Vincenzo Lodato has worked in branding and licensing at Mattel, Universal Studios, Disney and Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema; as creative director at GQ; and now he’s living in Florence, teaching at Polimoda and performing American classics with newly founded group Café Society. We sit down with Vincenzo to find out more about his boundless creativity.
You’ve worked with the likes of Kate Hudson and all these household names. How’s it going from working with celebrities to living and working in Florence?
It’s different! My background has been as creative director at many of the studios, so I worked with a lot of directors and talent. You go to a restaurant in LA and they’re sitting next to you; you say hello and it’s part of the lifestyle. The motion picture industry and television industry are magic.
What do you do exactly for these celebs?
I worked in the branding and licensing department. When the movies came out, I’d manage the merchandise, whether that’s t-shirts, games or toys. I managed the Jurassic Park franchise after being in an initial meeting with Steven Spielberg, so that meant dinosaur toys. Mercedes Benz came out with their first SUV when I was working on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. So, I got to work on that design with Mercedes Benz, which was in the movie as product placement. Then I went to New Line Cinema to work on the Lord of The Rings trilogy. I hadn’t read the books, so I had to read all three in two weeks before having a meeting with Peter Jackson, his team and talent. I didn’t know anything about dinosaurs or trolls, but I was honest with them. I said that I’d study the characters and we’d work together; it was frightening and exciting at the same time. I also worked on classics like Psycho, E.T. and Back to the Future. I like to be diverse in what I do. Even though I worked at Universal Studios, Disney and Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, I ventured off into publishing.
GQ is a superb brand that’s accomplished amazing things. Tell me about what you did with their media brand.
I happened to be vice president at toy store FAO Schwarz in New York City, the toy store, working with different partners like Hasbro and Mattel. I even worked with Martha Stewart on the window displays for Christmas that year. There was a creative director position at GQ magazine around 2003-04. I’d never worked in publishing before, but I was interviewed by Ron Galotti, who had been the publisher for Vanity Fair for a long time before moving to GQ. Why this is interesting is that Candace Bushnell, who wrote Sex and The City, dated Ron and the character Mr. Big is based on Ron Galotti. So, when I got the job, all my friends said, Oh, you’re working for Mr Big! I’d been working as a creative director my whole career and he said, You do a lot of branding, marketing and merchandising, but you haven’t been in a publishing house. He went on: But you’ve also been in musical theater and have produced live events. We’re doing the GQ Men Of The Year Awards for the first time live with MTV. I need you to be the executive producer, as well as the brand director. I loved the job. We booked the Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z got an award and Beyoncé was backstage, so it just turned into this amazing opportunity.
Astounding. What other changes did you make when you came in as creative director?
I had to work closely with all the brands on ad campaigns and marketing events. We also produced The GQ Lounge, going to New York, Miami and Los Angeles to find the hottest bars and convert them into opportunities for subscribers as private invitation-only events, so they would find out about certain brands and exclusive new products.
How did you come to live in Florence?
I studied Fine Arts in Rome when I was an undergrad at college and my ancestry is all Italian. My dream was to be an Italian citizen, which I achieved in 2008. I vowed I’d always come back and live in Florence. It’s my favorite city in the entire world. I’ve traveled a lot and my heart has always been drawn to Firenze. My husband and I have had a home in Italy since 2005, first in Todi, then in Orvieto, before we moved to Florence permanently in 2019.
Tell me about all of the different things you do now that you’re here in Florence?
I teach at Polimoda Fashion Institute and L’Accademia d’Arte Firenze as well as privately. I teach everything from branding and marketing to art direction, concept design and public speaking. I encourage my students to go on LinkedIn and narrow down their job search to two or three companies you’d like to work for before starting a conversation with somebody who works for that company, so that you can see who to send your CV to. I didn’t know anybody at Polimoda, but I emailed the then-director of education and suggested that we partner on some projects. Then they asked me to run a workshop on branding and marketing. I was teaching at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, so I was already working in fashion education.
You’re also a published writer.
Yes, I worked on an exciting project with Dee Wallace, who played the mother in E.T. She wrote a children’s book called BuppaLaPaloo & The I Love MEs, and I illustrated it. It’s an important message for children of today to learn to truly love themselves and then they can go on to achieve anything. It was published at the end of last year.
You just launched a musical project called Café Society, which made its debut recently at Palazzo Tornabuoni. What’s different about this group?
There’s a lot of opera and symphonies here in Italy of course, and though I appreciate them, I haven’t seen or heard much authentic American standard or musical theater songs. I performed at Palazzo Tornabuoni last November with another musical theater friend of mine from Los Angeles and the residents of the palazzo asked to hear more. That’s how I discovered there was a demand for speakeasy, cool background jazz. Very Michael Bublé, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra; very soft. I partnered with Matteo Londero, who’s the pianist for Mascarade Opera Studio.
You’re also running wine and watercolor workshops.
Yes, that’s something I’m doing with Mary Shea from the Querceto di Castellina winery. We’re going to be doing a wine and watercolor workshop in the palazzo where she lives as well as here in my Oltrarno studio. I teach workshops in sketching and watercolor, plus private lessons in oil painting, sketching and life drawing. And I’m also going to be partnering with Betty Soldi on creative thinking workshops for companies to help their employees think differently and be more productive and innovative.
What’s your approach to painting?
I have to be in the mood to paint. I have to be in the right space and I can’t be stressed. I’ll put music on.
Creative director, artist, musician: you’re a real renaissance guy.
I once performed in an off-Broadway cabaret with Joyce DeWitt, from Three’s Company and she introduced me, saying, “He’s a true friend and a renaissance man,” and I stood there backstage, thinking that was the most beautiful compliment that anybody has ever given me. Because I want to be a renaissance man. I admire people who do many different things.
What’s your advice to people working in the creative industries today?
I always tell my students this when they’re looking for a job, it’s all about timing. You don’t know who you’re gonna meet; you have to be open. And then we forget that there are things in our life that we wished for a long time ago. We get frustrated sometimes, like why did I move to Italy? But then you think, that was always my dream. I got my dream! So now what do I do with it? A lot of people are fearful. I’m a huge dreamer. My mantra in life is falling on your face is still moving forward. I fall on my face a lot.
I want to be a renaissance man. I admire people who do many different things.
You have to put yourself out there, right, take yourself out of your comfort zone?
You have to do that. All the time. Otherwise, life is boring.