Designed by Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele, the Gucci Garden is dedicated to an exploration of the eclectic creativity that lies at the very heart of the House. Through curating a wide range of pieces from collections dating back to the House’s Florentine origins in 1921 and marrying these with recent work, memorabilia, ephemera and contemporary art, Gucci Garden is not only a celebration of a rich archive, but a lively, interactive experience.
The name Gucci Garden has been chosen not simply because the House aesthetic imaginatively incorporates references to the natural world of plants, flowers and animals, but also because of its metaphorical meaning. Alessandro Michele says, ‘The garden is real, but it belongs above all to the mind, populated with plants and animals: like the snake, which slips in everywhere, and in a sense, symbolizes a perpetual beginning and a perpetual return.’
In 2011, the Gucci Museo opened in this historic Florentine palazzo, which dates back to 1337 and sits between the famous Piazza della Signoria, home of the Uffizi Gallery, and Piazza di San Firenze. Now Gucci has taken the concept of the conventional museum and reimagined it as a living, collaborative and creative space in which to express the evolving aesthetic and philosophy of the House.
Therefore, instead of simply displaying a permanent collection of historic pieces, the Gucci Garden tells the story of the House by colliding past with present. Clothing, accessories, video installations, artworks, documents and artefacts are displayed over the two floors of the Gucci Garden Galleria, organised by themes. Contemporary items are juxtaposed in a dialogue with vintage pieces; friends of the House like artists Jayde Fish, Trevor Andrew (AKA GucciGhost) and Coco Capitán have been invited to decorate walls, and their works sit alongside Gucci fabric patterned wallpaper and a giant nineteenth-century equestrian oil portrait, Fantino con bambina, by Domenico Induno.
Alessandro Michele charged curator and critic Maria Luisa Frisa, head of the BA degree course in Fashion Design and Multimedia Arts at Iuav University in Venice, to work with him to organise the Gucci Garden Galleria, which occupy the first and second floors of the palazzo. She explains that there is purposefully no chronology to the displays, which imaginatively mix objects and video content throughout.
‘We decided to make the space a laboratory where you have all the elements with which to creatively experiment,’ she says. ‘In the rooms entitled De Rerum Natura, for example, we see Gucci’s passion for flora and fauna expressed through vintage and current garments, silver animal statuettes made by the firm in the Fifties and original artwork by Vittorio Accornero, who was commissioned to create the Gucci Flora print in 1966.’
All Gucci designers, she explains, not just Alessandro Michele, are represented here. ‘The past is very much part of the present at Gucci, which is perfectly in keeping with Alessandro’s idea of the brand, and indeed his attitude to Florence, Gucci’s home, which he sees as a city where history is still vibrantly alive.’
In keeping with the spirit of creative collaboration that Gucci Garden embraces, chef Massimo Bottura has been invited to open an intimate restaurant on the ground floor, the Gucci Osteria. Bottura is internationally famed for his three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana, which sits just over the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, in the heart of Modena. For Gucci Garden, he has created an entirely new menu that takes influences from his travels and applies these to Italian cuisine. ‘Travelling the world, our kitchen interacts with everything we see, hear and taste,’ says Bottura. ‘With eyes wide open, we look for the unexpected and next éclat.’ The menu will include iconic Italian dishes as well as conceptual twists on classics for an all-day dining experience.
‘The restaurant is a reminder that Florence has always been a center of cultural exchange, particularly during the Renaissance,’ says Bottura. To reinforce this idea, lines of a 15th-century carnival song (canto carnascialesco) by Lorenzo de’ Medici – Canzona of the seven planets, or Canzona de’ sette pianeti – are written in gold letters around the tops of the walls of the Gucci Osteria.
The ground floor of Gucci Garden is given over to the restaurant and a bazaar-like retail space organized across two large rooms. Here products exclusively designed for the Gucci Garden and not on sale in any other Gucci stores are available. These include shoes and bags in special materials, brocade skirts and coats, and several one- of-a-kind creations, such as silk bomber jackets that feature the Gucci Garden Gothic script. We see the emergence of a dedicated Gucci Garden logo and new symbols entering the lexicon of the House’s motifs, such as a bat, which appears on leather goods and custom jewellery, and a new eye design that decorates small leather goods and gifts.
Products feature a distinctive Gucci Garden label and come in packaging exclusive to this store. As well as clothes and accessories that are only available here, pieces from the Gucci Décor collection are also for sale, as is a selection of innovative magazines and publications, and a collection of books – both current niche titles and antique tomes, which come from the Antica Libreria Cascianelli in Rome.
The retail space has been carefully designed to respect and celebrate the original architecture of the palazzo. The room dedicated to ready-to-wear, accessories and décor features a colour scheme that combines a burnt yellow for the plaster walls with tongue red to pick out the architectural forms of arched doorways and windows. The floor is of hand-aged marble tiles.
A second room, which is distinguished by its original stone pillars and a display around the walls of merchant’s coats of arms in stone, has the addition of a cloud blue colour. Here the floor is of hand-painted wooden boards with a repeat motif of purple ribbons and vines on a pale green base. This space is dedicated to accessories, as well as to publications, and features many specially-designed display devices like painted wooden mannequin heads, reproductions of mid-century modern busts of women, decorated wooden hands and feet, decorative brass – and printed-fabric covered – clothes hangers, and partitioned boxes coated in Gucci-print fabrics. This is where products ideal for gifts are for sale, like stationary, postcards, matches, canvas bags, music boxes, maps of Florence and decorative, printed boxes.
The spirit of the boutique echoes that of the many old shops of Florence where display furniture has been assembled over time in an organic and personal way. The furniture at the Gucci Garden store comprises antique- shop finds that have been repaired, painted in a range of Florentine colors, and often further decorated. These include tables, sideboards and cabinets from houses and old stores. An English country house cabinet, a Tuscan table and a carved stand from an Italian pasticceria share space with an antique wooden wardrobe with its original floral decoration brought back to life, old glass display cases and period mirrors. Mannequins unique to the Gucci Garden are upholstered in brocade, and oriental rugs cover parts of the floor.
An homage to the city of Florence, throughout, the Gucci Garden expresses a love of hand-work and craftsmanship that echoes the palazzo’s mercantile origins and the House’s history of artisan workmanship.
Half of the 8-euro ticket price for the Gucci Garden Galleria will be donated to support restoration projects in the city of Florence.