Promenade du PortA Conversation with Andrea Brugnoni
“Meeting and talking to the person who will physically produce the object you are asking for is a vital encounter... It creates a climate that is impossible to find in any shopping mall in the world.”
On the northeast coast of Sardinia, along the rugged Costa Smeralda, Aga Khan IV established a village in the 1960s to provide a luxury escape for the super-rich. Since then, Porto Cervo has become one of the most expensive resorts in the world. Superyachts line its marina, oligarchs and celebrities wander its shops, and investment groups vie for its real estate.
However, outside the main piazzetta, overlooking the old marina, lies Promenade du Port, a curated selection of 60 businesses arranged across two floors, in what feels more like an airy villa than a commercial retail space. Art galleries sit adjacent to artisanal bakeries, and restaurants ranging from traditional Sardinian gelaterie, to fusions of Brazilian and Japanese cuisine, open out to rows of small design boutiques. Its founder, Andrea Brugnoni, is dressed in a T shirt, his tattooed arms resting along the back of a sofa. Andrea describes Promenade du Port as a salatto; a living room where people can talk, meet, and relax. He refers to the businesses as activities, and speaks of experiences rather than shops. “When people walk in, they breath it,” says Andrea, “They chill out.”
Promenade started in 2008 with the founding of contemporary art gallery Monte Di Mola Museum, a collaboration with then Associate Curator of the Peggy Gugenheim Collection of Venice, Luca Massimo Barbero. Rossana Orlandi (his mother), Gallery Fumi, and Louise Alexander Gallery quickly followed. Andrea explains that he wanted to bring everything that was missing from Porto Cervo to Promenade. “I grew up in an environment where design was pretty much my daily bread,” says Andrea, “so it was natural for me to take this step.” Hoping to address what he perceived as an overly commercial direction Porto Cervo had started to drift towards, Andrea felt compelled to question what real luxury could be. “My idea was to build something that was totally unique, and for Promenade du Port to become a destination within a destination,” he says.
His definition of luxury has developed into one of carefully considered contrasts; of international design juxtaposed with local handcrafts. “When I discovered that all the bread in Costa Smeralda was frozen, I decided to bring back the perfume of fresh bread,” says Andrea. “At the bakery in Promenade du Port, everything is handmade in front of the clients.” Leather accessories brand Bottega Conticelli has integrated its workshop with its retail space, creating supple leather coverings for Vespas and other items on site. “Meeting and talking to the person who will physically produce the object you are asking for is a vital encounter,” Andrea notes. “It creates a climate that is impossible to find in any shopping mall in the world.” At the macro end of the scale is one of Promenade du Port’s most successful spaces: Rolls Royce’s 600m2 studio. “Rolls Royce is probably the biggest brand to date that has understood our DNA, and decided to walk that path with us,” Andrea shares. Having previously only operated out of dealerships, Rolls Royce has been able to transform its relationship with customers at the Promenade du Port space, where the Goodwood design team consults with clients directly to create bespoke orders.
2018 has seen Andrea enhance the temporary aspect of Promenade du Port, which operates on a seasonal basis. “In order to motivate people to visit us multiple times in one summer, I realised I had to introduce more short term activities, like trunk shows or exhibitions lasting three days,” says Andrea. Thus, Monte Di Mola Museum became Supermarket, a vast, four storey gallery space, made up of four white cubes, which each act as a blank canvas for pop up shows. LA based brands Elder Statesman, Nick Fouquet, and No.One were invited to bring their cashmere knitwear, beaver fur felt hats, and handmade bespoke trainers to the space for ten days in July.
Andrea, who took around 260 flights in the past year to meet with new businesses, explains that what ignites these collaborations is a mutual enthusiasm: “When you meet people who share your vision and excitement, all the apparent technical issues just fall apart. Everything seems easy. With the LA creators it was just that. Their attitude was ‘We’ve never been to Sardinia, but let’s fucking do it.’ The enthusiasm was generated immediately.” Andrea pauses. “For me, everything must fly on the wings of enthusiasm.”