Fashion Forward

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2005

Fashion designer and part-time Sarasota resident Adrienne Vittadini, internationally renowned since 1979 for her sleek, sophisticated knitwear sold at high-end retailers around the world, relinquished the runway and sold her clothing and accessories company in 1996. Now Vittadini, whose name adorns a range of luxury products from sportswear to shower gel, is expressing her creativity on a larger scale: home building. She and her husband Gian (Gigi) Luigi founded AGV Design & Development, and together they have created and furnished luxury residences in the Hamptons, Europe and Florida, including Longboat Key and Lido Shores (a Venetian-style villa they built on Westway Drive sold last spring for more than $8.8 million).

Vittadini is currently working with developer Kevin Daves on The Concession, an ultra-exclusive east Manatee County golf community of 255 home sites embellished by a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. As director of the architecture review board, she is responsible for the look of everything at The Concession, shaping a big picture from a thousand details. She approves the design of mailboxes, gates, night lighting and the guardhouse as well as the clubhouse, gardens and the style and floor plans of the individual homes in a neighborhood where some residences will carry a $10 million price tag.

Additionally, the designer is collaborating with architect Jonathan Parks, AIA, and with Nicklaus' wife Barbara and their daughter Nan on a cluster of 33 fully maintained estate homes called Nicklaus Manor, which will be offered from the low $2 millions. The villas, set on half-acre lots, will range from 3,800 to 5,400 square feet. Many will be completely furnished and sold as turnkey projects.

Hungarian-born Vittadini studied art at Moore College in Philadelphia and had apprenticeships in Italy where she met Gigi, an engineer. They've been married 32 years and working side by side nearly as long. Fluent in Hungarian, Italian and English, Vittadini talked with Sarasota/Manatee BUSINESS about the transition from running an international company to helping shape a new community.

What jobs did you have as a teen and young adult? I was a salesperson at Saks in Philadelphia and did portrait painting to help with college. I worked in Italy and was a fashion model in Paris.

What's the worst job you've ever had? It was for a designer, and every other day I'd want to quit. But, you know, you can often learn more from bad jobs than good ones. I stuck it out because I pride myself on stamina and I learned a lot of things not to do when I became a business owner.

When dd you know you were destined for a career in the creative arts? As a child I loved harmony and beauty. I craved art and all things creative, and I was encouraged by an aunt and other relatives. But my father, a physician, was strongly opposed to my studying art in college. He thought fashion was frivolous and that art should be a hobby. My cousins are doctors and engineers; I'm the black sheep.

How and where did you acquire your business education? I don't think I'm a smart businesswoman. But I have good instincts, I'm analytical, love order and logic and I always make long-range plans. My husband Gigi financially set up my fashion company, and as it grew, he was generous enough to leave his family's pharmaceutical firm in Italy to be the business manager of the company. He's brilliant with finances.

What's your greatest strength as a businesswoman? My instinct for anticipating the market. I can tap into what a certain consumer will want.

What do you wish you could do better? I wish I could speak more eloquently and without such an accent. I'm very shy about public speaking.

Why are so few women in residential design and building when most women are responsible for choosing things that go into the home? I don't know, but there should be more of us, because I think women see the big picture and all the details at once. And our stamina is great. I adore working with other women as colleagues.

Who is a businesswoman you admire? Oprah Winfrey comes to mind immediately. And here in Sarasota, it's Michael Saunders.

What kind of boss are you? I'm a perfectionist and I have a hard time delegating. But I've had employees who stayed with me nearly 20 years. I teach occasionally at Parson's School of Design and Moore College of Art and I try to impress upon students that it's that last extra bit of effort that separates the mediocre from the great. Giving less than 100 percent will never do when you work with me.

What aspects of fashion design have informed your forays into bed and table linens, furniture and now residential home design? Aspects of art flow from one medium to another. I admire a print for a dress or sofa upholstery and I can translate it to bed linens or wall colors. If you have an eye for color, texture scale, balance and proportion you can adapt one thing to the next.

What essential elements should a successful home include? All of my homes have a sense of restrained elegance with undertones of classicism. A home should stand the test of time, should be the nest where your children and grandchildren want to live. A house must have integrity of design, never be trendy. A home should never be over-embellished. Restraint and simplicity are so important.

When you design a home, what comes first-floor plan, exterior, etc.? Usually I have an idea of the elevation and the floor plan at the same time. I know what feeling and style I want to invoke. I always work with an architect to achieve it.

How many homes do you and your husband currently share and where are they? We have an apartment in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue, a small place on Siesta Key, and then there's Gigi's big family home in the Italian Alps. We are building homes on Casey Key and Westway Drive on Lido Key. We may live in one of them, maybe not.

What's the longest you've ever owned a residence? We've had our apartment in New York for 18 years. It's my favorite place and I'm redecorating it this year in a soft ivory palette. We had a big home in the Hamptons for almost as long that we recently sold. I began to feel like that huge place was owning us, instead of the other way around. We travel like nomads, and that makes maintaining a large house really difficult, especially for me because I want everything to be perfect.

Is there one piece of furniture that you would never ever part with? Oh, there are lots of things. Paintings in the Italy home that are in Gigi's family are high on the list. There is an English library desk in the Siesta Key apartment that I bought in the '70s on Palm Avenue that I adore and would never sell. I have a collection of Kilim rugs that I'm really fond of, and some Chinese ancestor sculptures, too. There's plenty more.

What are your favorite cities in the world for furniture and accessories shopping? The Paris flea market, Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium, Vienna, especially for Biedermeier furniture. Budapest has a fabulous flea market in November, and I shop the Parma spring show in Italy. I find great things in Germany and Hong Kong, although not so much in Hong Kong anymore. In the U.S., I shop in the Hamptons and right here in Sarasota. I used to shop London, but it's too expensive right now.

What do you want to be doing five years from now? I would love to be painting. I want to travel to exotic places such as Vietnam. And I see myself in classes studying literature, philosophy, history and architecture. I will always need a creative outlet.

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