Be thankful a jousting club is included in the crown jewels. From the prices to the cuts to the cast of mind, everything inside this gloomy, sad, depressed Italian gem is grotesque
The $79m-value Bulgari House of Gucci sits on the outside of the Palazzo delle Montecchia, an imposing basilica within the old walled city of Florence. For tourists and tourists’ parents alike, it’s a must see. It is all about design, handbags, booze, gilt and scenery. But for me, most of all it is what it lacks. It’s not just that the place is open to the public and I am far away from my hotel. I am not particularly intrigued by the yellow brick walls. I do not even really know what goes on inside.
I want to use the rooms to show off my photos of Florence. I want to experience the luxury high life. Instead I am greeted by the iron doorbell, the spray of purple flowers and a robed man behind a gate. The chaise longue I wanted to reveal is sectioned off. The bed on the floor beneath is dirty and the shelves are not what I want. On the other side of the door I am greeted by a huge pile of luggage. I am taken from the room to another locked building, which is then knocked down and is never returned. I’m then dragged through a bizarre moat, into the lobby, past dogs sporting stew-brown muzzle tattoos and wherever I end up on the tiled floor I need to turn my clothes inside out – completely round and upside down – as it’s totally soaked in rags.
Furious need: the Bulgari House of Gucci. Photograph: Elena Sofia Bogdanova
It is not like visiting some decadent island retreat. I am in Italy, I cannot move faster than the pace of the grid, and I am mildly disturbed by the presence of a jousting club in the roof.
So instead I take the elevator down and have coffee with someone who tells me that the house is particularly “luxurious in the dark”, as they say in Italy. At the low end, there are amazing piles of luxury, but at the high end there are breathtaking truffles – which they use as decoration on your shoes – and jewels. At the bottom end, you find a crowd of people in black tie gazing at you. It makes you wonder why people choose to walk around with apparently no life whatsoever and only apparently in thrall to glitzy, ill-fitting clothing.
There’s the angry opening shot of the 1920s propaganda film. The steel spiral staircase. You sit back and enjoy the carving of a puma on a statue. They made a red carpet and a VIP lounger. They have ancient paintings and a set of glasses for which you pay €30 a pop. Most pathetic is the chandelier with no crown. The view from the top of the historic Pompei escalator makes me feel that I am back in Florence in the 1950s, with a fascist mob making of with all the cocaine and women. We take photos of the giant red doorbell. At one point an old hag-like woman comes up and rails against the yellow brick walls, then closes her eyes and gives me the silent stare of the Victorian times.
I pull my own jewellery back on the sideboard from where I saw the rusting iron gate: a sword, a cigarette case, and the knife from the feast, whose glass I won at coin exchange at the trattoria after midnight. There is champagne, where I never drink – you have to get a bottle there to avoid paying for an expensive bottle that is served to you in a takeaway van. Later I find my beloved Harry Winston watch on sale for €350. I give it to my friend and the two of us enjoy a night of luxury without any semblance of luxury.
Photograph: Elena Sofia Bogdanova
The real wedding was thrown by Gucci four months ago on the same square, celebrated with the Dominican Republic. Do not expect a 3D exhibition of your work at the Bulgari House of Gucci. It is planned, but not open.