WORDS CARRY A LOT OF WEIGHT behind them and the energy with which they are scripted can be almost tangible, so when you want to convey the most positive message of all, top calligrapher Betty Soldi is the person to contact. Her beautifully produced invitations are legendary, and she’s known to create meaningful messages for every type of special occasion from her studio in Florence, Italy – often applied to glass, leather, fabric and other unique surfaces – for example, a mirror with love messages in a hotel room for a client, personalised champagne bottles, crystal glasses, cushions for a private plane and even the words of a love song surrounding a wedding cake. Here, Betty describes her lifestyle along with the history and inspirations behind her elegant and flamboyant art…

C&B: “Betty, tell us a little about your background and how you came to be living in Italy…”

BS: “I descended from the Florentine Pirotecnica Soldi family that’s been hand-making fireworks since 1869; for generations there have only been males born into the family and then my sister and I came along, and were not allowed to play with gunpowder! So my family moved to London when I was seven years old and I lived, studied and worked there for 35 years. I’ve now been back in Florence for eleven years since our daughter Alma was born. My fireworks family heritage and the birth of our daughter with my Florentine partner Matte Perduca (with Betty, below) brought me back to Florence; I’d always visited growing up but had never actually lived in the city – I feared that moving from metropolitan London to provincial Firenze would prove a culture shock, but it has provided us with so many creative opportunities…”

C&B: “How did you first get interested in the art of calligraphy?”

BS: “I didn’t study art at school in England – I attended St Paul’s Girls’ in London and focused on academic studies, however, when I was eighteen, I found an art history/design course in my native Florence and studied there for two years. Everyone else had already learned to draw, I had not at that time, so I started illustrating with words instead, and loved it. I then attended a BA Honours graphic design and visual communication course back in London, specialising in Bauhaus typography, super-modern but reverential to the classic arts, and I was fortunate to have the most wonderfully experienced calligraphy professor who, once you had mastered the basics, urged you to find your own unique inkily modern style!”

C&B: “What do you use your skills for, typically?”

BS: “I use calligraphy to bring writing to life. As I am trained as a graphic designer as well as a calligrapher, I love to merge both and collaborate with brands on packaging, branding, products and objects. Yes everyone equates calligraphy with stationery and along the way I have worked with all the luxury and fashion brands on their invitations etc, but I love to add a touch of the handwritten in unexpected places. I have also been doing lots of consultancy with corporate leadership programmes and team building with a form of ‘calligraphy coaching’ aimed at using handwritimg to let go (much harder than trying to control everything!) I’ve given masterclasses in New York for a journalists’ conference, a design company in Hamburg, a calligraphy collective in London and I hold masterclasses at my design studio in Florence which is an Orangerie built in 1801 (see below) and set inside a private garden. With the marvels of Zoom technology I also occasionally hold masterclasses online, for private and corporate clients…”

C&B: “What’s the most significant message you’ve ever written on behalf of someone?”

BS: “I have written out Elizabeth Frye’s poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep” and it was made it into limited edition artistic prints, hand finished with gold elements…it really resonates with anyone who has lost a loved one. It is double sided, printed reversed out white on dark grey on one side, for those days when the loss casts a dark cloud of grief, and a more hopefully grey on white for when the pain lifts…”

C&B: “Our readers love to travel and many of them have lived in several places around the world… which are your personal favourites?”

BS: “I’ve lived in London, which formed my culture and aesthetic; also in New York, which turned the volume up in everything that was dormant inside of me; and in Paris, which j’adore as I studied French at school and am still wondering why I speak it with a very Italian accent – even though I have a very strong British twang when speaking English! I lost my heart to Tokyo when I visited years ago, it is unlike anything our Mediterranean culture ever experiences…”

C&B: “Travel and luxury hotels are huge inspirations to us here at the magazine; which is your favourite place to stay in the world?”

BS: “Can I be biased and mention our three boutique bed and breakfasts in Florence?! We have ‘SoprArno Suites’, ‘OltrarnoSplendid’ and my favourite ‘AdAstra’, all in the quirkier more artisanal and authentic Oltrarno Area of Florence. My partner Matteo Perduca decorated each of the fourteen bedrooms in individual looks and styles, and I’ve written on some of the walls wishing you ‘sogni d’oro’ – sweet dreams. I adore sipping a coffee on the wraparound terrace (below) that overlooks the largest private garden in Europe within a walled city. I’m the brand guardian for the hotels and also take care of the PR. We have been featured in lots of wonderful fashion press, but my favourite was a review that said ‘Stay at the Four Seasons, otherwise at AdAstra’!


INSTAGRAM: @bettysoldi

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