Florence is nothing if not surprising. A city whose street corners are dotted with everything from portraits of prosperous Florentine families, the latest graffiti, medieval frescos and minimalist design studios, is a perfect blend of the ancient and modern arts.
Florence, still a city of great style, was the fashion capital of Italy long before Milan, thanks to its abundance of specialty boutiques and artisan workshops. Although a bit more difficult to find, many of these fashion workshops still exist and continue ancient Florentine traditions while employing new and innovative techniques. In order to support and protect these original businesses, the city of Florence is promoting Fashion in Florence: Art and Craftsmanship, a project to better acquaint people with of Florence’s extraordinary style heritage through a series of free fashion tours. All you have to do is sign up.
I had the opportunity to attend a guided fashion tour during a sunny winter weekend. We began in Piazza Antinori at the (seemingly) small boutique, Loretta Capponi-somewhat overshadowed by the storefront of its neighbor, fashion giant Hermes. Upon entering, one unexpectedly finds that the store stretches the length of a city block with fine fabrics filling every inch of available wall space. From the finest silk, cashmere, cotton and linen, Loretta and her daughter Lucia outfit men, women and children with the most elegant nightgowns, pajamas, slips, suits and dresses adorned with embroidered designs in every color of the visible spectrum. The incredible array of home linens send every domestic diva into fits of ecstasy. However, it is in the workshop that the store and its history come to life. Here a small group of women-young and old-cut, stitch and sew the creations, each taking special care no matter what her task. Watching them carefully craft these delicate and sophisticated delights is enough to make anyone start wishing trousseaus would make a comeback.
In typical Florentine style, we went straight from fashion to art: our next stop was the tiny Chiesa dei Santissimi Apostoli located in Piazza del Limbo along the Arno. (If you think you’ve visited all the churches in Florence, you haven’t). The church, built in the eleventh century, is one of the few in the city that has maintained its medieval features. With green marble columns, richly decorated wooden ceiling and mosaic floors, the unassuming facade of this church successfully hides its inner beauty. Our tour guide walked us through the church, and through history, with tales ranging from intrigue to the celestial.
To finish on a more modern note, the last stop was in the same piazza, at a contemporary silver, steel and gold jewelry workshop, Il Gatto Bianco. Inside, Carla and Walter Romani create unusual handmade jewelry. Using industrial, precious and natural materials, the couple takes an innovative road-every little detail of each piece screams with originality.
This distinctive project takes you straight into the real world of Italian style-whether it be sacred or profane-by focusing on originality, precision and tradition. All of the ateliers share a commone feature: they all boast goods designed or made in Florence or its immediate surroundings; they are the products of exquisite taste and a unique modus operandi that is distinguished by a skill rooted in the Florentine tradition of craftsmenship. In a moment when many people are searching for the unique in an increasing standardized global world, these tours are proof that Florentine style and fashion are alive-and thriving.
A complete list of tour dates and sites can be found at : www.florenceartfashion.com