The Flowering Of Florence’s Gucci Garden

Looking out at the ancient stone palazzo, this could be Renaissance Florence and the wall painting of wild creatures the work of an artist of centuries ago.

But nothing in the Gucci Garden is quite as it seems. Artist Alex Merry – an illustrator who is also an enthusiast of the English folk art form, Morris dancing – is quick to explain that the all-embracing, multicoloured netherworld that she creates for Gucci is worked out digitally. She tells me that her eight strangely disturbing dreamscapes on the walls of the Gucci Garden stairway were applied by a team of workers.

For the Pitti Immagine menswear event, she was asked to create, on her own, new and appropriate designs to add to other captivating murals.

So how does the British artist fit her work in with Gucci?

‘A lot of things that come into my paintings – I often work really late at night – I try not to be too studious about,’ the artist explains. ‘I just let in all these symbols and with Gucci, snakes are a potent symbol, they slither into the pictures as the sun and the moon appear.’

Merry was born into a family of artists – her mother and sister are painters and sculptors, while her brother James is hyper-original singer Björk’s creative collaborator.

Alex Merry’s colourful and enchanting images were first spotted on Instagram by Alessandro Michele and the English artist has now become one of a group of utterly different artistic ‘influencers’ who contribute to Gucci’s colourful and hyper-decorated work.

Just a little like the artist of the 14th century presenting a completed client commission that was worked on by a team of toiling creatives, Alex Merry is one of several backstage artists whose work is on display in the Florentine building.

Other enticing elements include an exhibition of colourful menswear, from a Chinese kimono by earlier Gucci designer Tom Ford to the vibrant shades and rich textures of Michele’s more recent work. Exhibition curator Maria Luisa Frisa has called the show ‘Androgynous Mind Eclectic Body’.

But it is Alex Merry, with her take on Florentine decoration, who has stamped the colour and patterns of the new Gucci. Is Italian art absorbed directly into the patterns on the clothes that appear on the Gucci building’s main floor?

‘It’s really hard to explain the difference – England is home to me so I am familiar with it, but here in Florence art is everywhere,’ she says, citing the Uffizi Gallery as an example of a Florentine place where, ‘It is so incredible to be surrounded on every single corner by art work.’

So, the young English artist has never actually met Alessandro Michele, the powerful designer who has reimagined a Gucci land writhing with history. Where does he fit in?

‘It’s an amazing relationship, even though I haven’t met him,’ Alex Merry explains. ‘I feel I know him a little bit just because I’ve obviously explored and liked all the Gucci stuff, read up about him and interviews with him. I love what he says, what he is about and what he is doing with Gucci.’

When she is not imagining strange rituals and weird images, the artist concentrates both on traditional portraits and on costumes for the folk scene and taking part in ancient English rituals and celebrations.

So, Gucci, so successful in growth and sales since 2015 with President and CEO Marco Bizzarri has been at the helm, is giving back through its artistic collaborations. They even included a collaboration with Harlem designer Dapper Dan, who was at the Florence event with a book of his work and fashion resurrection, achieved through Gucci’s support.

Alex Merry describes the strange interplay of talents in Gucci’s fashion world.

‘I have lovely correspondences through email, but the actual work is quite solitary,’ she says. ‘I just make a hot water bottle, sit in my studio and try to descend into a dream world – just to get into the right head space and let the images arrive like that. It is a very solitary thing when I am drawing. I try and transmit by imagining what Alessandro is thinking. And Gucci gives me a lovely feedback.’