On a recent whistle-stop tour of Italy, covering Rome, Florence and Venice, it was imperative for me, as a fledgling fashion historian and costume curation aficionado, to seek out museums or exhibitions of costume during my travels. Using www.fashionandtextilesmuseum.com to discover where I could visit to fulfil my sartorial fascination, led me to the Gucci Garden.
Gucci Garden is situated above the brands shop in Palazzo della Mercanzia, which first opening in 2011 to house the Gucci Museo. This site has long served as a shrine to the documenting for the Florentine fashion brand, founded in 1921. However, earlier in 2018, it reopened after a redesign to transform it to the current Gucci Garden. Set over 3 floors, Gucci Garden was conceived by creative director Alessandro Michele, aims to be a multi-functional space to showcase highlights of Gucci's designs.
The Gucci Garden Galleria spans across 2 floors of the historic building, in a series of rooms that embrace "history, objects, anecdotes and geography". With examples covering the nearing 100 years of the brand, the space tells the story of the house with a multi-media display combining clothing, accessories, videos, artwork, documents and drawings curated by Michele and Maria Luisa Frisa - who is also the head of BA Fashion Designs and Multimedia Arts at Iuav University, Venice.
Complimenting the display of the brands identity and history are several exhibition spaces are two new rooms dedicated to artists and temporary exhibitions including a cinema room and currently, an homage to Bjork who wore bespoke Gucci creations for her 2017 video for 'The Gate', pictured above.
There is a complex dialogue regarding the commercialisation of curation, and whether this can affect the integrity of the exhibition. That being said, it is well-known that many of the sell-out exhibitions of fashion are in association with, or sponsored by, large fashion houses. Valerie Steele notes that:
"Designer exhibitions can obviously be self-serving, but it should also be emphasized that these exhibitions can play an important role in assessing the contributions of particular individuals. In addition to the “blockbuster” shows on superstar designers, there have been numerous exhibitions on a wide range of less famous designers. Although some designers have considerable insight into their own work and their sources of inspiration, others are conspicuously self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing. Many designers seem completely unable to edit their work, and will try to cram in as many dresses as is physically possible. At their worst, designers can behave like prima donnas, treating curators like servants and museums like department stores. At their best, however, designers can collaborate with curators to create exhibitions that neither could have conceived alone"
Valerie Steele (2008) Museum Quality: The Rise of the Fashion Exhibition, Fashion Theory, 12:1, 7-30, DOI: 10.2752/175174108X268127
However, Steele refers to the designer exhibition within an institution, which Gucci Garden Galleria is not. Gucci Garden is a purpose built space that encompasses an archive, an exhibition space, a retail space and a restaurant. Their agenda is appears to be transparent - as the Gucci Garden Galleria is above a retail space, therefore there is the underlying assumption that commerce is central. Alessandro Michele said "I'm trying to make fashion accessible, not only whether or not you have money". Gucci Garden's retail space allows customers to buy into the brand not only though their ready-to-wear fashion, but also through cushions which according to Vogue are "relatively inexpensive compared to Michele's ready-to-wear and jewellery." Similarly, entry to the Gucci Garden Galleria is 8 Euro, although if you are a student entry is free. Also, on our visit, we paid our entry, went to the Galleria and then left, without looking at the 'gift shop' retail space. This decision was not met with disapproval. Therefore, Michele's quest to make Gucci accessible appears to be successful at Gucci Garden.
Overal, Gucci Garden is an area which cleverly combines commerce, curation, and culinary experience in the brands Florence origins. It displays a collection of historic and contemporary pieces in innovative and visually pleasing, aesthetic settings alongside multimedia techniques to convey the heritage nature of the brand, with a nod to the Florentine love of craftsmanship that is present in the House's artisan workmanship, but acknowledges that to survive, it must move forward into the future.