Referred to as one of Sardinia’s secret islands, La Maddalena could hardly be considered hazardous military duty, but for one young Naval officer, summer on the idyllic archipelago didn’t resemble anything even remotely unpleasant. Standing on the coast, he could see straight through the water to the ridged sandy floor extending to the horizon. The beaches were populated with gregarious jetsetters and friendly vacationers. So welcoming were they that an invitation to a party was extended to the young Naval officer and he excitedly and dutifully accepted.
Readying himself for the evening, he sees his cheeks flush in the mirror. The heat of the Mediterranean summer perhaps, or maybe the prescience of what the night holds for him. He arrives at the party and cutting through the din of loquacious Italian conversants, our young Naval officer spots a woman on the far side of the room. They meet. They spend the summer together. They fall in love. They marry. They move north to Bergamo where they have a baby. They call her Camilla.
Camilla, now an adult and graciously spending her two year old’s nap time talking to me on a Saturday, is not immune to the whirling romance of her parents’ meet-cute. “I know what it sounds like,” she says. “Handsome Naval officer, this hot young Italian babe. It’s like something out of a movie.” It’s a story she undoubtedly heard plenty growing up, but a story that still enchants her when she retells it.
It’s what makes Camilla Ferrario-Hall preternaturally gifted as an account supervisor in this industry. She has the unique ability to discern with a critical eye, but retains the capacity to be awed by beauty.
“You can’t just bum around Europe forever.”
Despite her dual-citizenship and exotic last name, Camilla has, for all intents and purposes, lived in St. Louis all her life. She grew up in South City, studied at St. Louis University, and worked as a sales associate at Louis Vuitton to save enough money for post-graduate transcontinental adventure. She reluctantly returned home after spending a few months staying with relatives in Bergamo because, “You just can’t bum around Europe forever.”
This sentiment is more revealing than Camilla intends. Some people make careers of bumming around Europe. While she could have surfed couches and siphoned goodwill after her savings ran out, Camilla was incapable of doing so. Born in Italy, raised in St. Louis, and armed with a communications degree, she had a destiny that didn’t include seedy hostels or busking in train stations. She set her sights on carving out a life for herself. She did so in advertising.
“My parents still, I don’t think, know what I do.”
It’s early December when I’m talking to Camilla and one of my questions for her was how she explains what she does to people with no experience with the advertising industry. “Oh, this is good. You're preparing me for all of the holiday conversations I usually have when people ask me.” There’s some lightness to our exchange, but it’s legitimately not an easy thing. Everyone has a description to rattle off at weddings and parties, but it rarely represents the full scope of tasks and the depth of required thought.
I’ve written several employee profiles and ask this question to each person. Camilla’s answer strikes me as one of the best I’ve heard:
“My parents still, I don’t think, know exactly what I do. I try to explain it like this: It's my job to understand client needs and help them isolate the source of whatever business issues they have. I have to figure out what their big picture is and then hold them accountable to that. I translate the client's core challenge to the creative team and then translate back to the client how the creative team is solving their problem.
“That’s the part I enjoy most—being part of that process and thinking through the best execution. I think that's why I enjoy this job. There's part of account service which really goes back to helping your customer feel good, but not through any false means. You’re building a relationship based on earnestly pursuing what you believe can best help them.”
“Your heart is exposed in ways I couldn’t expect.”
Contrary to the poised and confident professional adult she is, Camilla professes to have gone through a pronounced ugly duckling phase. While she claims to have had only one eyebrow* for a time, it didn’t keep her from leaving an indelible impression on her classmate and future husband, Jeff. They may have met in high school, but she’s quick to point out they’re not high school sweethearts. To hear Jeff tell it, they never dated because Camilla was too cool, but she vehemently disagrees. Her explanation is much simpler. “We just dated other people. We were part of a big group of friends. It never occurred to either of us to be interested in each other.”
Years after high school graduation at a happy hour in 2006, Jeff and Camilla reconnected. “I remember leaving that night and thinking to myself, ‘Something's there. I don't know what it is, but I like it.’”
Flash forward twelve years and not only are they married, but they have the aforementioned and still currently napping Sylvia. They’ve made a home together in South City, not far from the neighborhood where Camilla grew up.
"My parents had me when they were 22, which is crazy to me. My husband and I had Sylvia two years ago when we were in our early 30s. The idea of having a human being in our responsibility ten years earlier is hysterical. How is that even allowed?
“But I've learned a lot about humility and love from being a mom. Your heart is exposed in ways I couldn’t expect. It’s taught me what I value most at the end of the day, about what really matters to me.”
And just like that, almost as if on cue, there are muffled noises in the background as a sleepy two-year-old wakes up from an afternoon nap.
*It took me a minute to understand what Camilla was saying when she said she had one eyebrow. In my mind, I thought she had a kind of selective alopecia or that she would ritually shave one off. Neither was the case. Camilla was attempting to diplomatically refer to what is commonly known as a unibrow. “Kyle, I'm Italian,” she explains. “I had one eyebrow.”