Having grown up in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, and trained there in the art of Vera Pizza Napoletana, Marco de Conciliis might just make the most authentic pizzas on Vancouver Island. But he has another tale to tell. Because before he and his partner Heather MacGillivray opened Basic Goodness Pizzeria in Tofino, de Conciliis spent close to 30 years as one of the top male models on the planet.
The Adonis in Bruce Weber’s iconic 1988 images for Calvin Klein? That’s him. The guy in white boxer shorts finishing a workout alongside Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford in George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” video? That’s him too. The sexy engineer designing a world of dreams with a Honda Civic? You get the idea.
All of which means that de Conciliis doesn’t just make world-class pizzas with essential ingredients imported directly from Italy and seasonal produce sourced from the Island’s farms. He’s also got world-class stories to tell.
“Rest in peace George Michael,” he sighs, speaking to me via FaceTime from his Tofino home. “I was so sad when he passed away. What a wonderful, beautiful, genuine man. So much joy. So much elegance and charisma. I had the best time on the ‘Freedom’ set. I remember George passing me a joint and smoking with him. I was enjoying being with him and he was enjoying being with me. That video was all about the girls, because those were the top girls on the planet back then. I was just enjoying the moment.”
Now in his mid-fifties, de Conciliis is remarkably entertaining company, interspersing tales of his experiences with flashes of the smile that helped sell countless fashion lines. Most charmingly, his supermodel confidence seems paired with an awareness of the privileges that his good looks have given him. He was working behind the bar at Ibiza’s famous Amnesia superclub in the mid-1980s when friends on the outskirts of Spain’s fashion industry persuaded him that he could have a future as a model. His test shots took him from Ibiza to Barcelona, and in a matter of months he’d been poached by Europe’s leading agency, Models 1, who brought him into the very heart of the fashion world.
“I was taken to London at the end of 1986. Everything happened so quickly. My life exploded. After two months I was already in magazines like The Face, ID and Arena. I was only 21. This was my first time in London, which for me is the most beautiful and exciting city in Europe. These were the Thatcher years. People had money. We’d fly from London to Morocco for a magazine, or newspaper shoots. We were flying business class all the time and every week it was somewhere different. I was taken to places I would never have imagined I could visit as a young man. It was like having a trust fund. I was working with the best photographers and the best magazines. It was exciting. And I was making a lot of money—fast!”
After close to three decades in front of the camera, despite having the looks and the opportunities to continue modelling, de Conciliis also had the wisdom to understand that the time had come to start a new chapter in his life.
“When I met Heather we would talk about how it was time to move on. I was living in Los Angeles, doing shoots and TV commercials. Things were changing in fashion and the world. I wasn’t excited for those jobs like I used to be. I wanted to find something new I could have passion for. Heather pushed me to go to the Verace Pizza Napoletana course in Naples. I like to cook and it’s always fun with a bunch of Neapolitans! They told us, if you don’t have the passion for pizza—if you’re not going to put your love into this—just leave. You have to bring that passion and love to work every day.”
It was MacGillivray who introduced him to Tofino in 2015—where it was love at first sight. Together they opened Basic Goodness Pizza in 2017.
“I was so excited to be on the West Coast and have this beautiful place on the Pacific,” de Conciliis says. “When you live in a big city like LA, with pollution and traffic, you forget there are still places like this.”
He hasn’t lived in Naples since he was a teenager (and having lived away from Italy most of his life he insists he’s now a citizen of the world), but there’s still something unmistakably Neapolitan about his personality that fills every pizza he makes with the soul of the city where the world’s favourite food was born.
“Pizza is a simple thing but if you don’t do it right, it’s a disaster,” he says. “The best pizza in the world doesn’t exist. The best pizza comes from you because you give your love and passion to it. Do it with love every day or don’t do it at all.”
“There’s something undeniable about how Marco has such a strong sense of who he is in the world,” MacGillivray says. “That feels very Neapolitan to me. I’ve heard fashion people say that in an industry where a lot of people can be very lost, he has an unshakeable, passionate, and clear focus on who he is. Bruce Weber joked about how much he loved working with Marco. So many models turn up and they’re stiff and used to being told what to do. But Marco is in a different category. I feel a big part of that is down to his Neapolitan nature.”
As if to prove his partner’s point, de Conciliis begins gesturing frantically as the conversation turns to pizza crimes.
“Pineapple!” he declares with audible anguish. “The Hawaiian! I make it, people love it but I don’t even try it. For me it’s a crime! When you have a balance of ingredients, then you can taste the quality of the pizza. The Margherita and Marinara are the true Neapolitan pizzas! That’s what Neapolitans eat. E basta cosi!”
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