An Editor at Large’s Springtime in Florence
by John Paul-Pietrus
I recently spent six weeks in Florence on a mini-sabbatical meets research trip. I chose Florence as it was one of the creative capitals of the Renaissance, and I wanted to live in a city of artisans who still pride themselves on creative traditions and incredible craftsmanship. I wanted to walk down the narrow streets lined with cobblers, goldsmiths, printmakers, trattoria, paneria, pizzeria; in contrast to the busy and generic streets of globalized cities with their Starbucks and chain stores. In fact, during my whole time there I don't think I saw a single Starbucks! And why would I, with coffee (and chianti) being the national beverage and an amazing cup found in any restaurant or cafe, it wouldn't seem quite right.
I explored the city and all it had to offer. I became obsessed with getting to know the Florentine artisans and talking to them about their endeavours. Here are four which particularly took my fancy:
ARLO HAISEK, Jewellery:
As a small boy, Florentino Arlo Haisek made small sculptures of wood painted with colours, and pondered the question ‘how do I do this in metal?’ He thought it was magic to work with metal, and decided that one day he would learn how to perform this ‘magic’ himself. Young Arlo was also fascinated about his grandfather’s collections of coins and of minerals. It
was these various forces which put Arlo on the path to become a jeweler. Arlo studied at the Istituto Artistico Statale di Porta Romana e Sesto Fiorentino in the old houses of the legendary Medici family, where he trained to be a silversmith, and completed course in 1997.
Arlo’s research and specialty is in texture. He tries to find different types of textures inspired by nature and history; forms from the history of jewels, meeting a contemporary style with an organic texture. He likes his pieces to be unique and modern, not too classic. For many years he worked in different workshops near the Ponte Vecchio and for different fashion houses. Arlo makes his ideas very quickly, in the belief that there is a beauty in the spontaneity of creativity, and thus enjoys working w fashion houses as they show on a quickly rotating schedule twice a year. Roberto Cavalli under both Cavalli and now with now Peter Dundas, and Givenchy. He’s made and designed buckles for Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent, and Christian Dior. In addition to these household names, every season Arlo makes his own collection. He opened his doors in San Nicolo in 2012, with a small workshop in the back. Before San Nicolo, Arlo shared studio space with artists and sculptor friends, which provided a wonderful creative energy and friendships with Florentine artists which he still holds dear. At the moment his pieces can be found in selective stores in Florence (at PNP shop), Germany, China, New Zealand, and Ibiza (Madrigal), and is now looking to expand.
Arlo’s preferred metal is silver as it has many different guises depending on how it is treated: oxidized, polished, etc. He loves gems with natural inclusions (‘flaws’ or markings) such as dendritic quartz, opal, and labradorite. Arlo makes all of his jewellery himself; no assistants, no apprentices. Stones come from all over the world: India, Australia, various countries in Africa and Latin America. He loves interesting combinations, such as purple amethyst and red ruby set in silver to make a beautiful ring. He loves the natural quality of the gems to inspire him: the luster of the tiger and falcon eye gems remind him of a scarab and so he creates a jeweled scarab out of it. He makes a magnifying glass out of a transparent quartz slice.
One of Arlo’s favourite pieces at the moment is a butterfly made of large scaramaza freshwater pearls, silver in the same organic form as the pearls, ruby eyes, black diamonds, and one drop of pink tourmaline.
Arlo’s favourite metal technique is the ‘drip technique’ started in northern Europe in the 18th Century. The texture of the metal is like that of dripped wax, of a dripping candle. Arlo generously gives me an exquisite rose gold ring embodying this technique. It’s a beautiful piece and when I put it on, it just seems to belong on my finger; it feels great and catches the attention of many eyes as it sparkles in the warm Florence sun. This is proof positive that young Arlo grew up and certainly learned his magic.
Via dei Bardi 20 R Florence, Italy
MARIO BEMER, Shoes:
Brothers Mario and Stefano Bemer began business in 1983 in Greve, Chianti, first with fixing shoes, and with Mario on the financial side. Thereafter they moved to Florence and opened their bottega and began to make shoes. In 1999, Mario started to design and extend his creative arm. In the heat of summer 2012, Stefano unexpectedly passed away and Mario started business under his own name with partners Nicola Saccheti and Luca Nardini in
The Mario Bemer philosophy is based on a great care and thought for his customer, with an artisinal concern for each and every one. In keeping to this philosophy, they adhere to making a very limited edition number of shoes per year, at this moment about 2000 pairs per year, versus a large brand commercial shoe factory making 100,000 pairs per month.
A simple glance at the shoes in the store at number 68 Via Maggio delights the eyes with colour, textures, beautiful shapes and styles, which are successfully original, chic, classic, unique, and wearable at the same
time. The shoes come from size 39-47, so I would venture to say most men in the world will be able to wear a pair of Mario Bemers.
There are three different kinds of shoes at Mario Bemer.
1. Ready to wear: machine stitched shoes.
2. Made to order (MTO): The same shoes of ready to wear, but you can order some changes in the sole, the colour combination, etc. 100% customised shoes by the client’s desire, within the Mario Bemer model, and machine stitched.
3. Bespoke: This is the ‘haute couture’ process of making a pair of shoes. A last is made of the customer’s feet, from the measurement of the foot over a period of six weeks. Adjustments are made to the shape and materials to match the customer’s feet. After that, the shoes are made by hand in the laboratory by an artisan with 17 years experience. First made are the provisory shoes, and after more cutting, cutting and fitting, and then making the final shoe. The waiting list for the bespoke shoes is already at 10 months to one year, and is limited to 35-40 pairs per year as it is such a meticulous process. For one pair of bespoke shoes, Mario spends four months. This is not fast-fashion. These are shoes to keep for life, and even pass on.
All bespoke shoes are Goodyear double stitched; Use the shoes for 6-7 years or until the soles wear out, and then bring back the shoes and they will remove the sole and heel, put the upper on the last for some time to reform well, and then stitch on the new sole and heel and you’re good to go again. This is the advantage of the Goodyear stitch.
Mario solely designs all of the shoes, every collection. The leather is made in a small town near Florence, specifically and exclusively for Mario Bemer. The leather is coloured and painted by hand. They have developed a woven leather technique called ‘intreccato’ which is specific to Bemer, and which I particularly love and materializes into the ‘Decimo’ shoe.
The names of the shoes come from Mario and his staff, his relations, his customers, and his friends: Enzo Ottavio, Oriano, Ormero, Dante, Diego, Derio... this is the Mario Bemer family.
Mario is very strict about quality and technique. This is of utmost importance, not style alone. In fact, the shoes are about 85% technical and 15% design, despite the delight to the eyes the shoes have.
I choose the Decimo in a gorgeous coral hue and a slightly wider sole than what I see in store. My feet are measured and thus is the birthspark of my own pair of Mario Bemers. I can’t wait to wear them! But I will have to... as with most good things, Mario Bemers take time, and this is time I am willing to wait!
Via Maggio, 68, Firenze, Italy
The perfume house of Aquaflor was founded in 2009. The name literally means ‘perfumed waters’ and is also derived from the city’s name itself. The idea was to establish a ‘Casa di Profumeria’, a perfume house. Aquaflor’s ‘nose’, Sileno, was already making excellent perfumes in Luca, Tuscany, in a small shop laboratory before he magically met some people who wanted to start a perfume house. Thus they set up shot in the amazing Renaissance Palazzo Corsini in the heart of Florence. The 7-story palazzo is well disguised by an austere façade with a humble entrance on the quiet Borgo Santa Croce. Thus stumbling across the Aquaflor palazzo is like discovering a jewel.
Aquaflor conceive, package, and produce all of their artisanal fragrances at Palazzo Corsini. At the moment they have three main objectives:
The creation of it’s own line of products,
Creating personalised and tailor-made perfumes, and
Establishing olfactory ‘logos’ for companies who want to distinguish themselves with a particular fragrance, for example the Sanlorenzo luxury yacht company commissioned Aquaflor to come up with w logo scent for their international offices and in their yachts, which recalls the sea, so that when people smelled the scent they would associate it with the San Lorenzo.
The more or less 90 fragrances (consisting of body perfumes, colognes, moisturizing waters, and room perfumes) all have very interesting names with a story behind them. Sileno treats the naming of the perfumes as a game. Contrary to expected, the name comes first from Sileno’s business partner, and he creates a scent that he things suits the name. ‘Beirout’ in Sileno’s mind has transformed into a fragrance with hints of bergamot, and patchouli, and... gunpowder, as in modern culture we associate the city with war in addition to beauty. “Flamboyant” is surprisingly a not so ostentatious scent, as Sileno has a memory of a flamboyant tree moving in the wind and looking like a fire; the fragrance is not the scent of the flower, but his scent interpretation of the flower tree dancing in the wind: it’s fire, it’s fresh, it’s floral, and it’s fruity; the fragrance moves from one to the other, it’s about that olfactory dance. ‘Rosae’ is more expected: rose scent, but with a twist in the form of mint.
At the moment Aquaflor can only be purchased at their palazzo, but they are looking into the possibility of expansion, but very carefully. A personal relationship is very important to the house. They don’t want to, or need to, expand in an overly commercial nature. They want to make it good, not make it big.
Sileno’s personal favourite fragrance is pure rose scent as a constant, but all of the fragrances in the collection have at one time been a favourite for him. Before any fragrance goes on the shelf, he has worn it for some time so that he has ‘tried and tested’ each one.
Aquaflor has moved forward from not only producing fragrances, but into presenting workshops in perfume making, to teach this art to the public. There are, additionally, ‘perfume tasting’ experiences which teach how to analyze fragrances and better understand them.
I finally decide to purchase ‘Bakhur’ which has a spicy, religious scent, not far off from church incense, although mixed with hints of the Orient. In a single inhale, it takes me on a magic carpet ride from Palazzo Corsini to the streets of Istanbul where east meets west.
Aquaflor Borgo Santa Croce, 6, 50122 Firenze, Italy
ALESSANDRO DARI, Jewellery:
On a small street in the artisan district of San Nicolo there is an old palace at number 115, this is the studio of renowned Florentine jeweller and jewellery sculptor Alessandro Dari. When one walks through the doors one is transported from modern day Florence into a rendition of Merlin’s magic laboratory. Gems sparkle, cogs tick tock, and there is the faint buzz of electricity and machinery. It is at once mystical and mechanical, a steam punk fantasy. It is an environment in progress for the past 20 years for Dari, who also used to live in the small loft space above.
Dari himself possesses a wise and calm demeanour: tall, handsome, with dark rock-n-roll hair and a deep and gentle voice. He is refreshingly humble about his work. Dari began to design jewellery at the age of 16, his first inspiration in shape of diving trips and fishing for corals as a young boy, and the marine life he found below the waters. Coral is the spirit and delight of the sea to Dari. Dari believes that God chose that he become a jeweller and sculptor, in order to purify his mind. For Dari, jewels are not just for ornamentation, but also to give an energy to the people who wear and see them. Furthermore, they are not just for wearing, they can be part of a sculpture, they can rest on the shelf as an objet d’art.
Dari’s collection in his studio is a life’s work. There is the recurring theme of divine love, always, in his pieces. Dari has no one favourite material or stone. He likes them all for their various unique qualities, their individual characteristics. He believes that through the shape and the story of the stones you can enter into peoples’ souls.
I ask him if he has a favourite piece. It changes every day, but today it is “Alchemic Genesis”, a sculpture about 5 feet high with and electric pulse of 30,000 volts. There is a pool of mercury at the bottom of the sculpture, which rises imperceptibly, so that in 128 years it will rise and fill up the entire cavity within the sculpture. Dari himself does not wear his own jewellery, only the one ring of an angel whom he believes protects his life and his soul, with the alchemic symbol of God. It is not his first piece that he made, but the first piece which Dari made from his soul.
Via di S. Niccolò, 115R, 50125 Firenze, Italy