Even those who are not interested in fashion and design cannot escape the vividness of Italian vintage in Florence. On almost any corner of every important shopping street, you can see, smell and feel the heyday of Italian fashion history. Every second Sunday of each month, vintage lovers race to the market in piazza Santo Spirito to rummage among the piles of garments muddled together, hopeful that they will find a jewel to complement their rapidly growing vintage collection. Dotted around the city are several shops whose owners have a clear vision of the objects they would like to sell to customers and those they would prefer to donate or sell to museums to educate the new generation of fashion appassionati. In doing so, they transcend the title of a vintage shop to become proper fashion museums.
The first milestone of our tour is Giratempo. This hidden design store opened its doors four years ago, after many years of selling gems at various vintage fairs in Italy. This little shop is located in piazzetta Calamandrei, where Stella and Cesare will lead you down a narrow staircase that descends into a basement, with walls covered with leather jackets and sequin tops. At the bottom of the steps, you will find the actual exhibition room: a collection of handmade designer pieces, such as a goose-down jacket from Versace and dangerously high stilettos from Pucci. Most of their items are for sale, but there are also a few star pieces that Stella puts on show to attract French vintage lovers. For instance, a petite French corset from the beginning of the 1900s, which she uses to show her customers the glory days of French design history. Stella is happy to show you the detailed lace structure and vulnerable inner lining from Le Cristal Defusé. Giratempo is a small family business; don’t be surprised to find Pietro, Stella’s brother showing you around. In this way, the store is typically Florentine: a city where families have ruled for centuries and where Stella and Pietro will rule for many more years to come.
Recollection by Albrici
For those who want to immerse themselves in times prior to the 1900s, the outstanding antique shop Recollection by Albrici in via dei Serragli is the perfect fit. It is difficult to describe this designer heaven as a vintage store since it would be more appropriate to define it as a little antique fashion museum. Not only did Beatrice Albrici, the owner of the shop, contribute a large part of her collection to an exhibition about Emma Bardini (1883-1962) in Museo Stefano Bardini some years ago, but she is also planning to donate many of her objects to Italian museums in the future. For example, there’s a black dress, which was tailor-made by Christian Dior for Beatrice’s friend’s 18th birthday party. Beatrice seeks to inspire and educate a new generation of design students and intéressées with her collection. One of Beatrice’s favourite items is this antique garment from 1770s France, the time of Marie Antoinette (1755-93). According to the former owners, an intricate handmade floral gilet on display was worn by the last members of the Medici family. Recollection by Albrici mainly focuses on Italian haute couture. The heyday of the Italian fashion industry was between the 1950s and the 1980s, with names such as Valentino, Ferragamo and Pucci reigning supreme. The labels and designs of these designers can be easily found here, with their pieces taking centre stage in the shop window or exhibited on the countless mannequins. According to Beatrice, the creativity and intrinsic design motifs of Italian fashion designers downgraded heavily after this period. In the 1970s, when Beatrice was growing up, the industry soon felt the effects of the American style, which had seeped into the Italian clothing industry as the fashion industry became more globalized. Italian ragazzi no longer wanted the refined Italian look, but longed to emulate the coolness of the American schoolboy. It was not long before they swanned around in a pair of loose blue denim jeans and a pair of aviator sunglasses resting on the tip of their noses.
Il Vintage del Buttero
A way to end your vintage hunt is to stop by the colourful shop Il Vintage del Buttero in Mercatino delle Pulci. Daniela loves the colours, smells and frivolity of the 1970s and she recalls the smell of her first vintage hunt when she was 15. Daniela has drawn inspiration from the different regions she’s lived in, from Piedmont to Sicily and central Tuscany, where she resides today. Although Daniela’s greatest passion is more recent design history, her shop boasts an extraordinary pair of Victorian shoes and embroidery pieces from the 1930s. Be warned that you’ll need deep pockets to buy those garments: their final destination might be in a museum.
The owners of these vintage shops / design museums have the power to teach a new generation of art historians and design students about the origins of the fashion industry. One example is RAGAZZ, whose Florence-based label focuses on women collectors of art and design and tells their stories. According to the brand’s directors, the collectors and owners of these Florentine vintage shops can be seen as contemporary cultural mediators between the fashion industry and the cultural heritage of museums. It shows women play an active role in all kinds of art disciplines, such as buying, selling and collecting. Telling their stories puts these inspirational women in the spotlight and will therefore empower the fourth wave of feminism.