“I think that my main mission accomplished is that he made me promise to hold his hand until the end. And I did and I was privileged to be with him until his last breath.”

TAGS:   Obituaries
Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.