Florence blurs the boundaries between art and fashion, with Florentine designers believing themselves to be heirs to the Renaissance traditions. The Florentine fashion industry actually predates the Renaissance, with the merchants of Prato weaving fine cloth for Florentine tailors to transform into lavish clothes. As a result, Florentines put craftsmanship and chic above cool-brand status. Yet the brands born in Florence are some of the biggest.
Gucci was a small-scale maker of leather goods who branched into bags made from honey-cured hides before its dynastic meltdown and reinvention as a global brand. And Ferragamo began as a cobbler’s before becoming the first celebrity shoemaker, and remains a family-owned fashion empire with its heart firmly in Florence. Pucci still champions stylish bohemia, while Roberto Cavalli is synonymous with red-carpet glamour. Yet, despite this glitzy roll call, the city is full of small-scale crafts workshops, and offers everything from timeless bags and shoes to jewellery and perfume.
Where to shop
Via de’ Tornabuoni is fashion central for the top designers. But much of the best shopping in Florence pays tribute to timeless Tuscan craftsmanship in fabric or leather. Browse the San Lorenzo market, which sells bags, belts and shoes, before heading to the Scuola del Cuoio (www.scuoladelcuoio.com). This famous leather crafts school is the place to watch bags and jackets being made in traditional style. At Antico Setificio Fiorentino (anticosetificiofiorentino.com), master craftsmen work 18th-century looms to create silk, damask and brocades. After that, follow your nose to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (smnovella.com) where the Dominicans created an apothecary shop in 1221. This frescoed gem has become an artisanal perfumery for sultry scents and potions.
What else to do
In the Pitti Palace, the Costume Gallery (uffizi.firenze.it) is a fashion museum displaying costumes from the 16th century to the present, while the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum (museoferragamo.it) displays shoes made for the likes of Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe. Beside the Palazzo Vecchio, the Gucci Museum (guccimuseo.com) carves out its place in Florentine history. On display are period trunks and suitcases along with modern couture gowns. Afterwards, relax in style in the Gucci café or in Roberto Cavalli’s Caffè Giacosa (caffegiacosa.it), an historic café where the Negroni cocktail was invented.
Where to stay
The beautiful 18th-century palazzo Relais Santa Croce (www.relaisantacroce.com) has its own personal shopper. The Ferragamo family’s Lungarno Collection (lungarnocollection.com), meanwhile, comprises palatial hotels and luxurious apartments dotted throughout the city; their Gallery Art Hotel, Florence’s first design hotel, still appeals to the fashion set, as do their Lungarno Suites. Their Borgo San Jacopo restaurant, near Ponte Vecchio, serves Tuscan cuisine with a riverside view and fashion designs on the walls.