With Friends Like These
Joseph Cicio’S wide circle of fascinating people
Joe Cicio at a recent signing for Friends* *Bearing Gifts.
Photo by JP Yim
Entering Joseph Cicio’s home is like visiting the most discerningly curated gallery of objects and treasures. And practically every piece has a story, which is why he decided he needed to write a book, Friends* * Bearing Gifts, about the fascinating people he has known and the treasured items they have brought to him.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Cicio had no idea that he would become one of the scions of retail, working for some of the premier department stores from Lord & Taylor to Macy’s to Joseph Magnin. “I had very little self-confidence but I was always a hard worker,” says Cicio. “I went to visit an old school counselor, who said I was very creative and that I should try to get a job in window display. I had no idea what that meant or that it was a real profession. But I enrolled at the Pan American School of Art and Design in New York City that had a display course. The school had a relationship with Lord & Taylor and I was one of the students chosen for an internship.”
Cicio had never set foot in Lord & Taylor and at first his only job was to sweep and clean up and go out and get coffee. But it was the heyday of department stores and Lord & Taylor was a great place to learn. And soon he began to be noticed. “My first mentor was an extraordinary woman named Cici Kempner who was the handbag buyer in the day when buyers ruled the world,” Cicio recalls. “She would take me to dinner at the Russian Tearoom and encourage me at every step. When Saks Fifth Avenue called she insisted I go on the interview and to also answer the call when Macy’s wanted me as well.” And it was thanks to Kemper that Cicio began his lifetime of collecting beautiful objects.
“I always remember what she told me when I announced that I had finally saved enough money for my first trip to Europe: ‘You have a great eye and talent, so I want you to promise me that, with this first trip, and all those that follow, you will purchase one special object for yourself. After many years you will have beautiful things to recall the magic of those experiences.’ And she was right.”
That’s how it all began. As Cicio traveled and discovered new places and people his collection grew and grew. Not only did he buy his own pieces, but along the way so many friends have bestowed upon him mementoes of their friendships.
Cicio has been fortunate enough to work with the likes of Audrey Hepburn (who he designed a special room for an event while he was at Macy’s), Lauren Bacall, Joan Rivers, Josie Natori, Prince Charles, Bill Blass, and Nancy Kissinger, who wrote the foreword.
“I have been blessed with incredible people in my life,” says Cicio. “While many of them are gone, I can look at an object they gave me and wonderful memories come flowing back. You can’t replace the people you’ve lost but having a memento keeps them alive for me.”
Featuring photographs of Cicio’s spectacular Connecticut home (designed and decorated by him), his book includes essays on the many friends and their gifts and emphasizes the importance of relationships. It is a reflection of a life filled with warmth, beauty, and exceptional memories and a testament to the people who have made a difference in Cicio’s life and vice-versa. As Nancy Kissinger says in her foreword: “No one understands and articulates the value of friendship more sincerely than Joe.”