The Story of Piero Gesualdi

Piero Gesualdi can tell you more about design in an hour than months spent reading design magazines. With an endless number of memos and messages piled on his desk, Gesualdi’s office in Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia, bares the imprint of his latest vision, MondoPiero [Italian for World of Piero]. Scheduled to open in October, the Italian-style emporium, also located in Fitzroy, will showcase not only some of the finest Italian design, but importantly demonstrate the knowledge and experience garnished by Gesualdi over decades.

Architect, furniture designer, and one-time restaurateur, [Gesualdi owned Rosati’s café/bistro in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, from the mid 1980s to 2007], Gesualdi has always had a dream to surround himself with fine objects and artifacts in a studio environment. Having just returned from a buying trip to Europe, Gesualdi speaks passionately about all his latest discoveries such as horn-style amplifiers that allow an iPhone to become an amplifier or a loudspeaker for conference calls. Then there is the exquisite costume jewellery found in Paris and the simple horn bells, made from ceramic, but producing a chime as memorable as church bells. But Gesualdi’s story started decades before, when as an architecture student in the late 1960s at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, he simply wanted to create.

From an Italian family, which emigrated from Basilicata in the Naples region in the 1950s, Gesualdi was accustomed to being surrounded by beautiful and well-made things, whether it was clothing or the fine crystal his parents brought out with them from Italy. “I was particularly drawn to fashion. All my clothes, and even my shoes, were handmade by local craftspeople, many of whom were Italian,” says Gesualdi. So when he took up the opportunity to study a fourth year in architecture at the Milan Polytechnic in Italy in the late 1960s, there were calls from the fashion world even then. “I am an impatient man. There is that sense of immediate gratification with fashion, something that doesn’t just happen in the architecture world,” says Gesualdi. “It can take between two and four years to see a building completed. Fashion can be achieved in a matter of months,” he adds.

So rather than returning to Australia and working for an architectural practice, Gesualdi took the ‘hippie trail’ to India, travelling across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and through Pakistan. As well as the caftans, there was also the fine leather and suede, together with a material called chamois. Always the inventor, Gesualdi started importing chamois into Australia, with his then girlfriend creating micro hot pants, fitted shirts and jackets. “When it rained, the chamois would shrink, becoming even more desirable for women back then,” says Gesualdi. As today, then, it could take just one celebrity to cause a ripple, then an avalanche of interest. Model Delvene Delaney, then working on Don Lane’s television show, was the only advertisement needed. “I found myself doing television appearances in prime time,” says Gesualdi.

However, Don Lane was relatively small fry compared to Gesualdi’s later discoveries, including meeting Jean Paul Gaultier, and placing an order with the then as yet undiscovered fashion designer in the late 1970s. By the mid 1970s, Gesualdi opened his first fashion boutique Masons at the top of Bourke Street, Melbourne and spent considerable time searching for untapped talent. He stumbled across knitwear by English designer John Ashpool, then also stocked at Browns in South Molton Street in London and Roberto Cavalli in Florence. Travelling with designer Judy Dymond, the duo had their ears to the ground, as well as hearing regular reports from those based in Paris and other key fashion destinations. “We first saw Gaultier’s bags in a Japanese boutique called Kashiyama in Paris. We were keen to meet with him: that would have been in 1977 when he was just starting out.”

Before Dymond and Gesualdi met Gaultier, they were taken to a drab suburb on the outskirts of Paris that manufactured his clothing. “To be honest, they were poorly made. But you could see how strong Gaultier’s ideas were. They just needed a different manufacturer with greater finesse,” says Gesualdi, who still went ahead and ordered a small range of Gaultier from his kitchen table in his then modest Parisian apartment. “Two years later, the Italian manufacturers picked up Gaultier’s designs and now the rest is history.”

When Gesualdi showcased Gaultier’s collections in his store windows in the early 1980s [then two boutiques in Melbourne and two in Sydney], it was a delayed response. Let’s face it, only a few divas such as Madonna, could be seen wearing his skin-tight velvet rouged dresses with the spiky conical-shaped bras. “The fashionistas understood Gaultier and gradually others started to wear his slightly safer designs,” says Gesualdi, who also purchased, Claude Montana, Anne-Marie Beretta and Chantal Thomass, together with Sonia Rykiel and Comme des Garçons for Masons.

Gesualdi feels as though he has come full circle with the pending opening of MondoPiero. “It’s like my architecture and design, there has to be a strong voice with everything I do, but not at a pitch that drives people away,” says Gesualdi. “I’m always driven by the ideal. But its execution is as paramount. Just look at this fold-out screen. It’s made of paper and concertinas out to enclose a space.”


MondoPiero is set to open in October 2015 in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

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