At a time when luxury has become ubiquitous, an invitation to Florence for the launch of the Drive de Cartier watch was a chance to experience opulence beyond image. The location of the event was the perfect setting for a brand 
that is synonymous with a history of elegance and beauty. The two-day calendar of intimate events was held at the Palazzo Gondi.

The palace, tucked away behind the expansive Piazza Della Signoria, can be difficult to locate — but those with insider knowledge know that if you look more closely you’ll find a hidden gem. The doors of Palazzo Gondi open to a grand private home of the old world, which has remained in the hands of the Gondis, a prominent Florentine banking family, since it was commissioned in 1490. 

The drawing room at Palazza Gondi
The drawing room at Palazza Gondi

The family matriarch, Marchesa Vittoria Gondi, describes the upcoming event, saying, “It is a perfectly natural occasion for us, as Cartier has always represented our lifestyle.” For the next few days the space is reimagined as the home of the Drive Man, where we are hosted by uniformed bellboys sporting the signature Cartier rouge.

Taking time to contemplate the terracotta vista of Florence from the roof terrace, it seems apt that a historic city, where traditions are always evolving and melding with modernity, would be the place to launch a new generation of shape and design in Cartier’s horological lineage. 

Our first experience in “the art of living” is a wine tasting hosted by Gelasio Gaetani d’Aragona Lovatelli, who takes us through a list of rare Tuscan wines. Gaetani, the quintessential Drive Man, is the heir of a family that has owned land in Italy since the 15th century.

Cartier CEO Cyrille Vigneron and Bianca Brandolini
Cartier CEO Cyrille Vigneron and Bianca Brandolini

Dinner is followed by cocktails on the terrace with 80 international guests, including Italian heiress Coco and Bianca Brandolini, and South African entrepreneur Mandla Sibeko. The next morning is spent quietly immersing myself in the Drive Man’s imagined private quarters in the Palazzo Gondi.
The bellboys are at the ready, offering not only pastries and Bellinis, but also information about the three rooms. 

The Library, designed by architect Tristan Auer, displays the Drive de Cartier watch collection, and a selection of fine objects and ephemera. The Dressing Room is a series of six hidden vignettes, that opened to reveal the international perspectives of Drive Men.

The Library
The Library

My favourites are the Tokyo man, a tea master and collector of Richard Ginori ceramics; and the Astro Space man, a futuristic explorer. Self-described “lifestyler” Sergio Colantuoni, who designed these rooms, describes his vision, saying, “A suit does not tell a man’s story; what he surrounds himself with is also important. I wanted to reflect the complete universe of each man.”

Later in the day I accompany Colantuoni and Los Angeles based illustrator
Konstantin Kaknias to the Cartier boutique on Florence’s luxury stretch, Via 
degli Strozzi. Kaknias designed the Drawing Room, where the Drive Man entertains. When we arrive, Kaknias describes the boutique as, “The apotheosis
of the entire concept.” 

In the boutique, his illustrations decorate the exterior windows and mechanised displays. Our final day gives us an enchanted view of Florence 
from the hills of Fiesole, where we visit the Villa Medici, built by the powerful 
political dynasty of the 15th century, who commissioned much of the 
Renaissance art and architecture that exists in Florence today. 

Mandla Sibeko
Mandla Sibeko

Our lunch at the Belmond Villa San Michele is served with impeccable finesse. The villa, a former monastery, is a retreat for international guests hoping to escape into a picturesque, contained world, and is surrounded by verdant gardens. Despite a rather decadent day, we are reminded that true luxury lies in simplicity. Our guides whisk us back to the Palazzo Gondi to spend the afternoon with Louis Albert de Broglie, the Prince Jardinier.

He introduces us to the elegance of tomatoes, using the simple fruits to create a menu of drinks, soups, and toppings to delicious effect.  What sounds like a whirlwind trip felt like a retreat, where I had the chance to indulge my senses and fully appreciate my surroundings in a reflective and slow-paced way. Experiences such as these are what have always been, and are now more than ever, the epitome of luxury.
cartier.com/drive

Nancy Whang from LCD Sound System, with Yosef Munro on piano
Nancy Whang from LCD Sound System, with Yosef Munro on piano

August 2016

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