The first time my eyes fell on Signor Riva, I nearly fell to the floor in a fit of delight. Not for him, necessarily, although he is an extremely attractive man, but for the sheer elegance of him. He was wearing a black suit and white shirt, his pique collars so white, so starched, that it looked as though 15 nuns in a steam laundry had devoted a week of their time to his sartorial cause. His coat was slightly longer than normally seen, his trousers were of the same fine fabric, and the whole ensemble counterpointed his sleek grey hair and gave him the air of a distinguished cleric. We were introduced in the bar of the Villa d’Este on Lake Como (not a bad bar to confess to being in) by a mutual friend, and over a couple of years in Italy, Signor Riva has become Lorenzo and I have come to understand why he is such a paragon of style. It turns out that he is one of Italy’s half-dozen or so couturiers – in a field which owns such names as Sarli, Raffaella Curiel and Renata Balestra. In French terms, this is the design equivalent of being introduced to Hubert de Givenchy. Little wonder then that the chic Signor Riva – once the stylist for the House of Balneciaga – looked always as though he had stepped straight out of the pages of Stendahl’s Le Rouge et le Noir. He was in the very up-market end of the rag trade, the man to whom the daughters of heads of State in countries which are cash-poor but rich in small diamonds come to for their complete couture wedding needs. And over the years, we have increased our intimacy to the point where last June we had dinner with Australian friends in the village of Cernobbio. After dinner, though, came the pay-off. He invited us back to his house, just on the outskirts of the village. This is the moment I always long for on overseas trips – when you manage to get out of public spaces and into private ones, a chance to see how differently people live, or just how similar they are. The prosaic in a foreign country – the dishwashing liquid, the margarine packs – looks unbearably exotic. Look, Fairy Liquid! See, Barillo pasta. My goodness, Ipana toothpaste! There can be problems, of course, with this need to see private spaces, and in retrospect I really shouldn’t have gone to that loft in New York’s SoHo, but still, no harm done. I got a lecture about the Shakespearean debt of West Side Story and was reminded that single women always need to have the fare home, even if the fare is for a Qantas flight to Sydney. As Signor Riva asked diffidently if we would like to see his little home, the poor man was almost crushed in the rush of Australians all equally keen to get a peek at the inside of his home. Would we? We would! And so we did. He opened the electronic gate to the driveway and we turned right to a doorway flanked by two enormous red-flowering shrubs in terracotta pots. Speaking soothingly to his hound on the other side of the door, he eased his slight frame between it and the door jamb. This unseen dog happened to be called Andrew, which was first clue to Lorenzo Riva’s secret world. As the savage beagle (second clue) was soothed into quietude, the door opened on an almost impossible to believe scene. Lorenzo Riva, the maestro of Italian elegance, style and haute couture, has a deep and abiding passion for all things British, and things Scottish in particular. So that explains the dog’s name. Called after the patron saint of Scotland, he is a rather substantial pet to have in a country renowned for whippy little things such as whippets or Italian greyhounds. There was an English hunting scene in the foyer – all those hounds, all Andrew look-alikes. There was also a good dollop of tartan around the place, for good measure. Here, on the edge of dreamy Lake Como, with its villas (Gianni Versace had a villa around the corner at Montrasio) and its traditions dating from Roman times, was a designer who thinks that – in terms of house decoration, at least – the most chic style is Scottish. This is a classic example of the perversity of the world. Just as much of the rest of us yearn to be Italian or French, because to us they define glamour, the denizens of those two countries think Britain is the last gasp. Can you credit it? All over Paris, there are young people learning bridge, taking golf lessons, aspiring to british racing green Range Rovers (in Paris, of all places, where tiny cars look as though they are touch parked by aggressive toddlers). There was even a well-placed apologist (read PR) for a grand French couture house who spent every weekend skiving off to the wilds of the English fens to join her aristocratic farmer husband in a decaying stately pile, complete with shabby furnishings, down at heel retainers and some straggly acres of drenched sheep. She was photographed with the same whenever possible and could have looked more pleased with herself only if he’d had a dukedom instead of some lesser thing dating back several hundred years. There are even some French people who think Ireland is chic. They jump on Aer Lingus flights to Doo-bhlin every Friday night to immerse themselves in a little Irish style (stifle those shrieks, please). Drawn by the golf, the wide green countryside and the friendliness of the people (all relatively rare to Parisians), they waste no opportunity back at home in showing off about their Emerald Isle connections. Incredible. I was thinking of Andrew the beagle of Lake Como last week, when I was reading American Town And Country and its April issue on the greatest things in life. There, in a story on the villa on the edge of Lake Como, is a full-page photograph of Signor Riva and Andrew. Readers of the magazine would certainly have similar impulses, no matter where in the world they are: We wish we were there. Signor Riva and Andrew might be wishing themselves elsewhere, thinking loch, not lago.