We would like to remember him as a “friend” of the Salone, who played a huge part in disseminating the excitement of Milan and its culture through his affability, generosity and professionalism. In April 2018, we asked him – along with other promoters of Milanese culture – for his thoughts on the values and concepts set out in the Salone del Mobile.Milano Manifesto, which had only just been presented to the press. That same year, we invited him to become a member of the jury for the 3rd edition of the Salone del Mobile.Milano Award, to which he brought his feel for beauty and his eye for quality. More recently he gave us a nugget for Instagram, an act of love for the Salone, which he said he had “always used, both as a set, and as an exhibition of my work devoted to design and architecture.” Lastly, we discussed him in the Magazine, through his expressive and psychologically-aware portraits, exhibited at the great show that has just closed at the Maxxi, in Rome.
It has to be said, however, that there was far more to Giovanni Gastel than that. He was committed to his art, exploring beauty, touching people’s souls, and the poetry that runs through life. A byword for elegance, of the innate kind – which cannot be bought but is given (to some) at birth. An honest, sincere man who publicly acknowledged his limitations, his fears, his hopes and his good fortune: especially the fact that Made in Italy, the prêt-à-porter system that revolutionised the story of fashion, originated in Milan, “on his doorstep.”
He took his first photo at 17, created his first cover at 26, and things just spiralled from there. 40 years of shots that turned the fashion world and its publishing on its head. “I don’t know if what I’m doing is art,” he said, “all I know is that if I’m not taking photographs, I’m not happy.” Self-taught, defying his parents’ ambitions for him, behind the lens through which he learned his craft he seduced and wanted to be seduced.
His photographs, which brought together style, culture and charm, enabled him to play a silent part in transforming an industrial city into an artistic hub. He bore witness to the seriousness of Milanese and Lombard businessmen as applied to the creative sectors, which he maintained was a somewhat rare combination. His drive for constant improvement, which he was one of the earliest to apply to his art, caused him to hold onto his early photographs, which he said were ugly, to show others that we can always do better in life.
He loved writing poetry, fuelled by a need and a latent state of anxiety, just like his photos. We would like to remember him thus, through one of his very latest poems: “If you let me tell you a story / a wonderful story / with a happy ending / like in American films / I would tell you about a melancholy child / who, from the edge of a lake / saw beauty seek him out. / She said / - Follow me / I can’t promise you peace / rather moments of intense happiness / that will last a lifetime. / He followed her / and she protected him from the harshness / of life. / He didn’t live / happily or contentedly. / But he lived that sublime journey that we call life / with huge intensity.”