The woman with the most fabulous life on the planet
737,000 followers and never knowingly underdressed. This is the story of how a street style superstar was born
from far left red dress, £ 1,245, and shoes, £ 735, both prada; gloves, £ 695, alexander mcqueen; earrings and necklace, both price on request, giampiero bodino. Blue Rio dress, £ 4,500, molly goddard; Trionafa flats, £ 965, manolo blahnik; earrings, about £ 214, shourouk; ring, £ 199, swarovski. Green Celestial dress, £ 1,995, temperley london; belt, £ 595, manolo blahnik; shoes, £ 710, marco de vincenzo; earrings, price on request, giampiero bodino. Faux- fur yellow coat with plastic cover, £ 2,935, crystal belt, £ 1,550, and sandals, £ 730, all
calvin klein 205w39nyc.
Pink silk- satin dress, £ 4,850, gucci; pumps, about £ 1,060, francesco russo; bracelet and necklace, both price on request,
earrings, stylist’s own
Bat Gio, she of the superhero Instagram moniker ( 737K followers and rising ), arrives at our shoot in London having had little sleep. No matter. She is as irrepressible as her leopard-print trouser suit which, naturally, she posted in a 5am selfie (#myfavouritecolourisanimalia). A streetstyle phenomenon, designer muse and a fashion editor for W and Japanese Vogue, she lives between New York, Stockholm and, most recently, a pile in the Oxfordshire countryside. Married to Swedish property developer Oscar Engelbert, the word ‘glamorous’ doesn’t even cover it, but what she’s not is a show-off – it’s never, as she puts it, ‘Ah, look at that beetch in those expensive clothes!’ –more, this is who I am and what I love so if you like it, come along for the ride.
Currently in the middle of her global book tour for Gio-graphy: Fun In The Wild World Of Fashion, a 288-page glossy tome that is one part style guide (what to wear to recover from a hangover) to three parts hilarious romp through her adventures in fashion (from attending a White House State dinner to a Dolce & Gabbana gown meltdown at the Met gala). She looks like Audrey Hepburn, laughs like a drain and her personal style – on display 24/7 – is wildly colourful, infectiously optimistic and passionately devoted to fashion. So, who is the real woman behind the fantasy fashion life?
Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert, 38, grew up in a creative hothouse. Born and raised in Milan, the heart of Italian fashion, her father is a painter and her mother teaches sculpture at the Brera Fine Arts Academy, where Giovanna also studied sculpture and art history. ‘It’s that beautiful, very grand building, you know it, where Bottega Veneta held their last show,’ she explains – a typical Milanese trait, whereby your local knowledge is nothing if you can’t name the grand building according to which designer most recently showed in it. She is the second child of four equally artistic siblings; her eldest brother Antonio runs an art gallery in Milan, her sister Sara is a fashion designer and her younger brother Luigi constructs set designs for fashion shoots. ‘ We are all very strong personalities and have many friends in common, so when we all turn up to parties together, they say: “Oh, you guys are like the Kardashians of Milan. There are so many of you!”’
Despite her early obsession with clothes and supermodels, her ambition was to become a scenographer at the opera – there was also a moment, at high school, when she considered going into politics – but both plans were averted once she started modelling and, by 1997, the penny had dropped that a career in fashion might be a whole lot more entertaining. She thought, ‘ You know what? If I can’t change the world then I’m just going to make it look better.’
‘I was not a good model,’ she confesses. ‘First of all, I was far too opinionated and restless, it was not like I could stay still for a long time, and second, I just didn’t have the drive to be good at it. I remember Gisele (Bündchen) would walk in a room and you felt the energy, she was a like a goddess with endless charisma. And I knew I wasn’t that.’
But modelling gave her the opportunity to be independent and earn her own money – which she promptly blew on clothes: ‘Oh crazy, crazy, crazy stuff that my mum would never buy me, like plastic skirts, weird tops, funny boots and, oh, I remember, that T-shirt Kate Moss wore in the Gucci campaign, when it was [under the creative direction of ] Tom Ford. It was a fortune! Obviously, my mum was horrified that I was spending my money on Gucci, not books or a painting.’
Picturing the young Giovanna, the gazelle model with a career in fashion only a heartbeat away, living with her fabulous family, having an apparently perfect life, I wonder how she dealt with the inevitable jealousy that must have been triggered – and is still triggered today? ‘ I tend not to acknowledge jealousy, I pretend it doesn’t exist, so I can actually live,’ she says matter-offactly. ‘And anyway, we had our problems like any other family, my parents are divorced. It wasn’t always fairy tales, let’s say. We went through a very tough time, like many people do and this makes me how I am, you know, an up and down roller coaster.’
Her first fashion gig was with a magazine called Pig, located in a garage in Milan’s Brera district. ‘Hey, I’m a stylist, can I make a story for you?’ she said, reeling off her considerable contacts that she’d made through modelling. ‘ They said yes, but I paid for every mistake,’ she said, which meant using her own money to ship everything via UPS to and from the shoot in Paris. While Giovanna never had to endure being a lowly fashion intern slavishly toiling away in a windowless fashion cupboard, it took her three years to convince fashion editors that she was
far left mohair trench, £ 2,970, michael kors collection; shoes, £ 710, casadei; necklace, £ 24,300, bracelet, £ 6,050, and watch, £ 20,500, all cartier; ring, stylist’s own. left leopard- print coat, £ 3,910, philosophy di lorenzo serafini; turtleneck, about £ 228, sara battaglia; courts, £ 680, manolo blahnik
right crystal dress, £ 12,855, and boots, £ 6,855, both saint laurent by anthony vaccarello; choker, £ 510, eddie borgo; ring, stylist’s own far right Roma dress, £ 1,890, emilia wickstead;
shoes, £ 755, and earrings, £ 260, both miu miu; belt, £ 185, alessandra rich
Dress, £ 6,080, and ring, £ 300, both gucci; veiling, £ 10.50 per metre, vv rouleaux; necklace, £ 89,000, and earrings, £ 41,300, both bulgari. opposite Giovanna at London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks photographer’s assistants Michael Furlonger, Tean Roberts, Matt Wash fashion assistants Carlotta Tabarini, Charly Suggett, Charlotte Williams, Zane Page make- up Luca Cianciolo using MAC Cosmetics hair Olivier Schawalder manicurist Michelle Humphrey at LMC Worldwide using CHANEL Le Vernis in Ballerina and La Creme Main choreographer Matthew Barksby at sourcedlondon casting and booking
editor Holly Scott Lidgett