AELEONORE: DISCOVERING THE HEART OF TUSCANY THROUGH THE FIVE SENSES

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A boutique, a concept store, a parlour. But also a conglomeration of women and ideas, a locus amoenus that blooms right in the centre of Florence. This is Aeleonore, born from the creativity of designer and architect Eleonora Sassoli. And is Eleonora herself, together with her “pink” team, who uses this place to turn a dream into reality: recounting the Made in Italy as a journey into the Tuscan land, through vivid emotions and beyond the boundaries of fashion.

The entrance to Aeleonore in via Monalda

The entrance to Aeleonore in via Monalda

It’s from this dream that the Sense collection was born: five senses, five headscarves, five Tuscan cities. We start our chat/journey with Eleonora Sassoli from here, aiming to discover the world of Aeleonore in her headquarters. We’re in via Monalda’s boutique, and this is the street that Sassoli would want to become part of Florence fashion streets, together with the worldwide renown – but maybe less intriguing – via Tornabuoni.

Here everything, included the furnishing, has been designed by Eleonora. There’s an almost exoteric geometry that intermingles the whole space, from the bags to the sofas, from the pottery to the floor, yet without stiffness, as if all the shapes were flowing together without edges. There;s something liquid here, conveyed by the soft light that soothes the dark tones. Eleonora herself will reveal her secret. But let’s not rush things. As in every considerable journey, we know where the start is, but the destination is all to be discovered.

Where does the idea of the Sense collection come from? What drives a designer to talk about her land through her creations?

As an architect, 4 years ago, I went on a journey to study floors and facades all over Tuscany, following unconventional paths, even inside small villages. And I stand and admired some details that no one notices. For example, Piazza della Repubblica here in Florence: how many times do we step on the pavement beyond the gallery and we don’t stop to admire it, with its unique beauty? And to think that that floor comes from a very peculiar age, different from everything that surrounds it. And that’s where I took inspiration for many of our geometries.

A panel from the Sense collection

A panel from the Sense collection

So, during my journeys through Tuscany, there was this meticulous study and a gathering of millions of pictures, that later I assembled in some graphics that, for me, represent true road trips. You can trace some details from Siena’s Cathedral, from Giotto’s bell tower, and even from more modern elements, such as Leghorn’s Liberty boardwalk, with the Mascagni Terrace… Everything speaks about the truth of Made in Tuscany and Made in Italy.

The result of this study and research are some panel that, alone, would make for perfect paintings to hang on a wall. The five senses are depicted through images and colours, the Tuscan cities show their peculiar geometries and their most intimate shapes. All is transposed on grand headscarves (1,50m x 1,50m), so impalpable yet so full of meanings.

If someone asks me to “tell them Tuscany”, that’s how I narrate it. Through words, photos, but also textures and food. It’s a vision that speaks about the past, about history, but it also has something optical to it, something modern, reminiscent of 1900’s Deconstructivism.

These headscarves are like huge canvas that tell about the territory, with images that speak louder than words. They’re the tale of the cities, of the things that are important to me, from food to architecture. For each city there’s a collection of photographs, from the leather’s colours to marbles, from the hills to kale and figs.

PRATO – Smell

I’ve juxtaposed the sense of smell with the dark greens that you can find all around Prato. The graphic here starts from the city’s centrality, from the central castle, and everything that rotates around it: the twirling fabrics, the weaving, the warp. It’s a journey through opposite poles, into a city that’s divided into many cultures.

LUCCA – Hearing

A cold city, shut, but also ethereal, with its marbles and its hills. Lucca is also noble, with its walls, with churches’ facades, from which I extrapolated the columns’ tiniest details. This city reminds me of a heart shape, enclused between the bulwarks, yet is also welcoming, for when you step inside Lucca, you find yourself at peace.

CHIANTI – Taste

The Chianti area can’t be severe not symmetric, full as it is of hills, flowing wine, micro-cities, and with all those righteous homesteads. It goes without saying that here the colour red prevails: wine, grapes, autumnal colours. And thus, taste.

SIENA – Touch

For me, Siena is the sense of touch, with its Terra and its colours. So here is Piazza del Campo: the clopping horses, the circle, the twirlers, the Palio, the Cathedral’s four cardinal points. And right at the Cathedral is where you should stop, admiring every single detail.

FLORENCE – Sight

The Arno river when the sun sets, far from tourists; purple cabbage and figs with a glass of Chianti, maybe sipped while sitting on a hill around here. In Florence I decided to focus more on the Baptistery, for I’d love people to recognise the modernity of its floors, with geometries that are coming back even nowadays, with the research on the pure matter. Here I also thought about the water flowing, the bridges, the Dome, the Cathedral, the windows… Yet Florence is another shut city, almost ironclad.

I’ve chosen this path because, in the end, I believe that the territory and the traceability of our origins depend on our past. Nowadays we’re so used to waling by our streets that we can’t see anything anymore. I’m trying to let people know that our culture, our DNA, really comes from our territory. It feels so sad to watch people wrecking our heritage, because that what makes the beautiful puzzle that Italy is. We should take more care of it, recount it with modern eyes, as someone who lives in an open-air museum. There’re very few people who really do justice to what we have, many just tend to accumulate money out of it.

This brand, this group made of nine women, is just far away from this madness.

A headscarf by Aeleonore

A headscarf by Aeleonore

The nine women of Aeleonore. A number, a name and an ensemble that are far from ordinary. We understood that here we can’t stop with the product, we have to dig some more. And that’s exactly what Eleonora wants for her brand: to dig into the nature of things.

Aeleonore has the Latin desinence Ae because I love my roots, I’m Italian and very patriotic – she laughs. I believe that is the most beautiful country in the world; everyone has learned and stolen something from us. Nine women and that’s the plural in –e because we all can be rooted in out territory, starting from the past, from the 50s and 60s, from Fontana sisters, from thorough craftsmanship, for a real traceability.

I believe in a heterogeneous group: we have girls who have a degree in Cultural Heritage, Desing, Architecture, Scenography. That’s the only way for everyone to give their personal contribution. I’m not an individualist, I stand for the group, for true empathy.  Everyone should have her place, for everyone brings wisdom and energy.

Inside Aeleonore every woman finds her place. Even an ancient heroin.

My first study started from Eleonora da Toledo, with her court of women, and to her goes part of the credit for the name Aeleonore. She, who gave to women the possibility of opening their minds, not remaining stuck at home with laces and crochet. What is more, she uses her paintings to showcase power through invented dresses, designed by herself. Exactly as we use Photoshop and Instagram nowadays!

Eleonora da Toledo also brought fashion to Florence, and her Florentine clothes were avant-guard all over Europe. During the Reinassance, Florence became powerful also thanks to her. And that’s where our Made in Italy started, from the shopkeepers, the shoemakers, from that production chain that now allows us to retain an unbeatable knowledge of our products. Our craftsmanship is so rooted because of this all.

Interiors of Aeleonore boutique

Interiors of Aeleonore boutique

This ancient, autochtonous know-how is what Aeleonore always looks for, creating a supply chain that has become a real “artisan industry”.

Our goal is to find out our identities. We started from old hatmakers, from their wooden instruments, on a journey through art, culture and territory. Here every object, vase, couch, owns a piece of my personality. Nothing is left to chance.

We’re an artisan industry, 8 craftsmen such as Tessere in Prato; Gamma 3 in Vergaio; Ilsat in Quarrata, with three young boys who have studied with me the shapes of the sofas; and the brothers Landini, with their carpentry; together we have designed the furniture and lighting so that everything here would have looked dimmer. And it’s correct to give a name and value to the whole chain because if you buy a design object, is your right to know who made it and where it was made.  We’re into slow fashion, not fast! We even have a cellar where to host jazz nights once a month, sipping and tasting local excellence, gaining back the pace of the territory, discovering the past but heading straight towards the future.

Eleonora puts back the attention on the boutique’s space, with that indescribable something that immediately strikes every guest.

This place, this space, that originally was a piece of the Strozzi’s mansion, comes from my desire and hard work of 4 years. It represents our motto, “start from the past and head to the future”. Because in Italy, as in every journey, there’s no sense of space and time.

I didn’t want an aseptic store, as some sort of chain. Distorting the spaces… turns everything into a mall. What is difficult is to make a brand and a place your own, starting from your identity.

And there’s no cash register! You have to enter here and find hospitality, emotions, a story to tell.

The windows are those original from the ’20s, I also left those intact. People enter and stop inside, they don’t want to get out again.

That surely explains the sense of non-urgency that you can breathe inside this boutique. But there’s something more to it, an element that bonds together the hues and the geometries, that reminds of somewhere else than a store. We ask Eleonora what it could be, and she smiles.

It all comes from the fact that this place is my personal dream. I took my degree in architecture at 26, very young, and at that time there weren’t such things as Design or Fashion shools. On my last here, I decided that I wanted my thesis to be in yacht design. It was the era of the huge, Italian yachts. So I went to my professor to tell him and he replied: “Find a studio that keeps you for six months and then I’ll let you do it”.

Aeleonore

So I called Tommaso Spadolini, founder of Fashion Yacht, and said: “My name is Sassoli Eleonora and I’d like to write a thesis on nautical design”. He laughed on the phone, but I continued: “Can I come and show you what I can do?”. And he said yes. I took the bus to his villa in Pian dei Giullari. I will never forget me. It was a Thursday and he commissioned to me some tables on the design of minute details inside a small yacht. I still have those tables, all handpainted.  I took them to him because inside I was already a designer and not an architect. 

I want back to him on Tuesday, he looked at the tables and said: “You’re starting tomorrow”> I’ve stayed with them for one year, and I’ve learned everuthing from them. Here at Aeleonore, there’s a pece of furniture called the dock and it comes from the design of a futuristic boat I made. But it’s also the dock where my dream finally landed. I come from the nautical world, but fashion has always been inside my heart. And that’s why this space flows so well: it has elements coming from the yachts and from the waves.

Courage, self enancement, heritage, love for the territory. Working for significance and not for money. Starting from headscarves and bags, Eleonora and her women convey all of these in a boutique that is out of time, recounting that story of Florence as it was and as it is. It’s not surprising, then, that a place like this leaves a trace in our memory. And it wouldn’t be surprising if these bags and objects would be given from grandmothers to nieces, as a tale to be passed on.

These are creations, not only business. For me, the important thing is to realate to everyone, to leave a memory of something never seen before. This is vital for me: planting some seeds and seeing thme grow. Here I have space to truly express myself and what I really do. And I can’t help but tell the tale of my wanderlust.

What is more, I do all of this with just one functioning eye. I’ve almost completely lost the other when I was 26. Yet I’ve learned to live like this and I don’t perceive it as a handicap. It’s my vision of the world, unique, conquered.

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