Elena Ghisellini is the sparkling poster child and diligent braintrust behind high fashion’s most incredible accessories. A firecracker burst of energy, we found Ghisellini floating around her luxe headquarters at the Leon Battista Alberti-designed, Renaissance-era Palazzo Rucellai, lighting up the cavernous corners of the formidable palace with her effervescent air. She took us on a tour (check out her Florence guide), fixed us a tea and had the whole team smitten by the end of the day. (Ghisellini, if it wasn’t obvious, is a joy to be around.)
As elegant as she is effusive, Ghisellini is widely known as one of those rare creative forces that can effortlessly occupy the sought-after space between playful and badass. A master leatherworker and craftsman, the Genoa-born Ghisellini cut her teeth at the best-of-the-best in the Italian accessories industry, serving long stints at Trussardi and Ferragamo before starting her own eponymous line in 2003 in her adopted home of Florence. Her hot-in-demand talents have even had her contributing designs to fashion houses that run the gamut from Givenchy to Tod’s. Which is why, when Ghisellini invited us to stop by her palazzo for an aperitivo we hopped on the first train to Firenze to witness the accessories wunderkind at work and find out a bit more about her unmistakable aesthetic.
On first glimpse of Ghisellini’s central Florence headquarters, unsuspecting visitors are immediately transported back into the madness of the Medici-age — soaring ceilings, painstakingly wrought murals and the kind of decorative detail that died out with Da Vinci. It’s the perfect backdrop for Elena Ghisellini’s edgy but understated line of leather handbags and accessories. “When I got the chance to set up my headquarters in Palazzo Rucellai, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Ghisellini of her gorgeous locale, “I absolutely share Alberti’s [the Renaissance architect] creative vision — his architecture was about finding beauty in proportions — and so are my designs.” To offset the more maximal effects of the palazzo, Ghisellini introduced low-key industrial elements into her chic showroom. “I strictly adhere to the rule of Mies van Der Rohe,” says Ghisellini of the mid-century maestro, another architect the handbag designer takes her cues from. “Less is more. Symmetry, colors and respect for solids and voids are my guiding design ethos.”
A perpetually prepared hostess, Ghisellini is always ready for one of her Florentine friends to stop by. “If it’s at lunch, they’ll get a simple pasta with tomato and basil,” she explains, “any other time, I’ll give them one of my signature relaxing tea infusions,” which she deliciously serves with top-shelf Manuka honey. But don’t expect the Genoan Ghisellini to offer you up a Fiorentina (the typical mega-thick Tuscan steak that Florentine restaurants specialize in) anytime soon. When it comes to family recipes, she sticks to her roots. Her go to dish when she’s got a bit of extra time? “Pasta with pesto, naturally!” And she’s adamant about ingredients: “the secret is to get the basil from Pra’, a place in Liguria that grows the best basil in the world.” Blend olive oil, vegetable oil, pine kernels, Roman Pecorino cheese and a bit of Parmesan. Once that’s done, wash the basil in ice-cold water, drop it in with the rest of the ingredients and give it another quick wizz. Add it to whole-wheat pasta and Buon Appetito! You’re eating like a Ligurian — even if you’re in Florence!
As for table setting the Ghisellini’s keen eye opts for gorgeous Grottaglie plates and vases upon vases of multi-colored wildflowers. “I like to keep it genuine,” says Ghisellini of her dinner parties, “nothing fussy!” Her secret for successful hosting is to bring people together in a way that makes it fun and easy to communicate. “Don’t make anything too heavy and always use fresh ingredients,” she advises. We’re waiting for our dinner invite, Elena!
– Laura Todd