Back to School for Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini

'Our friends called us the writers on bed rest.'

A scene from 'Tanner Hall' (Jessica Miglio, Anchor Bay Films)
A scene from 'Tanner Hall' (Jessica Miglio, Anchor Bay Films)

Tatiana von Furstenberg met Francesca Gregorini, her co-director on the new film Tanner Hall, at Brown, but she knew about her long before that. “I was still in boarding school,” said the alumna of England’s Cranborne Chase School and daughter of designer Diane von Furstenberg, “and Interview magazine did a piece on interesting people who went to Brown University. At that moment, it was incredibly hard to get into … [Francesca] was on the cover of the piece and she looked so hot, and she looked so glamorous, and my friend brought it into my room, where I was—you know—braces, Afro, and she was like, ‘Good luck, loser. You’re going to have the hardest time at Brown.’”

What drew the pair to one another, once she arrived there? Ms. Gregorini couldn’t say. “The wavy hair?”

“She was unapproachable at Brown,” said Ms. von Furstenberg. “She had a vintage Porsche and a motorcycle and she was super cool.”

The Observer met the pair at an Upper East Side luncheonette to discuss Tanner Hall, which they shot together in Providence (“I was discovering Rhode Island for the first time!” said Ms. von Furstenberg).

“We’ve been the best of friends, the best, best,” said Ms. Gregorini.  Each of the pair, if not finishing one another’s sentences, tends to jump into conversation the very moment the other has finished speaking.

“I felt kind of maternal to her,” Ms. Furstenberg returned. “I knew she did wheelies in the snow. When I saw her motorcycle at a class, I was relieved she’d made it to class on time.”

“I don’t know if it’s a past-life thing, but we were really drawn to each other,” Ms. Gregorini said. “It was only after Brown that our friendship sort of—”

Ms. von Furstenberg: “We’ve had similar lives. We had Italian dads, we have Italian as a language that we share. Similar childhoods, similar experiences.”

Ms. Gregorini: “Glamorous mothers.”

Ms. von Furstenberg: “Once we did approach one another, it was soul-mate material. It’s a done deal. Family.”

The pair wear their lineages lightly: Ms. von Furstenberg (full name Tatiana Desiree Prinzessin von Furstenberg) is the heiress of her legendary mother’s former husband, the European noble Egon von Furstenberg. Ms. Gregorini (full name Countess Francesca McKnight Donatella Romana Gregorini di Savignano di Romagna) is the daughter of Barbara Bach (Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me) and Augusto Gregorini and stepdaughter of Ringo Starr. Both have made headlines of a decidedly minor fashion in the past (Ms. von Furstenberg once spoke to this newspaper about outfitting her then-8-year-old daughter in a custom-made D.V.F. wrap dress; Ms. Gregorini, a sometime pop singer, was, at least per tabloids, Portia de Rossi’s fiancée before the TV star met Ellen DeGeneres), as well as art on a similar scale (they’ve collaborated on short films) but Tanner Hall represents an artistic coming-out party.

What made the pair decide that directing a feature-length film would be a manageable project? “Francesca and I are not first-time homeowners,” said Ms. von Furstenberg. “We bought in Silverlake a long time ago, so even, like, when you’re overseeing an enormous project or a construction project—it was super useful.” Ms. Gregorini said her favorite female filmmakers are Jane Campion and Lynne Ramsay. “It’s hard to get a break and get your foot in the door.”

Both will mention their glamorous mothers, in a shrugging-off fashion surely learned at boarding school and Brown, but Ms. von Furstenberg’s more interested in talking about her own daughter. “Trust me, I have an 11 year old, and it gets desperate at this point,” she told The Observer, of constructing summer-vacation activities. Ms. von Furstenberg dug into a mayonnaisey shrimp salad, while Ms. Gregorini tore her tuna melt into geometric shapes.

The two now reside in Los Angeles, where they conceived of Tanner Hall in marathon screenwriting sessions. Said Ms. Gregorini: “Our friends called us the writers on bed rest. Tatiana has a ridiculously huge bed, and I’d come over in the mornings and get into bed with her and the computer.”

Ms. von Furstenberg cut in: “And dogs everywhere.”

Ms. Gregorini: “—And friends would come over, and we’d do what we do anyway, just talk to each other endlessly, and tell tall tales—”

Ms. von Furstenberg: “Walk the dogs, bang out the beats! Come back to bed, write them out. On loop. Walk the dogs, bang out the beats!”

Ms. Gregorini: “The only difference is that we were writing it out.”

How long did it take, The Observer wondered? A year? No, just a few months, said Ms. Gregorini: “I don’t think we would have survived as writers on bed rest.”

Her co-writer cut in again. “We would have atrophied.”

Back to School for Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini