A guide to Italy's shopping hotspots

A guide to Italy's shopping hotspots
A guide to Italy's shopping hotspots,

Be it apparel, homeware, foodcraft or automotives, Italian designers rule the world

Neelima Agrawal
November 10 , 2014
14 Min Read

Poets and philosophers have sung odes to Italy’s many splendor­ous delights, but it was American writer Erica Jong who arguably came closest to identifying the core of what defines Italy. “What is the fatal charm of Italy?” Jong pondered. “What do we find here that can be found nowhere else?” And in her estimation, it is “a certain permission to be human, which other places, other coun­tries lost long ago.”

That affirmation is eas­ily validated. Nowhere else do people celebrate their zest for the finer things in life, beauty, art and design as in Italy. Even as far back as in the 11th century, the cities of Venice, Milan, Florence and Vicenza were the centres of manufacturing of the markers of the Good Life — fabrics, jewellery, footwear, hats, laces, glass works, leather bags, cosmetics — that were in high demand among royals and elites elsewhere in Europe as well.

That legacy continues to play out in today’s Italy as well. Italy is home to the best of the world’s luxury brands, exquisite bou­tiques, quaint little-known outlets for designer bags, apparel, shoes, jewellery, bespoke tailoring, artworks in glass, lace, canvas, epicurean crafts and more.

Whether it be apparel, home­ware, foodcraft or automotives, Italian designers rule the world, with brands like Gucci, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Bulgari, Cavalli, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Lamborghini, Campari, Cinzano, Ferrero, Lavazza and more. Be­yond the well-known internation­als brands, there are many local brands of excellent heritage, qual­ity and creativity. We present here a guide to the shopping hotspots in Italy’s four main cities, where big-ticket designer brands line the streets. The challenge, and the adventure, is in discovering hidden gems as one traipses along the narrow, cobbled lanes of these historic towns.

Rome. Arguably the most expen­sive shopping destination in Italy, Rome attracts the largest number of tourists. The search for luxury shopping ends at Via Condotti, a little cross street in the trident of three streets, Via del Corso, Via del Babuino, Via di Ripetta. Most of the top brands are on Via del Babuino. The 240sqm Versace Flagship Store in Piazza di Spagna showcases the fashion brand’s en­tire range. Another legend, Louis Vuitton Etoile, has come up on the site of an old movie theatre, in remembrance of which it retains a small 3D screening room. The Giorgio Armani store has separate entrances for men and women. The Italian jewellery brand Da­miani is on Via dei Condotti. For the best international brands, you need go no farther than Via Borgo­gnona, whereas Via del Governo Vecchio has the trendy boutiques. For art and antiques, go to the Via Giulia. And amidst all that shop­ping, if you feel like an Espresso break, head out to Via Vittorio Veneto, which is famous for chic cafés and bars.

Italy has a tradition of bespoke tailoring. And Battistoni, on Via dei Condotti, is an institution renowned for elegant tailoring. The other famous tailoring house of international repute, Brioni, stands on Via Barberini.

While shopping in Italy, you’ll hear a lot about celebrity patrons. Evidently, actress Cameron Diaz frequents NuYorica in Piazza della Pollarola, a one-stop shop for haute couture and accessories. Boutique Borsalino is the place to go for hats; they have four luxury boutiques in Rome, but the flag­ship store is at Piazza del Popola. At Piazza Fiume is the multi-de­signer store La Rinascente. And if you get tired from all that shop­ping, take a well-deserved break at the famous beauty salon Femme Sistina, and find out why Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Nicole Kidman frequented the place.

Florence. Capital of the bewitch­ingly beautiful region of Tuscany, Florence is famous for its leather and textiles. After the end of World War II, it became the home of fashion. Several top designers like Giovanni Battista Giorgini organised ‘fashion soirees’ to gain an edge over France.

The uber-luxurious shopping zone in Florence is on Via de Torn­abuoni, the street where Salvatore Ferragamo launched his business in 1928. Located in Palazzo Spini Feroni right across Ponte Santa Trinità, the large Ferragamo store has a museum on the ground floor. All luxury brands, Italian or French or otherwise — from Tif­fany to Cartier to Bulgari to Emilio Pucci to Versace to Hermes — are neighbours here. Italian jeweller Pomellato’s luxury collection of colourful jewellery ‘Pom Pom’ was sold by appointment only in New York, Paris, Milan and Monte Carlo. Italian brands Bottega Fiorentina and Il Bisonte are re­nowned for their leather bags. The 250-year-old store Antico Setificio Fiorentino has the best silks. There is also the Casa dei Tessuti on Via de’ Pecori, which sells some of the best fabrics. The store also houses a museum.

The nearly 600-year-old Via dei Calzaiuoli, which runs from the Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, is famous for its shoe production units. Furla, famed for its handbags, is located here, as are many other established brands. A local Italian treasure is the small boutique Piero Puliti on Via del Corso, specialising in men’s shirts and ties made from the finest Italian materials. Piero himself designs the shirts, which are sold only in his store. For the thrill of bargain-hunting, hit the San Lorenzo market, where one can find some finely crafted leath­ers shoes and bags for a song.

Once a trading post for fine hand-woven silks, Florence now has some very old companies that are still in business. The fabric outlet Antico Setificio Fiorentin, located on Via L Bartolini, has the best of silks that are woven on looms by master craftsmen. Antique hunters should visit Via Maggio near the Pitti Palace or Via de’ Fossi close to Santa Maria Novella, for the best collectibles from the Renaissance period.

Milan. This is truly the fashion capital of the world, as is evident from the sartorial styles of the people walking around the streets, wearing with élan the latest sea­sonal trends showcased on fashion runways. Head out to the square called the Quadrilatero d’Oro, which is hedged between four important streets: Via Monte­napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia. Most of the mega-buck boutiques and brands are located here. Since the 19th century, this is where the elite and beautiful people flocked to. The Via Montenapoleone enjoys the same status as New York’s famous Fifth Avenue, and is home to the best of shoe and clothing stores: Valentino, Salvatore Fer­ragamo, Alberta Ferrretti, Fratelli Rossetti, and jewellers like Cartier, Bulgari, Damiani, and precious watches like Audemars Piguet.

The famous crystal boutique Vetrerie Di Empoli has the fin­est of glasswares. This area has beautiful architectural heritage buildings — and some of the most stunningly beautiful and unique shops and boutiques. Standing in rows are the most renowned global brands. The huge Giorgio Armani store on Rue Manzoni is something of an icon. Located near the Duomo is the gorgeous shopping arcade with a glass roof, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which was built in the 19th century, and some of the most chic stores and boutiques are a go-to address for any couturier worth his salt. Sergio Rossi, designer of women’s shoes and bags, started out from here before the brand got acquired by Gucci.

The magic of Milan’s heightened sense of quality and style and a feel for luxury stems from the fact that for nearly 500 years this region has catered to the elite. Whether they be jewellers, couturiers, pasticce­ria or bakers, milliners, craftsmen of shoes and bags, weavers of fine silks, they all sport a very refined taste and an eye for fine detail.

Venice. The city, which is a maze of alleys, is famous for its three lo­cal crafts that are unique to it: the exquisite glassware of Murano, the lace from Burano made by its women, and the Venetian papier-mâché Carnival masks. The cheap versions available everywhere are often of dubious quality, sourced from overseas.

Genuine Murano glass is hand-crafted pure crystal-clear glass, supposedly made from silica extracted from Cogòli del Tesìn basin. To tell the real from the counterfeit, look for the “Vetro Ar­tistico® Murano” trademark decal displayed in the showrooms. Also, ask for a certificate of authentic­ity, which will have the date, time and the name of the artist on it. Anything which is ‘Murano style’ is not real. The island of Murano is a magical place for its beautiful glassware, Murano jewellery and trinkets. Avoid getting the glass­ware shipped; if it arrives broken, the exchange process is tedious.

The seductive Venetian Carni­val masks are hand-crafted with Pucci to Versace to Hermes — are neighbours here. Italian jeweller Pomellato’s luxury collection of colourful jewellery ‘Pom Pom’ was sold by appointment only in New York, Paris, Milan and Monte Carlo. Italian brands Bottega Fiorentina and Il Bisonte are re­nowned for their leather bags. The 250-year-old store Antico Setificio Fiorentino has the best silks. There is also the Casa dei Tessuti on Via de’ Pecori, which sells some of the best fabrics. The store also houses a museum.

The nearly 600-year-old Via dei Calzaiuoli, which runs from the Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, is famous for its shoe production units. Furla, famed for its handbags, is located here, as are many other established brands. A local Italian treasure is the small boutique Piero Puliti on Via del Corso, specialising in men’s shirts and ties made from the finest Italian materials. Piero himself designs the shirts, which are sold only in his store. For the thrill of bargain-hunting, hit the San Lorenzo market, where one can find some finely crafted leath­ers shoes and bags for a song.

Once a trading post for fine hand-woven silks, Florence now has some very old companies that are still in business. The fabric outlet Antico Setificio Fiorentin, located on Via L Bartolini, has the best of silks that are woven on looms by master craftsmen. Antique hunters should visit Via Maggio near the Pitti Palace or Via de’ Fossi close to Santa Maria Novella, for the best collectibles from the Renaissance period.

Milan. This is truly the fashion capital of the world, as is evident from the sartorial styles of the people walking around the streets, wearing with élan the latest sea­sonal trends showcased on fashion runways. Head out to the square called the Quadrilatero d’Oro, which is hedged between four important streets: Via Monte­napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via della Spiga and Corso Venezia. Most of the mega-buck boutiques and brands are located here. Since the 19th century, this is where the elite and beautiful people flocked to. The Via Montenapoleone enjoys the same status as New York’s famous Fifth Avenue, and is home to the best of shoe and clothing stores: Valentino, Salvatore Fer­ragamo, Alberta Ferrretti, Fratelli Rossetti, and jewellers like Cartier, Bulgari, Damiani, and precious watches like Audemars Piguet.

The famous crystal boutique Vetrerie Di Empoli has the fin­est of glasswares. This area has beautiful architectural heritage buildings — and some of the most stunningly beautiful and unique shops and boutiques. Standing in rows are the most renowned global brands. The huge Giorgio Armani store on Rue Manzoni is something of an icon. Located near the Duomo is the gorgeous shopping arcade with a glass roof, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which was built in the 19th century, and some of the most chic stores and boutiques are a go-to address for any couturier worth his salt. Sergio Rossi, designer of women’s shoes and bags, started out from here before the brand got acquired by Gucci.

The magic of Milan’s heightened sense of quality and style and a feel for luxury stems from the fact that for nearly 500 years this region has catered to the elite. Whether they be jewellers, couturiers, pasticce­ria or bakers, milliners, craftsmen of shoes and bags, weavers of fine silks, they all sport a very refined taste and an eye for fine detail.

Venice. The city, which is a maze of alleys, is famous for its three lo­cal crafts that are unique to it: the exquisite glassware of Murano, the lace from Burano made by its women, and the Venetian papier-mâché Carnival masks. The cheap versions available everywhere are often of dubious quality, sourced from overseas.

Genuine Murano glass is hand-crafted pure crystal-clear glass, supposedly made from silica extracted from Cogòli del Tesìn basin. To tell the real from the counterfeit, look for the “Vetro Ar­tistico® Murano” trademark decal displayed in the showrooms. Also, ask for a certificate of authentic­ity, which will have the date, time and the name of the artist on it. Anything which is ‘Murano style’ is not real. The island of Murano is a magical place for its beautiful glassware, Murano jewellery and trinkets. Avoid getting the glass­ware shipped; if it arrives broken, the exchange process is tedious.

The seductive Venetian Carni­val masks are hand-crafted with papier-mâché, and later hand-painted or adorned with gold leaf, filigree or leather. To tell the genu­ine from the fake, machine-made moulds, look for uneven texture on the inside, and the painting strokes. If the mask has feathers, ask for a farm certificate. Yes, the authentic, hand-made masks are more ex­pensive than the Chinese versions. La Bottega dei Mascareri at the northern end of the Rialto Bridge is a good place for   the real deal.

Burano island is famous for its lacework, hand-crafted by its women, and its multi-coloured houses. High-quality, original lace can be found at several of the outlets in Burano. The La Perla shops, run by Bon family, stock fine hand-made lace tablecloths, sheets, bedspreads, doilies and towels etc. Another good place for genuine Venetian products is Jesurum store on Calle Larga XXII Marzo, San Marco.

Attombri at Campo San Maurizio, San Marco, has very beautiful art-like jewellery. Check out Gianni Basso’s printing shop at Cannaregio 5306, Calle del Fumo, which offers elegant letterpress ex libris, calling cards and stationery. His client list has Hugh Grant and other celebrities.

Antique hunters should visit the antiques fair, Mercatino dell’Antiquariato, which is held thrice a year, around the first weekend of April, middle of Sep­tember and close to Christmas.

Walk down Calle Larga XXII Marzo, the fashionable street which begins west of Piazza San Marco and meanders on to Campo Santo Stefano near the Accademia, with practically all the global luxury brand stores lined up in rows. Frequented by the most stylish shoppers, the multi designer store Al Duca d’Aosta is located on Marzaria del Capitelo, in San Marco.

The information

Getting there
Most leading airlines fly from Indian metros to Rome. Turkish Airlines offers Delhi-Rome for Rs 1,31,000 (business class, with flat-bed) and Rs 31,000 (economy). If you want to do it in style, Emirates offers swank first-class return for about Rs 3,13,000.

Visa
You will require a C type Schengen visa for Italy, which can be obtained from vfs-italy.co.in. A short stay visa (up to 90 days) for tourists comes at Rs 4,920.

Currency
Euros are widely accepted in Italy (€1= Rs 80).

Where to shop
Rome
For International luxury brand stores and bespoke tailoring. Via Condotti has the best of branded stores like Versace, Bulgari, Gucci, Prada, Giorgio Armani. A Gucci soft python clutch can be yours for all of €2,410.
Florence For the best-in-the-world shoes and bags, hand-crafted silk fabrics; Emilio Pucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Furla, Il Bisonte. An Emilio Pucci silk-and-wool blend blazer comes at around €6,000.
Milan For everything that is fashionable and chic. Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Alberta Ferrretti, Fratelli Rossetti, Cartier and Bulgari. Italian jewellery brand Damiani has exceptionally attractive rings in 18K gold and diamonds, starting at €2,000.
Venice Murano glass, Venetian papier-mâché Carnival masks, delicate Burano lace. La Bottega dei Mascareri for masks, La Perla, Jesurum store. A Murano figurine could cost anywhere from €1,000 to €5,000.


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