Superstudio Featured

How a simple idea changed a city: an interview with Gisella Borioli, managing director of Superstudio

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19 March 2014


Superstudio began life as a centre providing services to the fashion industry, and it ended up catalyzing the social and business development of the Tortona district in Milan. We spoke to Gisella Borioli, managing director of Superstudio.

Gisella Borioli foto di Giovanni Gastel“Superstudio has a long story, in two stages. The first is that of Superstudio in Via Forcella 13, the first image campus, with 13 photographic studios and various services for fashion. I, with my husband Flavio Lucchini, opened it in 1983, and it progressively attracted many important names in fashion, such as Kenzo, Balenciaga, Esprit, Armani and so forth. As a result, the Tortona area around Superstudio began to develop into an area of creativity, fashion and design. In 2000, the second stage began. We acquired a disused General Electric factory, where we opened Superstudio Più in Via Tortona 27, an exhibition centre that could be used for events in which contemporary arts and innovation could be presented to the public. This is a large space, in which all sorts of events can be staged. These two structures attracted many of the greatest names in fashion and design, partly because I and my husband both have backgrounds in editing important magazines such as Vogue, Amica, Moda, Donna and so forth, and so we had contacts all over the world.”

Were you surprised about the way in which your initial idea ended up changing a portion of the city?
“It took a long time, 15 years, but I couldn’t say that we were surprised. We were right at the centre of all these developments.”

Were there any major obstacles?
“Initially there were no real problems, because we did everything without assistance from the Municipality, or other institutions, or other private-sector investment. The problems are starting now. In recent years it has become very difficult to manoeuvre amongst the laws, rules and regulations. Everything takes a lot of effort, and infinite resources of enthusiasm.”

From outside, it looked like Superstudio helped Italy’s fashion industry to move out of its ivory castle of secrecy, and bring it closer to the general public. Would you agree?
“Yes, and this was a direct result of the fact that, because I and my husband are journalists, we applied the language of journalism, which is primarily communication. When we launched Superstudio, our concept was for a centre for advanced communications, and not just photographs printed in glossy magazines. In other words, we were directly involved in runway shows, presentations, conventions, television, video, and meetings with the public, above all young people. The latter were primarily responsible for spreading the word that at Superstudio, it was possible to do things that were impossible elsewhere.”

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Could you tell us about your relations with the Furniture Show?
“Initially, there were no contacts. For years, the Salone del Mobile did not acknowledge the role of the collateral events, which had developed spontaneously from some installations at the State University. Our work in the Tortona district encouraged the development of these events, and it became the design district. The collateral events programme quickly became important added value for the show and the city as a whole. People came to Milan, visited Via Tortona and then the Furniture Show, or vice versa. Only today are some contacts beginning, the result of work by a young Council Department Head, Cristina Tajani, who brought together some people in a meeting in order to search for common ground. The Furniture Show has developed independently from us, and considers us as a sort of extra, something with which it is not concerned. This year, for the first time, there may be some sort of dialogue between the two sides.”

What are the reasons for this difficulty in communications?
“We tried, and today, things are changing. Decisions depend on people, and the people who were in the crucial roles in the past were not really interested in working together. In a way, this is an intrinsic problem for Italy as a nation. Everybody is accustomed to working on their own.”

Could you tell us about future directions for Superstudio?
“The future of Superstudio? I’d love to know! Today is a delicate situation. The economic crisis is taking the sector into an increasingly crushing grip. I am thinking of working increasingly with the general public, so that our events are both B2B and for people at large. I organize some events, and others are managed by third-party operators. Today it’s not easy to find companies and organizations interested in doing something new; I would like to work with start-ups and young people; companies prefer not to take risks. But we are approaching countries abroad, such as Dubai, where we were recently present with a design exhibition. We are looking at events in Singapore and India. In short, we are exploring how we can export the Superstudio concept outside Milan.”

How would you summarize the Superstudio experience in a few words?
“Thirty years of passion for fashion, design, communications, art and innovation. But I would also like to underline that it’s a family story as well. I would never have done everything that I’ve done if I hadn’t been in love with my husband. Everything we’ve done, we did it together, up until 25 years ago when he dedicated all his time to his art. It’s a story that includes my sisters and other other relatives, the classic small Italian business. It’s more a family than a company. And the people who join us never leave!”

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