PIER 59 WEST IS LA’S FIRST, WORLD-ClASS PHOTO STUDIO. HERE, ON ANY GIVEN DAY, YOU MIGHT SEE FASHION’S BIGGEST NAMES: MEISE~ LEIBOVIlZ, MERT AND MARCUS, SIMMS. YOU’LL ALSO FIND A PHOTOGRAPHIC CREATIVE AGENCY, A MODEl AGENCY AND A DIGITAL IMAGING LAB-ALL THE BRAINCHILD OF ONE PASSIONATE AND WEAlTHY MAN: FEDERICO PIGNATElli.
If you build it, they will come, thought Federico Pignatelli. He was right. So last summer he created Pier 59 Studios, a 27,000-squarefoot, state-of-the-art photography studio with three VIP lounges, flat-screen lVs, a 3,OOO-square-foot digital lounge, and fabulous Italian catering-at Bergamot Station. The irony of a high-tech digital photo studio within a 130-year-old railroad station is pretty fabulous-and very Los Angeles. Add the sliding walls and a $175,000 clear-glass-and-steel bridge, and you get the likes of Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson shooting magazine covers with world-class photogs like Steven Klein, Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Mert and Marcus, David Simms, and Michael Thompson. It’s LA’s new headquarters for fashion shoots and campaigns by Giorgio Armani, Prada, Lanvin, Calvin Klein-oh, and some big names, too. On any given day, you can find world-class photogs, magazine editors, celebs and/or supermodels, on their blackberries, strutting through the studio (complete privacy is also available, should they desire it). In only a year and a half, Pier 59 has rocked the Culver City competition. Even the recent merger of Smashbox with Quixote Studios seemed like a competitive preventive strike. “I’d been tothe other studios in town,” notes Pignatelli, a self-professed perfectionist of all things visual. “I would not sit on the chairs there. Many of the great New York photographers did not want to shoot there. I care about design, efficiency and beauty-so I wanted to go the extra step.”
But then, Federico Pignatelli has never been a hesitant man. Half-way measures are not what he’s about. The current Los Angeles resident grew up in his native Italy, where he became a high-ranking pan-European investment banker and realestate developer. But he always had a rich passion for the art of photography. In 1986, he decided to retire from the financial 120 GENLUX December / January 2008 world and moved to LA, where he perfected his tennis game. Eventually, he went on to Australia, where he hit the beach for a while, but then was wooed back to banking, and headed for New York in the late eighties. Shuttling between New York and London, he began is own venture company in technology and medicine. But then, when success struck again-he certainly has the golden touch-he had to find another way to challenge himself.
So in 1994, Pignatelli opened Pier 59 Photo Studios in New York in a hundred thousand square feet of an old, crumbing pier on the way west side of Manhattan, essentially extending New York’s hot new neighborhood all the way to the water-and making room for the Meatpacking and Chelsea Arts District to emerge. “My great passion for photography led me to make the leap,” he says.
Pignatelli returned to LA a few years ago to rekindle his love affair with the city, and now has a four-year-old daughter. His new home sits atop Benedict Canyon, with a view that is panoramicand nearly photographic (it was Michael Douglas’s house for 17 years). Pignatelli himself, atthis point, had become an established architectural and portrait photographer, and he founded the Art and Fashion Group, which represents many photogs, including himself.
Pignatelli brings a whole new level of aesthetics to LA. “I designed the studios myself,” he says. “And my house.” Among his friends, Roberto Cavalli and the late Helmut Newton. He’s produced a few movies and an extraordinary limited-edition photo book called Excess, and is now concentrating on making movies for distribution on the Internet. “Every time I get past another challenge,” he says with a slight smile (he doesn’t smile easily), “I have to find another one immediately. I tried retirement a few times. It didn’t work for me. I like to look at the big picture.” The big picture, indeed. – MG