Travelers from across the world come to Florence with a basic understanding of and appreciation for the city’s historic reputation in the world of art and craftsmanship: Ferragamo, Gucci and Pucci all helped form that reputation. And yet as these same fashion lovers crave luxury clothing, many have little curiosity about the resources used to create these clothes. I turned to some fabric specialists, my neighborhood atelier and a group of design students to find out more.
Casa Dei Tessuti, a beautifully lit fabric store located in the heart of Florence on via dei Pecori, has been run by the same Florentine family since 1929, with new generations taking on new responsibilities and previous ones lending a hand where needed. Casa Dei Tessuti sees a substantial number of student clients who come in looking for specific fabrics. And though the fabrics aren’t necessarily Florence’s friendliest for student budgets, budding designers do understand that they’ll help them bring out their best work. The majority of the fabrics stocked are produced close to Florence, and are in line with the shop’s specific tastes. Casa Dei Tessuti specializes in brocades, lace, wool, cashmere and organza. Besides students, boutique owners typically buy from Casa Dei Tessuti for small capsule production.
A museum, currently undergoing restoration, is also located within the store. Select exhibits from the space are currently displayed on the bottom floor, however: standouts are an old loom, weaving together the yarns of rustic orange and silver fibers, as well as a clean and pristine old-style cash register.
My curiosity about local fabric resources did not stop at the fabric store: one particular atelier had also caught my eye. Amo Romeo on via Giuseppe Verdi designs for women seeking peculiar pieces, where the Florentine essence of craftsmanship is on full display.
Designers here routinely drape their works-in-progress onto mannequins, envisioning the shapes that could be created through the fabrics. The designers work directly inside the store, so customers can see various steps of the process behind patterns and details. Behind the designer workstations are rolls of intricately printed fabrics. Intrigued after my Casa dei Tessuti visit, I asked where Amo Romeo’s designers obtain their fabrics. Rather than buying from the few remaining fabric stores in Florence, they look to nearby Prato, known for its historic associations with fabric production. Amo Romeo’s specific needs involve buying fabric in bulk—something the designers explained can be rather difficult in Florence, where supplies are limited.
Enlightening myself about the resources of established designers wasn’t enough to satisfy me, however, considering how their funds could seem unlimited when compared to those of the average fashion student. This idea sparked an interesting discussion among design students at IED Firenze.
We learned that the institution typically provides design students with the materials they need; neoprene was the fabric du jour for most of the students when this conversation took place. IED’s fabrics are purchased from Prato, generally speaking, as at Amo Romeo. However, if a specific type of fabric is needed and the school is unable to obtain it, students frequent a small shop near IED called Bacci Tessuti, tucked on via dell’Ariento in the San Lorenzo neighborhood.
As an aspiring designer with a newfound knowledge and practice of pattern making and draping, I always feel a nagging itch to create more. But where to start if you cannot locate a fabric store? In New York, the study environment I’m used to, fabric stores are easily accessible and even inexpensive. Fabrics are in such high abundance that midtown Manhattan even has “The Garment District”. So where was Florence’s “Garment District”?
My investigation revealed that it’s everywhere. The trick is to remember that Florence is a city full of these sorts of gems hidden in plain sight. To find the resources and take full advantage of them, design students have to understand that quality wins out here over quantity. Visits to these stores, therefore, are always worth the journey.
Written and photographed by Colleen Dupey
Article in partnership with IED Firenze