Located in a 17th-century Milanese palazzo on via Bigli is the home of Kazakh businesswoman and owner of fashion brand Vionnet, Goga Ashkenazi. It’s been raining all week for Milan Design Week and in the garden in the back of Ashkenazi’s 1,000 square-meter home raindrops still cover the ground and fall gently into the pool. It was the light and airy garden that immediately lured Goga to acquire the place, much perhaps like the instinct that led her to buy French couture house Vionnet in 2012. A passionate art collector, entrepreneur, businesswoman and socialite, now Goga is turning her attention to the environment – and to creating her first sustainable home.
This special project is one she’s working on with Robbie Antonio, Filipino real estate developer (founder and president of Antonio Development in New York and Managing Director of Century Properties based in Asia) and founder and CEO of Revolution Precrafted offering a collection of limited-edition, pre-crafted structures, including homes and pavilions designed by more than 86 of the world’s preeminent architects, artists and designers or, as Revolution calls them “revolutionaries” – think names such as Zaha Hadid, Lenny Kravitz, Jean Nouvel, Ron Arad, Tom Dixon, Daphne Guinness, Francesca Versace and Francesco Clemente. Now Goga will join the tribe in designing for Revolution the first sustainable home.
A rendering of Revolution Precrafted x Goga Affordable Edition
Robbie has extensive experience in branded real estate, having built towers with Armani, Versace, Missoni, Philippe Starck, and the Trump Organization, among others. He is Founder and CEO of the following start ups Rnegade Branding Concepts (franchising of celebrity products), Relevant Medium (influencer driven e-commerce site) , Renaissance Touch, (celebrity interior designer based marketplace).
He is also launching by this summer multiple verticals directed towards South East Asia - Rebel Specs, Regal Jewelry, Radical Couture and Radiant Beauty, Replenish- all e-commerce marketplaces aimed towards democratizing eyewear, jewelry, apparel, make up and F and B industries via celebrities.
Goga’s Milan residence is just as whimsical and exuberant as she is. It’s at once sophisticated and playful and immediately I feel as if I’ve just stepped into the adult albeit luxury version of a child’s playroom. There’s a large hippopotamus-head sculpture that juts out from a wall in the living room while before me is a giganteque turquoise Edra sofa by Francesco Binfaré that complements the greenery outside.
A limited-edition hand-woven rug by Verner Panton and a glass coffee table commissioned by local craftsmen accentuates the scene as does the numerous books on art, design, architecture and now, sustainability and the environment. An avid art and design collector, these are items that Goga has purchased from around the world and at fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze. After witnessing this, it’s hard not to muse over how Goga intends to merge sustainable design and architecture with cutting-edge art and design. We shall soon see.
Goga and Robbie in the garden. Goga wears a Vionnet sustainable orchid white jersey top and silk jacquard Japanese style pants. Robbie wears a suit, shirt and shoes by Prada
“This is a special project for us,” says Robbie. “I met Goga through mutual friends and being a design enthusiast I thought it would be great for us to join forces and create something very unique to earmark our initiation into sustainability through a collaboration with Goga. Amongst the more than 85 ‘revolutionaries’ that we have, Goga is the only one doing sustainability.”
There will be a limited edition, less accessible version of the home Goga will create and one that is for the mass market. “We are a B2B to C model so we sell mostly to developers because logistically it’s challenging to cater to numerous nations but at the same time it’s necessary for us to be in multiple countries.”
Revolution sold close to 5,000 homes last year. “For Goga we were talking about actually creating a community that is sustainable from the very beginning with a master plan,” explains Robbie. The company concept is fascinating and efficient as well as beautiful in that it collaborates with so many visionaries in the arenas of art, design, fashion, architecture and entertainment. “They pre-model, pre-craft a house that can come in parts to you and then kind of like a Lego house and be put together on-site,” says Goga. “The value proposition is global and it’s a means to an end. I wanted to create a business that would basically be ubiquitous and use technology – in some cases even advanced robotics to create the homes,” explains Robbie.
The dining room featuring a painting (left) by Nicolas Pol; a work by painting by Marc Quinn (right); Alain Delon chairs and a custom made Vionnet table cloth
Yet the idea of the prefabricated house has been around for a while. It’s not new. The mid-20th-century French architect and designer Jean Prouvé was the first to create collapsible, portable structures that could be temporary residences, inspiring the term “prefab.” “We were inspired by Prouvé but why do something after someone who isn’t alive anymore? We decided to work with the top people around the world who are relevant to us,” adds Robbie. “We also wanted to make the designs affordable. They aren’t just for the multi-millionaires.”
Goga’s commitment to sustainability stems from a variety of experiences not to mention careers in oil and gas, fashion, art and design. “I’ve studied the impact of all of those industries on the world and realise that the fashion industry, which I love, is the number two polluter in the world after the oil and gas industry and this means that I have been dedicating my life to activities that have been harming the future of our planet and my children’s future.” Goga now has the urge to foster change, personal and on the communal and global levels.
“I want to create legacy and more tactful businesses in this very important movement.” Vionnet is undergoing restructuring along such lines, with the aims to make garments in a more sustainable manner and ultimately, establish the first entirely sustainable fashion brand. “Madeleine was a revolutionary for her times,” says Goga. “She changed the way that women were dressed. She was the first one to create one-layer clothing using silks and eliminated corsets.” Moreover, as Goga points out, you can see an influence of architecture in her work and that influence also brings to Goga a love for structure.
Goga stands in the entrance hall next to a Gio Ponti staircase. She wears a Vionnet sustainable gold silk satin dress. In back is an 18th-century French antique gueridon table; a unique solar system hand-made chandelier from Italy; a custom made silk rug
“I have been involved in many development projects but when I was approached by Robbie to do this I was immediately excited,” she says. “I love the concept of Revolution Precrafted, making these wonderful talents available to people perhaps without the means to access those talents to be the architects of their homes. His work echoes what I am feeling now. I’ve changed all of my cars and I am offsetting all the miles that I fly.
For every mile that I fly it goes to reforestation. I am also teaching my children about sustainability.” As Goga believes, the future is now. The world is in such a state that if we don’t act now, she says, echoing the beliefs of millions, we will lose a great part of our planet. “It’s really important to spread this message and get more people on board and get them involved in the process so that they can influence others,” says Goga. “It spreads, hopefully, like a good disease.”
A rendering of Revolution Precrafted x Goga Limited Edition
Robbie, when Goga told him about the sustainable house project, was also excited. “Because of the lack of demand sustainable materials are more of an experience for fashion and architecture,” says Goga. “I think this will change and for me, if you are offering a product that is not competitive then it won’t be successful. There is no point in creating something for the sake of making it sustainable; we want to make it sustainable in the real sense of the word in that is brings advantages to other people and opens a new market.”
It’s not about just going with the trend of the moment for Goga and Robbie. It’s about impacting the world. “When you hear Goga’s story you understand that it is a way of living for her,” says Robbie. “When I heard Goga’s ideas I immediately thought they constituted a strong USP.” The sustainable house develops a business model that aims to impact communities, make a profit as it will generate demand and that’s a powerful concept. “The common thread amongst the people I work with is that they are creative luminaries in whatever field they work,” says Robbie.
Robbie and Goga discuss plans for the sustainable house. Robbie wears a shirt and pants by Prada and a jacket by Valentino; Goga wears a signature sustainable printed silk twill soft jacket and pants by Vionnet, from the private archive
Goga’s home for Revolution will constitute the first precrafted sustainable home. It’s something she’s completely dedicated to. Around her home are dozens of books on art and literature as well as sustainable design. She’s been investigating the subject matter deeply. “I also have an encyclopedia, like a textbook of sustainable materials,” she says, adding that she is also working on global standard certification company for sustainable materials.
“I want people to know that if we are saying we are doing sustainable we are doing sustainable,” she laughs. “I’ve done a lot of research and there are many projects that exist that have certain elements of sustainability but there is not one in the world that is doing prefabricated and sustainable homes or a community with a circular economy at the base of the concept,” says Goga, and then nods to Robbie, “We will be the first.”
Greenery is of utmost importance to Goga as well as the materials used in the project. “Solar panels and alternative energy and of course, the look – the transparency and the organic curved lines, which I am learning is more expensive per square foot,” she says. “For me the most beautiful architecture is the one that integrates with the environment and this is why I’ve always pictured myself in a house with a beautiful view of the ocean or the hills, the mountains.”
Goga wears a Vionnet signature pink tuxedo with Vionnet heels, both from the private archive; Robbie wears a suit, shirt and shoes by Prada; Yellow Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio, 1963; behind is a painting by Mark Flood; piano by Steinway & Son
Goga marries all of her passions into one – there isn’t much separation – something immediately understood as the conversation jumps from one artistic genre to the other in a vibrantly engaging and intellectual manner. “You’ve transcended art and fashion and are now a designer and an architect,” smiles Robbie. There’s a pause and Goga then lights up, as if knowing all along this would be her course of action: “It’s all part of the creative process. It’s all intertwined. Madame Vionnet was called by the world ‘the architect of fashion.’” Today, the head designer of Vionnet is an architect who used to design cars.
“When you have a mind that can take you further and you are always imagining things in your head – this is a sign of a creative mind – it’s about picking which idea to do,” says Goga. She pauses and switches subjects again, this time to the ballet and the late Vionnet. “Ballerinas were always the inspiration of Madeleine Vionnet – she was inspired by the dancer Isadora Duncan, her movement and flow,” she explains. “But Vionnet also used structure and would also always weigh the fabric.”
Acquiring Vionnet was a huge move. “Do you ever feel pressure to live up to her?” asks Robbie. “Oh definitely! Can you imagine? A rich girl has come to play fashion and bought the French house,” Goga mimics what was said about her when he bought the brand. “The fashion world was like, ‘Yeah, welcome!’ It was tough. Now they’ve realised that I am here to stay.”
That’s what the world needs: a mixture of all of these creative elements merging the worlds of sustainability, technology, fashion, art, design and architecture. Goga and Robbie symbolise the fruition of such aims with their upcoming sustainable house. “I look outside fashion for inspiration,” she says. “That’s why it kills me when a street brand copies us. We have a six-month cycle. All you need to do is look outside of the box.”
And Goga is the definition of out-of-the-box. There’s a beautiful synthesis that comes about when one looks elsewhere and combines, merges and marries various creative elements as she and Robbie are doing in this precrafted home. And there’s even more. “I am very happy that we are working with Goga because there are not a lot of women we are working with,” adds Robbie. Goga smiles, somewhat mischievously, and laughs: “Well, we have to change that! I am going bring a community of women behind me.” I am sure she will.
Pick up the Summer 2019 issue of Harper's Bazaar Interiors to read more.
Watch: Bazaar discusses sustainable beauty brands