Maria Leoni Sceti is the businesswoman and entrepreneur responsible for uncovering the iconic Couture archive collections of Sonia Petroff, a highly reputable accessories designer in the 1950s – 1980s.
Designing for Valentino, Balmain and Nina Ricci, Sonia’s story is one of adventure and glamour, she was a huge part of the social jet-set plus a vivacious and bold woman.
Upon Sonia’s death in 2015, her entire 800-piece archive was inherited by her nephew and his wife, Maria Leoni Sceti. Maria is responsible for bringing Sonia’s vision back to life and, in 2018, she launched Sonia Petroff, a collection of jewellery and accessories made with resin, glass, enamelled metal and precious-stone, inspired by Sonia’s original designs.
Here, Maria shares her travel memories, what an ideal afternoon in London looks like for her, and tells us where is next on her bucket-list.
What is the first trip you remember taking?
What’s been your most memorable trip and why?
My most memorable trip was my honeymoon when we discovered St. Barths. We had just moved to Paris and were able to get a great deal on a honeymoon package as the month of May is considered low season in the Caribbean. We were in our mid-twenties – pretty young to get married by today’s standards (!) – and it all seemed so grown-up and magical.
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Where or what is your escape?
My escape is my yoga studio at home. It has windows facing the garden and a skylight which brings the outdoors in so it’s filled with light and is so peaceful. Meditating and doing my yoga practice there gives me a wonderful and balanced mindset for the day.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken from your travels?
That there is such a wonderful and geographically diverse world out there, and it’s filled with culturally and ethnically diverse people – yet, despite differences – there is an underlying current of positive energy which connects us all. The core values of love for family, friends, and sense of community is universal.
If you could go anywhere tomorrow:
I would go on a yoga retreat with my yogi girlfriends. We live in various parts of the world but have been going on annual retreats together for years. It’s such a happy reunion of best friends and kindred spirits – I wish I were packing my bags and heading to meet them tomorrow.
How would you spend your ideal afternoon in your home city?
An ideal afternoon in London would be to stroll at leisure with a friend on Portobello Road and browse the various eclectic boutiques and antique shops.
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Where do you get your holiday inspiration?
Many times it’s through luxury travel websites like Citizen Femme, or flicking through issues of magazines. Other times through friends who return exuberant over their latest discovery.
If you could sit next to anyone on a flight – dead or alive – who would it be?
It would be Sonia Petroff! I only ever knew her as Auntie Sonia when she was alive and I had no idea how creative, amazing and cool she was until she passed away. I would love a chance to speak with her again now I have created the brand. The moral of the story is that we need to listen to elderly people’s stories – they often have had far more fascinating and colourful lives than meets the eye.
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How do you recover from jet lag?
When travelling from the US to London, I try to take day flights so I can arrive at the end of the day, pet my dogs and go through my mail before throwing myself into bed, sleeping through the night and waking up feeling fresh. On the other hand, when the flight is over 12 hours, I try to get an evening flight and sleep as much as possible during it. I usually eat before boarding and always travel with an eye mask, earplugs, an extra warm sweater and a pair of thick socks.
Your flight’s delayed an hour and your phone’s out of battery. How do you pass the time?
It’s the perfect time for me to read. I’m really old fashioned and always have at least two or three paperbacks in my carry on. I briefly went through a Kindle phase, but reverted back to physical books as I love the feel of the paper and I can underline or highlight phrases or passages.
The Bellavista in Surlej, just outside of St. Moritz; a family-run hotel that we’ve been visiting for 25+ years and the owners treat us like family. We discovered it when living in Milano as it is just a two-hour drive from there. It has the most breathtaking position and view on Surlej Lake: one can walk out of the door and go cross-country or telemark skiing around the lake, skiing on the Corvatsch mountain, or sledding at sunset – all without taking a car anywhere. Here you are totally surrounded by nature, yet St. Moritz is less than two kilometres away if we want to have a fun night at Dracula or Chesa Veglia.
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British Airways. Having lived close to Heathrow for over 22 years with Terminal 5 just 12 minutes from my home, it’s as convenient as a local bus stop for us. With several kids and a busy life, we easily rack up the Avios points – my husband practically lived on a plane for many years so they made him a life-time Avios gold card holder, a nice perk to have.
What’s on your travel playlist?
I listen to audiobooks and am currently learning Spanish and listening to the Paul Noble series. I also love Blinkist. This is an excellent app which summarises a wide range of books, it’s a great tool to use to quickly discover if I should avoid or buy a book.
What are your must-have travel picks?
Trainers which look super sporty-chic with most trousers and let me be active, which I love. Heliocare 360* SPF 100 sunscreen for sensitive skin. Jones Road miracle balm in dusty rose which is hydrating and gives a wonderful fresh glow. Sonia Petroff lobster bag which is a small perfect evening bag and can also be used as a crossbody during the day. At least four different colours of our Sonia Petroff narrow lobster belts which are lightweight and easy to pack. This way I have several colour options to complement and add a touch of pizazz to whatever I am wearing. My Cartier Tank.
Milan for a dear friend’s big 50th birthday celebrations.
MARIA'S PACKING ESSENTIALS
FIRST THING THAT COMES TO YOUR MIND…
Hand-luggage essential? Phone charger (and phone), paperbacks, agenda, pen, warm sweater and scarf to use during the flight.
Packing: roll or fold? Fold.
Inflight book or inflight film? Short-haul: book. Long-haul: film.
Music or podcasts? Neither in-flight.
Time killer on a long-haul flight? On a daytime long-haul: thinking time for organising and working on my to-do list. For example: family events; gift lists; appointments; wardrobe planning for events; new collection ideas.
Holiday tipple of choice? Gin and light tonic with a splash of Campari.
Bucket list top destination? Bhutan. I have been wanting to visit for years.
Best shopping gem found abroad? Twelve large, lacquered wood panels found in an art gallery when strolling through the streets of Hoi An. They were painted by a Vietnamese artist to depict moments of local life in warm, earthy tones of brown, yellow, red and gold. All 12 are different yet beautiful when displayed together as a set.
Beach or City? Beach.
Ultimate holiday treat? Taking a step away from a busy life to relax and enjoy quality time with whoever is with me. This is usually my husband, my kids or my dear yogi friends.
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