From first experiences of winter and Ikea to blossoming in the beauty of the city, Sophia Sanchez came to Florence from Cebu in the Philippines in pursuit of her architectural and design dreams. She began realizing them when she was included in Milan Design Week and featured in Vogue, and is now seeking to set up her own studio. Sharing the “best bits” of life in Italy alongside moments of loneliness and homesickness, her social channels are a pastime that now reaches thousands. We met at the newly reopened La Ménagère on via de’ Ginori for a chat about the behind-the-scenes of her social media channels and her career path thus far.
Ph/ Valeria Raniolo
I’m curious about your design and architecture background, and how your time is divided between that and your social channels. Can you tell us a bit about your route to sharing your story?
I studied architecture in the Philippines and I started blogging around 2010, so I’m used to being on social media, it’s a part of me. I used to blog about what I wore and about my experiences, and that led to sharing about travelling. Once I finished studying architecture, I got my license and worked in a studio before eventually realizing that I preferred freelancing. Out of the blue, I came across a design competition here in Florence and even though I had never considered moving to Italy, I thought I would give it a go. Then, in 2018, I received an email to say that I had won and the prize was to study for a year in Florence. My family told me, Go, you’re doing it, take this one, because all of them live abroad and I was the only one left in the Philippines. I thought I would leave once I finished up the master’s, but I don’t know what it is about Florence, you just fall in love with it. Social media and blogging are my favorite hobbies, so I’m doing both things at the moment because I’m happy to share about my life here for my friends and family. I get a lot of comments from friends like Wow, you’re living your life, you’re always on a vacation, and I say, Well, not always. Yes, there’s a lot of beauty, but it also gets lonely. One thing that I always do when I feel like that is walk and think about how grateful I am to be here. There was a time in particular that I suffered from loneliness, when my studies finished up and all my classmates left and I had decided to stay. It was hard to have a full conversation in Italian, especially when I first started learning the language. Eventually, I caught up and it’s better now.
What are some of the best and worst parts about living here?
I think that Italy is a beautiful tragedy. There’s the bureaucracy, loneliness and homesickness, but then you will be rewarded by great food, amazing architecture and art everywhere you go. Forging real friendships here can be hard, you need to build them slowly, although I will say that I find Italians very warm. One of the things that I really love about living here is starting over. When you arrive, no one knows you and you get to be the person that you always wanted to be. Before, I was very shy. I couldn’t have a conversation with anyone or reach out to meet up with someone. But now, my friends are so proud of me for how I’m meeting up with new people because they always thought of me as someone who was really closed, and now I’m overcoming it.
There’s a video where you shared about that homesickness, while you were sipping a cappuccino in front of the Duomo. I wonder what reaction you got to that?
It’s funny because I got a lot of messages and comments on that one. Some people from the Philippines, who also live here, said, Oh, I miss the Philippines too, especially the weather.. More than ever now that it’s getting colder, I’m used to warm weather! When I came here, it was actually the first time in my life that I experienced winter. I had never seen snow before!
What were some of the other culture shocks that you experienced?
When I was studying furniture design, the teacher advised us to check Ikea and have a look at how they assemble things, and when I said that I’ve never been there, everyone in the class was so shocked! Another one is that on my island, Cebu, we can be quite conservative, and when I arrived here and saw a lot of public displays of affection, I was taken aback, but I got used to it! I asked one of my Italian friends, Why do you people kiss everywhere, even in the streets or when you’re walking aroundand he told me, Why would you stop your feelings if you felt that way in that moment? I find that beautiful.
Ph/ Valeria Raniolo
Have you encountered any particular reactions to your social media?
My first viral video on TikTok was ‘What living in Italy looks like’ and of course, I posted all of my happy moments because when I’m sad or working I don’t post a video of myself. I posted about gelato, pizza, etc. and the reactions were 50% positive 50% negative. I know that I post beautiful videos and photos, it’s because I have no desire to take a video of trash or dirt. If I want to see dirt everywhere, I can see dirt. If I want to see beauty, I can see beauty. So, I choose that. My view is that I should share all the beautiful things that I’m experiencing because I might not be here again. That was one of the other reasons that I started blogging, I travel a lot and I’m never sure if I will get to revisit a place, so I make sure that I have an amazing photo or a nice video of it as a memory. .
How do you find the positive and negative reactions that you get?
It doesn’t bother me. I just ignore it. I think it’s normal that when you’re living in a place, or you grew up there, you might not fully appreciate how beautiful it is. It’s hard to see what you have, because you’re used to it. As a foreigner visiting here, everything is very new and beautiful. So, I shoot beautiful videos and photos to share that with my family and friends.
Have there been any particularly poignant moments so far?
There were a couple of people who told me I couldn’t make it here. They told me that if you want to be a designer here as a foreigner with no connections, it’s going to be hard, but then I got invited to take part in FuoriSalone, Milan Design Week and I was also featured in Vogue. I’m going to do everything that I can to make this work.
In one of your videos you spoke about how Florence is a city for creatives. Of course, it’s easy to come up with answers as to why that is: Michelangelo, Dante…the list goes on. But have you any other thoughts about that?
Florence is one of the main sources of the arts. I think just walking around here and experiencing the place where all these great artists used to walk and seeing their works inspire you to be creative and to do more and to create more beautiful things. The compact size of Florence means it’s perfect for people to just walk around aimlessly, and when you get to walk you get to see more and appreciate the little details.
Favorite place for an aperitivo?
I really like the Loggia Roof Bar of Palazzo Guadagni in Santo Spirito. It’s very local and I love the view and setting.
Favorite Florentine, past or present?
Filippo Brunelleschi: the father of Renaissance architecture.
Favorite furniture or design stores?
Any antique stores. Any antique stores. I get inspiration from the classic and vintage styles, and the trinkets and furniture you find there too. I also like UB in via dei Conti.
Favorite place in Florence?
Piazza della Repubblica, because when I had my first exploration around the city centre, I landed there and I felt Wow, this is so amazing.
Favorite place in Tuscany?
Siena. It was the first city that I traveled to outside of Florence, and I remember that when we arrived outside of it and I first saw the view, I cried because it sank in that I’m finally here. Who would have thought that an island girl from the Philippines would end up living here!
We thank La Menagere in via de’ Ginori 8 for hosting this Instainterview.