'An ancient building is a living thing. Like fashion' - Alessandro Michele.
1 July saw the opening of the new Gucci archive - or at least its new home - based in Via delle Caldaie, Florence at the Palazzo Settimanni; a building that dates back to the 15th century. Historically, many artists and artisans during this period had workshops based in the area but with the arrival of the Medici family at the end of the century, the region saw an influx of aristocratic families in later decades - transforming the area from a working-class district into a more flamboyant and sophisticated one.
The building was acquired by Gucci almost 70 years ago, in 1953, and has since served as a factory, workshop and even a showroom. A recently commissioned refurbishment designed by the luxury label's creative director Alessandro Michele has finally seen the building restored to its original character existing as a dialogue between the 'past and present', tropes Michele has expressed are both simultaneously 'necessary prerequisites for the future'. The new narrative thought up by Michele explores visions that relate to 'that of the archivist, the historian, the anthropologist, the scholar, the psychoanalyst and the philosopher', very grand indeed.
'Palazzo Settimanni, now free of earlier additions, is transformed into a magical place to which I have restored a sense of porousness: you pass through it, air gets in, you can walk through it as if it were a journey. I'm porous, absorbent, permeable,' explained Michele in a statement. The creative director continues, referring to the restoration as 'a fairy-tale aura, which allows the small entrance hall to become a gateway to a dream dimension. I envisaged it as a sort of secret place within the House, an inner sanctum from where one sets out for Gucci's holy lands.'
A cove full of delights where Gucci's most treasured secrets keep on unravelling, each of the five floors that make up the decadent building contains thematic rooms, named after the very words that form Michele's unique lexicon. The basement is made up of three halls - Radura (porcelain and household items), Herbarium (stationery), and Maison de L'Amour (leisure items) and the ground floor is split into five - a vintage handbag hall (Hortus Deliciarum hall), an opening dedicated to small leather goods (Prato di Ganimede hall) an exhibition room (Swan hall), a jewellery room dedicated to pieces young and old (Le Marché des Merveilles hall) and a vintage luggage space (1921 Rifondazione hall). From there, the rooms keep expanding into universes of their own, each taking on a facet of Gucci's unique theatrical character.
A building that is home to a precious ideology that preserves that past as well as nurturing the future, it is important to remember the building's immaculate beauty isn't just surface level, instead, it runs much deeper. 'The archive is a memory palace', commented Valerie Steele, director and curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, who worked on the layout and curation with Michele. 'Far from being a dusty attic, it is a dynamic system of knowledge production and inspiration. Archives are based on the drive to collect and categorise objects from the past, not because of any nostalgia, but because the style of objects changes over time. This relation to time means that a brand like Gucci, which has a 100-year history, develops archives in order to keep a tangible cultural heritage alive, now and for the future'.
Whether you're a person who tends to side with the romance that a slice of nostalgia offers or if you're someone who takes pleasure in looking forward to the future and its endless possibilities, the new Gucci archive home has something for everyone, young and old, loyal Gucci clients and newcomers alike.