Palazzo Pitti. June 2014.

Dear Rowley,

Despite being the only person with English as a mother tongue at the Chaumet summit at Le Meurice, my lecture did seem to please. It is always something of a challenge to present a ‘state of the nation’ address about the future for exceptional jewels when you have Madame de Plinval, Chaumet’s historian, in the room but I think Béatrice approved. I left Paris after the post show drinks in the Salon Pompadour and hoofed it to Florence for the 86th edition of Pitti Uomo.

Counting back, I must have been coming to Florence for Pitti for, well, let’s say I stopped counting after fifteen years. Even including the Royal Ascot years when I missed the summer editions, that’s about thirty trips. Pitti has been incredibly generous to me over those years and it has been a privilege to feel part of the family ever since as a junior researcher I was asked to work with Stefano Tonchi on the Uniform:Order & Disorder exhibition at the Stazione Leopolda in 2000.

Walking the halls of the Fortezza del Basso and the streets of Florence is not dissimilar to This Is Your Life for me. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to interview Gianfranco Ferre, Giorgio Armani, Pierre Cardin, Roberto Cavalli, Viktor & Rolf, Raf Simons, Jil Sander and Yohji Yamamoto at Pitti writing for the Financial Times, International Herald Tribune and Independent. And as for the parties masterminded by the Contessa, Sibilla della Gherardesca, well they’d put Gatsby to shame.

Pitti has hosted a masquerade Bal En Tete in the Boboli Gardens, midnight suppers at the Forte di Belvedere high in the Florentine hills, private dinners at Roberto Cavalli’s home (where then Loaded fashion editor Adrian Clark tried to teach Cavalli’s parrot to say Versace) and of course a black and white ball for 800 at the Corsini Palace on the opening night of the London Cut.

Of all the enchanted evenings at Pitti, one of my most memorable was a cocktail in the Palazzo Pitti’s Sala Bianca where fashion and Florence first fell in love in 1954. We then had the privilege to walk the Vasari corridor built in 1564 that links the Palazzo Pitti with the Palazzo Vecchio and traverses rooftops over the Ponte Vecchio and emerges in the Uffizi Gallery. The corridor was built so Cosimo I de Medici could walk between his palazzi without the fear of an assassin’s knife.

The Vasari Corridor is now lined with a collection of self-portraits by Corot, Fragonard, Ingres et al and is rarely open to the public. The fact that it leads to and from Palazzo Pitti makes it all the more memorable for me because the Duke of Aosta’s apartments in Palazzo Pitti was the mise-en-scene for the London Cut. I spent the month leading up to the exhibit dressing mannequins in a suite of rooms in the Palazzina della Meridiana wing that was redecorated for King Victor Emmanuel III after he’d gifted Palazzo Pitti to the nation in 1919 and vacated the Palatine State Apartments. My assistant Frederika and I used to open and close the monogrammed shutters to the Victor Emmanuel apartments morning and night and timed our days with an hourly cigarette on the royal family’s private loggia.

Whenever I return to Florence, I take the walk across the Arno to Palazzo Pitti and it never disappoints. On this occasion, I decided to revisit the reliquaries collected by Maria Louisa de Medici in the Museo degli Argenti. Suffice to say the ‘true cross’ must have been the size of the Colossus of Rhodes if all the pieces of it framed in ivory, gold, rock crystal and a king’s ransom in precious stones were actually genuine. I am fascinated by reliquaries. They are at once ghoulish and glamorous.

The Silver Museum is housed in the wing of Palazzo Pitti decorated for Cosimo I de Medici in the 16th century. Many visitors ignore this wing not knowing it is the treasury of the Medici dynasty containing a vast collection of jewels, cameos, reliquaries, ivory, silver gilt plate and curios such as Baroque pearls and ostrich eggs set as pendants and objet d’art in gold and precious stones. I was particularly taken by a suite of 36-silver gilt salvers made in 1580 and the most delicato diamond and amethyst Cartier tiara set in 1910 presumably for King Victor Emmanuel’s wife Queen Elena of Montenegro.

Having not discovered the mezzanine floors of the Museo degli Argenti before, it was quite simply blissful to discover new views over the Boboli Gardens from its windows and a secret courtyard with a glorious statue and intricate frescoes. Don’t you find Florence is a city best discovered throwing open wooden window shutters like E. M. Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View? 

As I wrote to Patricia, who basically opened all doors for me in Florence when working at the Italian Trade Commission, there are few sights we haven’t seen or glasses of Prosecco we haven’t drained at Pitti Uomo over the years. We were fortunate to have seen the city of Florence at its best as guests of Pitti Immagine. Curating the London Cut at Palazzo Pitti was a highlight of my professional life that I will never forget even though returning to Pitti Uomo subsequently one does feel a bit like a former Wimbledon Champion commentating rather than playing the game.

Thanks to Pitti, I have experienced Stendhal syndrome whereby one is driven wild by the beauty of the City of Florence…many times as it happens. I have worked very hard in the city and played even harder and suspect that – as with Bloody Mary and Calais – when I expire they will find Florence etched on my heart. Until next time…