Five places that made me: Alex Zabotto-Bentley, design director


Growing up, summer holidays were always a family affair. All the cousins would get together, and the families would bring their own house-made salami, ricotta, pasta, and all the bounty from their suburban gardens to a holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula. It was a classic coming of age story; we kids were like a tribe, hitchhiking up to Portsea, trying that first swig of grappa, sunbaking with baby oil, first kiss on a ride at Rye Carnival …


After studying classics at university, visiting Athens was a pure epiphany. Right in front of me, these temples embodied the beauty of mathematical principles, of form and balance, and everything made sense. I immediately wanted to delve further into Greco Roman art, so I hightailed it to Trastevere in Rome, where I was struck by the power of the statuary: the proud bearing and aquiline noses. I started sketching them for myself and I still do. Nothing beats a great Roman nose.


The Picasso Museum in Paris was a very special experience. As a kid, I had stolen a page from a library book, depicting Picasso's The Pan Flute painted in 1923. I had this Picasso print on my wall and I was obsessed with cubism and its offbeat colours, which I often use in my work. I had longed to see the original, and there it was, recently restored. Time literally stood still. I actually asked the attendant to allow me five minutes alone with it … and he did. They got everyone out of the room and I kind of communed with it. Unforgettable.


A few years ago, both my parents passed away within a short time. I decided to make a pilgrimage to Trieste, Italy, where they were married. I needed to return them in spirit to the place where they had come together, but I didn't know exactly which church it was. I searched out members of their bridal party, distant cousins and people in the village that had attended, and explained my story. I was able to track down the church and just as I entered and took a pew, the bells began to toll. It was incredibly moving. I climbed a giant rhododendron tree outside the church and attached two santini (memorial photos of my parents), with my cousins clapping in celebration. It was a fitting closure to a beautiful love story and an almighty homecoming.


Last year, I was honoured to be the style director for Malta's entry for Eurovision. For a boy from Coburg who had spent every Eurovision contest glued to the TV with family and friends, to go to Stockholm and be backstage was almost unbelievable. We created a video for singer Ira Losco that celebrated Malta, from the crumbling palazzi to the wild coastline. It's hard to convey the feeling of doing my dream job in such a spectacular country.

Alex Zabotto-Bentley is the award-winning owner of AZBCreative, known for his innovative approach to design. Coming up: Mjolner, a Viking-inspired restaurant in Redfern's Old Tobacco Factory, and several international hotel projects including Flores, Bali, and London. See