Designer offices are often swanky temples of luxury, but Frida Giannini’s Roman workspace boasts a rare perk—an ancient travertine altar. While Gucci’s creative director heartily dismisses the notion that she uses it to invoke the fashion gods, the altar befits what Giannini dubs the “monastic” atmosphere that permeates Gucci’s new design headquarters in the Eternal City.
“If there’s one thing I regret, it’s not being able to spend more time here because of my hectic schedule. It’s so tranquil and serene, plus I can smoke as much as I want without getting into trouble,” Giannini says of her office. As she leans forward from her perch on a gray velvet sofa, Giannini’s image, along with the ornate gilded wood ceilings bordered by frescoes, is reflected in the mirrored top of the coffee table in front of her.
But it’s not just the posh surroundings that have Giannini feeling so chipper these days. After five years in much sleepier Florence, she’s happy to be back in her hometown—accompanied by her entire team of 30 designers, no less. And the fact that they’re now toiling away in a building of major provenance, the centuries-old Palazzo Alberini, makes the move that much sweeter.
Located on Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, the nine-story palazzo was commissioned by Giulio Alberini, a wealthy merchant, and erected circa 1515. It was designed by Raphael and his pupil Giulio Romano, and according to Giannini, “you definitely feel Raphael’s hand” in the trapezoid-shaped beige brick and marble building, which wraps around a charming courtyard. It is a stone’s throw from the Tiber River and a five-minute walk from the bustling cafés dotting Campo dei Fiori, one of Giannini’s favorite hangouts.
When Giannini happened upon the palazzo through a family friend, it had just undergone a historical renovation by architecture firm Studio Gigli. Inside, new bathrooms and lighting fixtures had been added, and the frescoes were painstakingly restored. Outside, the facade had been scoured of all that big-city smog residue. But while those changes made the task of converting the building into Gucci design command central easier, restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Arts and Culture created their own set of challenges. All those storyboards and sketches Giannini was used to pinning on her walls for inspiration? Basta. Due to the precious frescoes, “I can’t hang anything, let alone put lights up,” Giannini laments. “Everything has to lean on the floor.”
For his part, architect Federico Gigli says he and his crew labored mightily to undo decades of neglect and to maintain the character of the building while gently coaxing it into the 21st century. “The interiors were not in a terrible state but showed the abandonment that they suffered for almost 20 years,” he says. “The main challenge was to make it able to hold all the technological infrastructure that a modern office building needs,” including such basics as Internet lines and fire safety systems.