"There is a simple sense in which set design engages first and foremost with the (generally rather vague) expectations of the audience. Ferdinando Scarfiotti was acutely conscious of this, as the inventor of a Forbidden City which audiences may still imagine to be the authentic dwelling of The Last Emperor of China. Just as we might say that the essence of dramatic form is to engineer a sequence of outlandish events in such a way as to make them seem retrospectively inevitable, so it might also be contended that the essence of ’art direction’ is to choose and construct places and spaces which seem finally and obviously to be the only possible sites for such drama to be enacted. We respond perfunctorily and immediately to the decor of Death in Venice (one of Scarfiotti’s most renowned efforts, if not his happiest), because the Venice Lido is indeed a beautiful place for sad happenings to befall beautiful people. But supreme design is not merely concerned with what the viewer finds pretty or plausible. Rather it is intimately linked at the highest level of conception with the sum of complex meanings which is the internal logic of a film.
’What interests me, ’ Scarfiotti once declared, ’is taking everyday reality and making it my ownl. The greatest test of a designer’s gift is not in the scouring of museum and source-book which underpins the recreation of period styles. It comes at that imaginative point of departure where ’visual literacy’ must progress to a creative vision of how decor denotes character, how settings enhance dramatic conflict. It is, in truth, when the designer starts to build. The greatest designers are master-builders, even though their sound-stage constructions are doomed to demolition. Celluloid survives, and at its best embodies the dur desir de durer (’the harsh, demanding desire for durance’) common to any serious form of art-making." 
"Boris Leven once anatomised the designer as a fusion of architect, artist, designer, illustrator and draughtsman - with the overarching perspectives of ’a dreamer, a businessman, a diplomat’. He stressed the designer’s financial devotion to ’visual continuity’ and ‘the final look’; he counselled the merits of deep research, and the value of a steeping in culture (’I think a creative person should see and feel as much as possible’); and he emphasised the rapport between designer and director (‘There must exist between them a complete trust and understanding’) In considering Ferdinando Scarfiotti, it is crucial to keep every last one of Leven’s criteria in mind. When Paul Schrader asked Scarfiotti to perform a Milanese makeover on Los Angeles for American Gigolo, he found a collaborator minutely preoccupied ’with the look of things: locales, building of sets, colour schemes, clothing schemes, lighting schemes - everything‘. Perfectionism in matters of detail cannot guarantee perfection of the whole, but every director who procured Scarfiotti’s gifts was taxed to measure up to his brilliance, for he was an artist to the very tips of his fingers."
"Similarly chi-chi is the apartment of Marcello’s skittish fiancee Giulia [ED: this passage references Bertolucci’s 1970 film The Conformist], where louvres on the windows refract the light, and shades of the prison- house roll over the embracing couple. This is a touch of Vittorio Storaro’s brilliance, but the slim dress in monochrome stripe worn by Giulia shows the impact of total design. Scarfiotti was instrumental in creating this look (evoking both the glamour of 1930s MGM and the neurosis of 1940s noir) and he would use it again in American Gigolo. ‘When you have an idea,’ Scarfiotti later explained, ’you really have to follow it through, exaggerating a little bit so it has a visual impact. Otherwise it only becomes the usual venetian blinds which you see in every office...‘
In the wake of American Gigolo’s role in launching Giorgio Armani’s couture in America, Scarfiotti would argue that ’good design has to pick up a trend before it becomes recognisable - while it’s there as a seed’. The Conformist certainly exhumed Art Deco furnishings, architecture and movies in the seventies. More crucially, it acquired iconic status among American cineastes. Francis Coppola was moved to purchase the production’s original clapperboard for his office, and also acquired a print of the picture which he viewed repeatedly and urged upon every member of his circle. (To a Conformist aficionado, Dean Tavoularis’s funereal stylings for The Godfather (1971) came as little surprise.) The long shadow cast by the film deepened in years to come." 
"Scarfiotti’s film work in the mid-seventies was sporadic. He helped Derek Jarman to find a location to make his low-budget labour of love Sebastiane; enjoyed a sojourn in Amsterdam designing the modish Burocco for Andre Techine and Marilyn Goldin; and laboured lucklessly on Nicolas Roeg’s unrealised Flash Gordon for Dino de Laurentiis. In the late seventies, weary of the Italian film industry, he settled in America. For some years, he had rented a small house in Bolinas, Marin County, favoured enclave of well-heeled hippies where, as Treviglio remembers, ‘you could look all around and see nothing but country‘. Initially Scarfiotti pursued a quiet professional path, designing several stage productions for his friend, director Kelly English, in neighbouring Sonoma. When he was finally lured to Hollywood, the enduring legacy of The Conformist, unsurprisingly, had much to account for.
Preparing to direct his screenplay American Gigolo in 1978, Paul Schrader was conscious of the need for ’high style’. The script told an improbable tale of a high-priced, socially aspirant male escort, Julian Kay, who faces retribution for his sins in a murder-frame, but is finally delivered from despond by a Bressonian intervention of grace. Schrader wanted to swathe this character (a walking commodity, a man of manicured surfaces) in a suitably tailored universe. Moreover, like any filmmaker in a city plagued by camera crews, Schrader sought a fresh perception of Los Angeles. His epiphany came when cinematographer John Bailey screened The Conformist for their mutual reference: ’I sent Nando the script and explained what I wanted and he rose to the bait. I think the whole sexual chic of the film appealed to him’.
As novelist Edmund White decreed whilst dallying in Los Angeles, ’in gay life the body as well as the soul is elected’, and Julian Kay, a sexually ambiguous creature, embodied this dualism. Schrader admitted to the influence upon his script of moving in modish gay circles, and Scarfiotti supplied the appropriately seductive surfaces. ‘In 1978 Los Angeles was on the verge of a big change,’ he recalled. ’So it was a big playground to rediscover and to reinvent’. Superficially, American Gigolo evokes Los Angeles in the fashion of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man or David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash: ‘bright, clean, bland and permissive’. A gay ambience pervades the film, not least because its protagonist is conspicuously groomed, there to be gazed at and to give pleasure. ’It was a very pro-gay time in the arts in general,’ Schrader recalls. ’The homosexual sensibility was dictating music, clubs, fashion, dance, design. There was a feeling in the gay community that whatever we’re doing today, everybody else will be doing next year - and they were right’. Ironically, while the style of Gigolo titillated gay viewers, the content appeared to disapprove of them entirely. This was somewhat to the eventual embarrassment of Schrader, who considered his influential designer ’militantly gay‘." 
"The film necessitated copious construction on Paramount’s stages, and Scarfiotti achieved a uniformly spare elegance. ’All of these sets, these spaces were built by Scarfiotti for an overall look and feeling’, confirms Schrader. Julian’s apartment is a monastic gymnasium shaded in ash-grey and sea-breeze blue, devoid of anything but structural decoration (’the on-going motif is whether to hang a painting’, Schrader joked). The achievement of American Gigolo in rendering plausible its gossamer-thin dramatic conceit owes much to the gorgeous solidity of that apartment, sealed by its hard ceiling specified by Scarfiotti, which in turn dictated the use of augmented source-light. Such was the discipline Scarfiotti had learned from Visconti and admired in Orson Welles (witness those low angles in The Trial and Touch of Evil).
Scarfiotti’s most severe set simulates a Palm Springs apartment wherein Julian turns an especially sordid, sado-masochistic trick. Neutral colours, pre-Columbian art behind glass, a free-standing black marble wall and furnishings in the precise and comfort-threatening manner of Mies van der Rohe create a profoundly cold and ominous ambience (’I mean, no-one could live in a place like that, it was so bizarre’, Schrader remarked). Even the choice of exterior for this sinister dwelling (a white facade against black mountains and dark blue sky) was dictated by the finical Scarfiotti. Schrader treasured his designer’s perfectionism (‘If he comes to the set and something has been moved, he gets very upset’) his severe eye for the expression of ideas through decor. ’Schrader’s crazy,’ laughs Nicolas Valle, ’but he worshipped Nando, and he always really stood up for what Nando wanted to do on a film’." 
ALL STILLS TAKEN FROM THE PAUL SCHRADER FILM AMERICAN GIGOLO, 1980, PRODUCTION DESIGN BY FERDINANDO SCARFIOTTI; ALL TEXT  BY RICHARD KELLY, TAKEN FROM "FERDINANDO SCARFIOTTI 1941-1994: EXCURSIONS INTO STYLE" AS IT ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN CRITICAL QUARTERLY, VOL. 38, ISSUE 2, JUNE 1996