BY MICHELLE PAYER | PHOTOGRAPHS BY CARLOS HIDALGO
For Gabriella Di Falco’s Elect Lifestyle clients, everything in life is limited edition.
Gabriella Di Falco grew up in a small Sicilian town thinking nearly everything she owned was “limited edition.” Her Barbie wasn’t like anyone else’s; neither was the camping tent the family used for summer outings, the snowboard made from a car bumper or her ski-wear, insulated with stuffing from an old mattress. “It looks different,” said Gabriella, about nearly everything. “It’s limited edition,” replied her father, Paolo, a body shop owner, and mother, Lella, a third-generation dressmaker. Thus, growing up with little money didn’t result in anything less. Her parents told her she could be anything, do anything and have anything; it just took a little chutzpah and Italian ingenuity.
“At age 11, I wanted a new dress every Sunday for church services,” says Gabriella, “My mother stayed up late Saturday nights and finished the most exquisite dresses for me out of material she had on-hand. She is one of the most talented dressmakers I’ve ever met and still my favorite designer.”
Gabriella initially followed in her maternal ancestors’ footsteps and studied fashion design. At age 19, with nothing but a train ticket in hand, she moved to London to study English. Her plans didn’t include an apartment or language school. She stayed in a hostel, winged it and learned English in two months. She enrolled in Kent (England) Institute of Art and Design to study dressmaking in all its forms, and returned to Italy at age 27 to showcase her clothes. As Milan fashion shows were too expensive to participate in, she created her own “limited edition” show by petitioning the Minister of Transportation in Rome to shut down the Catania, Sicily, subway for the day so she could stage a runway show like no other. (Did we mention her chutzpah?) The Minister granted her request and models walked between subway stations in Gabriella Di Falco-designed coats and dresses made in Florence. For five years, her career blossomed and took her to European capitals, until a Miami vacation changed her perspective and life. “I fell in love with the weather, the light and the people, and decided to stay,” she says.
Initially, Di Falco continued her fashion line, until a friend introduced her to the soon-to-open W South Beach and a position as “W Insider,” a VIP concierge for celebrities and high-profile guests. “I didn’t know anything about the hotel industry,” says Gabriella. “The second day, I had a royal prince from a Middle Eastern country. I didn’t know proper etiquette or how to address him; I was nearly crying in the bathroom, I was so overwhelmed,” she says. But she got the hang of it, and for seven years she thrived, became the “Lead W Insider,” amassed contacts and generated loyalty from celebrities, royalty and captains of industry for her work and attention to detail.
Last year, her longtime friend, Larry Altruda, a second-generation Italian travel company owner, came to her with a business proposition: Open a Miami-based VIP members-only luxury travel and concierge service with worldwide outreach. They named it Elect Lifestyle and it opened March 2015. Clients range from celebrities (Jamie Foxx, Michael Bublé, Shemar Moore, Magic Johnson, Kevin Hart and fashion design duo DSQUARED) to international politicos, athletes, CEOs and royalty. “It’s not just booking a private jet, restaurant or hotel,” says Gabriella. “We go to the owner of the establishment, customize every experience, and create surprise moments for our clients,” she says.
One surprise (outrageous?) moment includes securing a lion for Jamie Foxx’s sister’s birthday. At the time, there were no lions in Miami—not at the zoo, not in any sanctuary—but Di Falco found a lion owner in Kendall who brought it (in the front seat of his car) to the party at Bâoli and upon arrival, handed Gabriella a bag. “Fresh meat,” he said. “The lion hasn’t eaten yet.”
Gabriella has made a name for herself by pulling rabbits out of hats (or lions out of Kendall). She had a helipad built at Sunset Harbor marina, and chartered a speedboat to deliver fresh limes to a client’s yacht in the middle of the ocean. Nothing is left to chance. She and her team oversee reservations down to the minute of guest arrival. Her phone is never off and resides under her pillow. Her husband, the celebrated British soccer player Enoch Showunmi, drew the line at having it in a waterproof cube in the shower. Married last year, Showunmi deliberately took Gabriella on a Bali honeymoon where there was no WiFi. “I nearly went crazy,” she says. “I wanted to make stops in town to ‘shop’ and find WiFi hotspots.”
Gabriella and business partner Altruda divide up the world for Elect Lifestyle members, with Larry handling mainly Europe, Gabriella overseeing Miami and key American cities where clients like to play (Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas), plus global contacts for international requests. Annual membership is two-tiered: Miami and Worldwide, with 100 percent client retention. The girl from the seaside Italian town has a black book to be envied, but takes nothing for granted. “I cherish all the contacts and all the loyalty of everyone helping me through the years,” she says. “I’m Sicilian. Loyalty is everything.”