Bjork Concept Store: Revival of Contemporary Thinking in Florence
On a sunny January day, we visited Bjork a fashion concept store in Florence and the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. The city is famous for its central role in taking the world out of the Middle Ages and introducing it to modern principles of Renaissance culture. We are here to meet Bjork’s Owner, Filippo Anzalone, an individual driven by modern values, not of centuries past but today. Bjork is an exploration of a contemporary, worldly fashion aesthetic, bringing a diverse roster of men’s and womenswear designers to artisanal streets of Florence, including Cabinet Milano, Studio Nicholson, Baserange, Cmmn Swdn, Le 17 Septembre, A Kind of Guise and exquisite jewellery by Alighieri and All Blues. Climb the stairs and you will find a floor dedicated to books and magazines that cover the latest street culture, art and music.
We talk to Filippo about his experience of running a multi-brand store and envisioning a future generation of creativity in Florence.
Advance Copy: Hi Filippo, we met a few years ago in London through mutual friends and I’m so excited to see you again here in Florence as the Owner of Bjork concept store. Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Filippo Anzalone: Hi Natalia! Yes, of course, I’m Filippo, I live in Florence and was mostly raised here, so I’m a local. I travelled and lived in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and London, where I was studying Art Direction and Styling at Instituto Marangoni. After four years in London, I decided to move back to Florence with the idea of opening my own business, Bjork. I finally opened [the store] in April 2013 and here I am four years on.
AC: Having experienced the energies of different European cities, what made you decide to open the store in your home town?
Filippo: I sensed a kind of pride in opening the boutique in my city, where I thought something like this was lacking: a store with a contemporary aesthetic and a general interest in what’s going on in the world outside of Florence.
AC: Florence has an iconic culture of artisanship, the sense of pride instilled in shop owners is evident: meticulous window presentations, preservation of opulent interiors and artisans visibly working on-site, it’s very unique.
Filippo: It’s funny you mention this, because Bjork is located in one of the oldest, and most craftsmen focused areas of Florence, there are a lot of small craftsmen working around here. In this street, there are four or five people that do things that maybe only they do in the whole of Italy. People are coming here just for them, because they work with, for example, old ceramics or restoration of little pieces of wood from the 16th century.
AC: Is there any interest in creating modern expressions that build on such a strong history of art and craftsmanship?
Filippo: Yes, the contemporary scene is quite big in terms of music, we have a couple of organisations of clubs that are well renowned in Italy for their selection of guests and DJs from all over the world. In terms of art, I think it’s harder since we live in a Renaissance city, it’s pretty hard to leave it behind. People always say that Florence is like a beautiful postcard, it’s beautiful but it’s still a postcard, so you’re still stuck in history. Sometimes, I would say it would be better for the future generation if we got rid of the Duomo di Firenze, il Battistero and Piazza del Duomo. All these things that are old and we rely on, they don’t leave any room for creativity, for trying new things out. Tourists are going to come here for those things and that’s it, but you need to grow up and detach yourself from the past. A lot of people come to Florence to study, it’s like an international melting pot but the reason they come here is still stuck to history from 400 years ago, so we should give new inputs and new reasons for people to come to Florence.
“All these things that are old and we rely on, they don’t leave any room for creativity, for trying new things out.”
AC: With this in mind, what was the initial response to Bjork and it’s minimal aesthetic? Did the public think it was cool to have a modern retailer in a city known for its historical extravagance?
Filippo: It was something new for the local scene. Especially in 2013 when social media; Instagram, Facebook, wasn’t so big in Italy yet. People would look at the things that I had [in store] and say “what is this, where is this coming from?” They couldn’t figure out what sort of shop this was and asked me if this was a private atelier, a gallery, an exhibition space if I made and designed all the clothes myself. I had to explain what I was doing, where the items come from, why I chose them. “Cool” came a little bit later, from locals one or two years later. While people from London, New York, Australia or Canada who are more inclined or open to new things, they were shocked to find me in such a city, and [this] part of the city, so it was always a good surprise and encounter for them. While for the locals, I had, and still have some issues; it’s been quite a tough adventure.
AC: Do you feel like you have to still prove yourself to Florentines? Do locals shy away from trying new brands, preferring heritage Italian labels?
Filippo: It’s a mix of these things, I think. Part of it is yes, they are very conservative in terms of style and they need to wear or represent themselves in a way that’s already established. For instance, the ‘daddy’ look, not the cool Balenciaga daddy look (laughs), but the Polo Ralph Lauren ‘daddy’ look.
AC: By this, you mean more conservative, business style dressing?
Filippo: Yes, preppy and polished, it’s very well represented here in Florence. People tend to know and understand things out of mass representation of what you should wear. But also, I think there is an economical reason because Italy, in general, is living in a pretty tough time, so I see people of my age not able or inclined to spend, for example €200, on a shirt because they don’t have money. Maybe in London they don’t have money either, but [people] still need to represent themselves and keep up with the status quo to survive. While here in Florence, it still matters but you don’t need to wear the latest Off White piece, the youngsters do, guys maybe 20 to 22 who are getting very hype orientated with Instagram, so maybe they queue for the new Yeezy outside a store.
“People tend to know and understand things out of mass representation of what you should wear.”
AC: In this context, where you have both traditional and price-conscious clientele, what is the message you would like Bjork to portray?
Filippo: When I buy, I tend to buy things that are going to last in terms of quality, wearability and the way they look. Maybe this comes from my personal history, I come from a middle-class family, where I couldn’t afford to buy a new outfit every weekend. When I went shopping I always had to go for something that I knew I would use, a piece that’s going to last, knowing that I’m going to wear it and it would be versatile. I think that’s very well translated in my process and way of buying. Of course, I still need to get some eye-catchers or very interesting pieces for social media to attract trend-driven clients, but the message that I want to spread is to buy less choose well.
AC: As an owner of a fashion boutique, what changes would you like to see to help cultivate a prosperous, local, independent retail scenes?
Filippo: I think the more different stores there are the better, so people are more used to different visions. Until maybe five or six years ago, until Bjork and other smaller stores were born, [Florence] had only two or three main, historical, shops. No matter what they sold, [people] would end up buying it because they were the only channels of fashion. So the more different ‘eyes’ there are, the more customers are going get used to different things and they are going to open their minds.
AC: You’re doing a wonderful job of growing this idea, Filippo. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, we wish you all the best!