“You can transform the energy in buildings through the community you bring into it.”
Alessandro Cajrati Crivelli is a real estate developer based in Los Angeles. Cajrati Crivelli gained recognition for developing Milan’s iconic fashion district Zona Tortona, for developing a building in London that hosted Simon de Pury, Marc Newson and Tom Ford, and for developing the building in TriBeCa which hosts NY Fashion Week, TriBeCa Film Festival and Independent Art Fair. He currently leads the investment and development firm Estate Four, known for creating creative work environments for the fashion, art, and design industries. In 2016, he co-founded the luxury membership-based working and social space Spring Place.
In this interview, Alessandro Cajrati Crivelli shares how his first investment property became Milan's iconic fashion district, how he created Spring Place, and the challenges he faces as a real estate developer.
TGL: What kind of childhood did you have?
AC: I had a difficult childhood. I came from an aristocratic family, but unfortunately my grandfather and my father had a serious economic misfortune. My mom had cancer when she was relatively young and passed away when I was a child. It was not an easy childhood. The good aspect was that I had one sister and three brothers, and we became super close. We are still very close and I adore them and their families. When we became wealthy, people thought we inherited it because of our important last name and family history, but we made our own money ourselves.
TGL: Did you already know what you wanted to do as a child?
AC: As a child I was very serious. I liked economics a lot and went into that area of study. I did very well academically. I also wrote a few books and wanted to engage in the academic world. I realized there's not much value creation as a professor. I became a businessperson rather than an academic person.
TGL: When did you start your first company?
AC: I have always worked for myself. When I was super young, I attempted to be a merger acquisition player. I did a few deals, but I couldn't do many. It was much tougher than I expected. My breakthrough was when I ended up buying a property in Milan. There was an industrial factory that was about to be abandoned in central Milan, and I had the intuition to dedicate it to creative people.
In Milan, we have two industries, the fashion and the furniture design industry. I started mostly with the people in the design industry; one of my most important experiences was with Rodolfo Dordoni. I sold him an ugly building, and he made it his own home by spending very little. Using his unbelievable capabilities he transformed the space. I realized that if you have good taste and attention, you can make any building in the world beautiful. That was a big lesson and the luck of the beginner. I was focusing on the talents of the people I was selecting to inhabit the abandoned factory and without fully realizing I created a community of incredible people who worked and shared experiences together. The chair designer, the graphic designer, the photographer, the guy who was making the prototypes all formed a group. That was my first understanding on how you can curate a community, and you can transform the energy in buildings through the community you bring into it.
The fashion industry understood my vision. I bought with my brothers and friends two turbine factories. Floor to ceiling height 82 feet! Diego della Valle (Tod’s), Carlo Rivetti (Stone Island) and Gildo Zegna (Ermenegildo Zegna) were the first to appreciate and support my vision. Then I met Giorgio Armani, and I ended up selling him 260,000 square feet. He brought his vintage museum there and his creative team. Zona Tortona area is now the largest fashion district in the world. The sensitivity of these amazing players that were coming in, taught me how to create beautiful buildings. I gave them the opportunity to build whatever they wanted and they did not disappoint.
TGL: What project did you work on next?
AC: I moved to London and bought the Post Office of Central London, in Victoria. The area was central but boring. We were able to get the coolest human beings that were living in London at that time. The first one was the auction house Phillips, at that time headed by the incredible Simon de Pury. Then I met Marc Newson, arguably one the most talented designers in the world. And finally I was able to get the multi-talented Tom Ford, who had recently started his own brand. We kept this idea of curating the people that were going to inhabit a building.
TGL: How did you start Spring Place?
AC: I started to invest in the United States. I went to New York and began with the Verizon Building, in TriBeCa, where we now host Fashion Week New York. I became very close to the fashion industry, and I realized that we were going into the sharing economy. The way that people work now is different from how they used 20 years ago. I decided to pursue the idea of sharing the space you work from and to make it also a social experience. I asked my friend in the fashion industry, "You travel around the world. One day you are in Tokyo, then you're in Paris, then you're in New York, why don't we create buildings where these beautiful creative people can work, mingle and support each other?" That's how I started Spring Place with a friend of mine, Francesco Costa. Francesco is exceptionally connected and brought a lot of energy and ideas into the venture. He is very intelligent but also a lot of fun so it made the journey more pleasant.
TGL: When did you start Spring Place?
AC: Spring Place was an idea I generated in 2016 with one of my friends and business partners Francesco Costa who is based in London. He's the main investor in Spring Studios. Francesco said "Why don't we do that together?" So we did in a building that I bought in New York where I was already hosting Spring Studios.
TGL: How did you choose the name Spring Place?
AC: We call it Spring Place to accelerate its perception, but mostly for technical reasons. It was easier to renew the contract without changing too many things with the other stakeholders. We called it Spring Place, but there is a bit of synergy between the two companies who are totally independent and different. They work together when possible and I do recognize they actually can be closer than what I anticipated.
TGL: How has Spring Place grown?
AC: Spring Place is still in its beginning but was doing well. Then COVID-19 came and the world came to a halt. We were closed for many months, and we obviously suffered the consequences.
But now we are optimistic. It is clear that for most people the traditional office offering doesn’t work anymore, but it is even clearer that the creative crowds need a physical space when to interact and exchange in person. We believe we are a solution not only for some office buildings but also for some luxury hotels which are experiencing an over capacity due the changes in business traveling. We are now expanding internationally and it is exciting. Milan and Istanbul are the first locations in the pipeline. New York is doing relatively well and coming back strongly. Beverly Hills is a bit slower, but I see new faces joining all the time which is quite nice, and I am very positive about it. Now it's important for us to open in Paris and London. Our fashion friends will be happy. My main interest is Asia at the moment. I think Asia is like the United States in the 1950s, the opportunities to grow are phenomenal.
TGL: What is Summer 18, your new project?
AC: Summer Place is a digital networking and memberships club for the movers and shakers around the globe in music, entertainment, sport, E-Games, media and of course in fashion and beauty. The members will have access to curated physical spaces, some will be Spring Place, some in smaller cities will be direct Summer 18 clubs, where creative minds can mingle, work, and have fun together.
We want to support our community by also inserting an element of incubation/accelerator and fintech that our members will have access to. We target 300,000 people globally and I am working to go to Africa as well to intercept and support the wonderful talents over there.
TGL: Are you going to team up with other investors?
AC: Absolutely. For the physical clubs both Spring Place and Summer 18 need local partners with the right local knowledge. For Summer we also want to invite the young talents to join as shareholders and I would welcome people who can teach us about the entertainment industries. Spring Place has a powerful brand and I think it is well positioned to partner with the luxury hotel industry.
TGL: Have you faced any challenges in your real estate career?
AC: I always have challenges. The main challenge is doing business that is innovative and therefore not fully understood. The main challenge is also the opportunity. If I would have adopted a traditional way of doing business, probably stronger and more capitalized players would have grabbed the opportunities. Thankfully we think outside the box and therefore we were able to buy buildings that the traditional developers didn’t have the vision for.
The United States is especially challenging for me because the cultural differences are stronger than I imagined, and I have a hard time understanding and being understood. Americans seem more transactional, Europeans more relationships driven.
TGL: How did you first engage with this world of creativity?
AC: It was very much due to the fact that I was born and grew up in Milan. In Milan, you breathe both design and fashion. You are surrounded by people and buildings that are expressing some form of creativity. I saw these big spaces that were factories in the city center. Rather than demolish them and build offices or houses, they were preserved. Let's play with the creative minds to make them more beautiful. My intuition was not to impose anything and let the creatives do whatever they wanted. They are smart and more sensitive than me about beauty. I learned to guide architects and designers to express the best of themselves, releasing their creativity by removing obstacles that most developers would impose, especially the volume of the space.
TGL: What do you think about WeWork’s impact on the market of co-working spaces?
AC: People work in a sharing and more mobile economy for a few reasons. You can meet someone to do a project with or start something together. In the ‘80s or 90s to work for Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley was phenomenal. Now, it's not in the dreams of any young people. They all want to be engaged in different experiences and jumping from one experience to the other one, or maybe doing two or three jobs at the same time. Maybe you are a writer, but you also have a project with somebody else. Maybe you enter the cosmetics industry with somebody else. To work like we used to do is not so interesting for many people in the long term. Post COVID-19 will probably accelerate these changes and now also large corporations want to decentralize and offer more options to their employees.
To get a unique experience, you need to have a unique building for the people and that takes time. If you open 15 locations in six months you cannot offer an experience, it's impossible. They didn't try to create a culture or shape a community. I don't feel like a competitor of WeWork. Our real interest is engaging a community of talented people around the world and offering them support and why not a bit of fun.
TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don't know?
AC: Queen Elizabeth II, because I adore her and that would be a remarkable experience. Maybe another person I would like to have dinner with is Mick Jagger to discuss the swinging London which I idealize.
TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?
AC: I shared what I learned observing the fashion industry. To be successful required a lot of work, energy, and complexity for many years. However, the fashion industry is also 20% lightness, glam, and fun that make life looking easier. You should be working hard with passion and determination, but keep the 20% of lightness and foolishness. That's the great balance in life.