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City Guides: Florence

WGSN visits the home of Pucci and Pitti, and rediscovers the Florentine art of slow fashion

Florence doesn’t boast a glossy retail scene and try as you might, you’ll not find much in the way of an edgy, underground lurking amid the Gothic architecture.

The swarms of summer tourists and international students are hard to avoid, and while the city is undeniably beautiful it is sometimes hard to fathom where the historical theme park ends and the real Florence begins (tourists can outnumber locals 27 to 1 during the peak season).

But this is a city that thrives on history. Its legacy of artisan craftsmen, the Romanesque architecture, religious fervour and cultural riches, are what make Florence such a great city to research and in which to explore traditional handcrafting methods. Amazingly, the backstreets are still buzzing with workshops and tiny ateliers - temples to slow fashion.

Florence isn’t without its international, mid-market and designer brands though, which tend to be concentrated around the Santa Maria Novella and Duomo areas.

Where to shop

SANTA MARIA NOVELLA DISTRICT

Exiting Florence’s main train station, the Santa Maria Novella, you hit a stream of mid-market stores, but this area is best shopped for international designer brands and for high-end leather goods - found on and around via dei Tornabuoni.

Designer brands

The Florentine ladies, with their oversized It bags - and sunglasses to match - gravitate towards the sophisticated area around, Via dei Tornabuoni, Via della Vigna Nuova and Via degli Strozzi - the interconnecting streets that house Florence’s upmarket designer stores.

From Louis Vuitton’s prominent position in front of the Palazzo Strozzi to Emporio Armani opposite, this network of streets hosts a rundown of top designer labels, including Gucci, Prada, Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Bottega Veneta, Ermenegildo Zegna and Yves Saint Laurent

More directional designer names, premium denim lines and diffusion labels can be found at Gerard Loft on Via de’ Pecori (turn right at the end of Via Tornabuoni). In Florence terms, this is as close to ‘hipster’ as you’re likely to find - with its young clientele and quirky VM touches.

Opposite here is a Michele Negri store (with adjoining cafe), Adele Fado for formal, Italian occasionwear for women and, close-by, a flagship store for Tommy Hilfiger

Vintage

Close to the train station on Via del Giglio is Officina Vintage Firenze, a vintage store which carries menswear, womenswear and accessories from the 60s to the 80s. The feel is much more retro than the refined kind of vintage usually found in Italy and the store has strong denim and casualwear lines. (There is also an appointment-only showroom on Via F.Botticini).

Back on Via del Parione, the designer vintage boutique of Elio Ferraro is without a doubt one of our favourite finds in Florence. Owner and designer Elio is an ex-designer for Pucci and has something of an eye for accessories, with museum-quality handbags, belts and headwear a speciality.

On the banks of the Arno on Lungarno Acciaiuoli, a few metres from the Ponte Vecchio, is Boutique Nadine, a lovely designer vintage shop with a good accessories and luggage range.

DUOMO DISTRICT

Take the Dumo as your landmark and explore the streets leading off here - Via Roma, Piazza della Repubblica, Via Calzailolioi and Via por Santa Maria, which leads you onto the Ponte Vecchio.

Mid-market/Italian brands

Conveniently condensed in the interwoven streets between the city’s major focal points - the Duomo and the Galleria degli Uffizi - is Florence’s mid-market retail offering, varying from ubiquitous Replay boutiques to fine leather accessories stores.

On and around Piazza della Repubblica is a hub of mid-market formalwear stores, including Hugo Boss and Italian department store La Rinascente.

On Via Roma you’ll find several mid-market, denim, footwear and lingerie retailers, including Massimo Dutti. Via Roma runs on to Via Calimala, where there are more Italian brands to be found, including Benetton, Pollini and sharp men’s tailoring from Corneliani.

For department store Coin and a core selection of mid-market swimwear and intimates brands, turn onto the parallel Via dei Calzaiuoli; Calzedonia, Intimissimi, Goldenpoint, Stefanel, Tezenis and Yamamay can all be found here or on Piazza della Repubblica.

For H&M and Zara walk along from the entrance to La Rinascente onto Via por Santa Maria. Also here are Liu Jo, Puma, Geox and United Colours of Benetton.

Designer/boutiques

the Raspini chain is a classic Florentine family success story. Beginning with a small footwear line in the post-war period, come the 70s they had expanded into four stores in prime locations across the city (Via Martelli, Via Roma, Via Por Santa Maria and Via Calimaruzza) and have since included international designer names in their accessories and apparel offering.

Exclusive Italian accessories boutique Fratelli Rossetti and tailored menswear at Roberto Biagini lead you off Piazza della Repubblica onto Via Roma, where you should stop by the lovely Miu Miu and Gucci spaces. Also here is one of Florence’s most directional designer label boutiques - Luisa Via Roma.

For menswear, on Via Calzaiuoli there is A. Ugolini e Figli, which is styled like a traditional gentlemen’s outfitters with neat rows of red boxes behind the counter, but stocks contemporary menswear labels, Burberry, Brioni and Façonnable among others.

Walk through the Piazza and take a right onto Via Vacchereccia for another of our must-visit stores, Gerard, which has a great selection of eclectic designer labels for men and women, including a great range of jewellery and accessories.

Another key multi-label store, Spazio A, is on the fringes of the Santa Novello district, being on the corner of Via Porta Rosso and Via dei Tornabuoni. Also on this street you’ll find a branch of Michele Negri, Missoni and, at the far end towards Via por Santa Maria, Baroni kidswear and Belstaff.

On Borgo Pinti, just behind the Duomo (off Via dell’Oriuolo) is small womenswear boutique Mrs Macis, which sells handmade womenswear and pretty, craft-inspired jewellery and accessories.

Querciolo e Lucherini is a traditional lingerie store on Via Porta Rossa. It has retained its original furnishings and fixtures, with underwear packed in boxes behind the counter.

OLTRANO (OVER THE ARNO)

Cross over the river to the Pitti Palace side of the city for some pretty ostentatious antique boutiques, showcasing anything from oriental treasures to Dangerous Liaisons-style chandeliers. This area is awash with inspirational showrooms and is perhaps the most photogenic part of the city.

Footwear/accessories

We love Madova for handmade leather gloves on Piazza San Felicita and Mannina’s classic men’s footwear styles handmade to traditional methods, on Via dei Barbadori.

Vintage

Buried amid the fine art galleries and cavernous antiques stores on Via dei Serragli is excellent vintage boutique, Ceri Vintage. With its range of pristine-condition militaria, ready-to-wear and couture, Ceri is a great example of a scrupulously well-edited vintage store.

A few steps from the Pitti Palace is Pitti Vintage, a veritable vintage den of clothes and accessories for men and women, dating from the 1900s. With a particular emphasis on Italian designers, the shop is a pretty, chaotic warren, spilling over with lace camisoles, organza cocktail gowns, Italian leather bags and men’s tailoring.

MARKETS

Florence’s most famous market - the Vintage Selection fair - is held only twice a year at Stazione Leopolda, running alongside Pitti Filati every February and July. The fair is a magnet for collectors, enthusiasts and designers - one of the best fairs of its kind in Europe to research clothing, accessories and militaria from different eras.

For leather goods - gloves, belts, handbags and luggage - San Lorenzo market is a good option (around the Basilica San Lorenzo). Be aware that there are just as many stalls selling knock-off designer goods and tourist tat as there are quality, locally made leather.

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