How do I start writing about a city that I have had a love affair with since my first visit there 25 years ago? Maybe I start by saying that the deep affection I have felt for Florence, Italy and the surrounding Tuscan country sides is still burning, after spending 11 days there.
Why was this trip so special……many reasons, I think! So if you want to hear about it all, pour yourself an espresso or caffe Americano and get ready. I have so much to say about my trip there that editing was my biggest challenge. Hence, for this week, Part I is only about shopping, fashion and style in Florence, with more to come next week on restaurants, hotels, Tuscan towns you must see and other entries for your travel journals.
First, was relationship bonding. What, you might say? Do I really need to know this?! We were able to spend 10 focused joyful days with our bambina, Crystin on her turf. As parents of an adult child, when was the last time that we spent 10 complete days together? She was HAPPY to see us!!! Also, the icing on that cake was that our former Italian exchange student, Pietro, whom we also love dearly, joined us for five of the 10 days and we had so much fun all being together!!! Not to mention his Italian fluency was a great aid in the bartering process, and everyone barters in Italy! I’m telling you this because if given the opportunity to take your adult children on a trip like this, or vice versa, kiddos, do it! Yes, there was still texting and we all dashed for the adapters at night to check our emails, but over-all it was pretty tech-free. We talked, we spent hours eating a lot and it was heaven!
Secondly, shopping and people watching was awesome, but in a different way than I expected. The world has become so small, that seeing something extremely different in the way of style and clothing was not there. Our hotel was on the Via Tornabuoni, which is the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in NYC, and I visited the designer boutiques frequently. Those women were elegantly stylish. However, the number of Americans in Florence astounded me…between students, parents of students and just American tourists, the town of Florence was chocked full of Americans. It was not until we went to the Tuscan countrysides that we got more of a flavor of Italians and even there, were many Americans.
Here are a few of the looks that were distinctly Florentine…
**Uniform of Florence: tall leather boots, a few over the knee, with jeans or leggings tucked in; nylon quilted coats/jackets, some with fur trim hoodies, scarves and sweaters underneath; this look was EVERYWHERE (even Chanel windows); ages 8-88, American or Italian, couldn’t count them all! Rarely a leather jacket (isn’t this leather-land?!)
**Number One Accessory in Florence: Fashion eye wear and yes, many of them were RED; I felt like such a regular girl, I blended into the crowds, identity lost, I was traumatized (good news is lots of red glasses to pick from, so I purchased to refresh my R.G. wardrobe!)
**Boots were all the rage in every color, height, fabrication: all flat, as walking the streets of Florence in heels is impossible! (FUTURE TIP: EVENING BOOTS; every good boot store, there were hundreds of them, all were featuring EVENING BOOTS mostly with rhinestone, beaded trims, a few tassels.
**Active wear on the streets of Florence did not exist: must be gym-only attire; Crys had been warned about this in prepping her wardrobe for her stay; even the Americans must have gotten the word; never seen on the streets of Florence by anyone, even tennis shoes were rarely seen as an alternative to boots, not many t-shirts either.SO TOURISTS BEWARE, the attire here is primarily what we have come to know as casual chic or just plain casual. The Florentine Fashion Police may give you a citation if you are bold enough to strut your stuff in your Nike or Addidas hook-ups through the town!?
**Surprises: things that I never found in Florence that I thought I would: Cashmere, very little in the stores; Fur, nowhere but a few high-end pieces, maybe on the street when it gets colder; Counterfeit bags, not much of that to deal with and the designers they had on the curbs were non-Italians…they’re getting smarter or rules are stricter as that was not the case in the past, I’m thrilled! Lastly, no Missoni store? Did I miss it?
The following are what I feel to be the best of Florence…(Disclaimer: I’m sure that I missed some or did not get all of the names but trust me, the offerings are plentiful!)
Via Torbuoni where we stayed and the surrounding streets were the equivalent of Fifth Avenue, NYC. The design of the boutiques is exquisite, windows are creative and sales staff warm, informative and all wore black! Some highlights, first from my Italian Big Four: Armani, Ferrragamo, Gucci and Prada.
At Armani, I saw an expansive version of the latest collection that I had seen last month at Neiman’s. This boutique was deceiving , in it’s depth, many rooms of exquisite apparel and accessories. Salvatore Ferragamo is celebrating a salute to Hollywood with a limited hand-made collection of shoes reinterpreted from specific styles shown in famous movies. Marilyn Monroe’s spectator shoe from Some Like It Hot, Ballet flat worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, both shown many ways, The Kansas sandal worn by Judy Garland in colors of “the rainbow.” This numbered, hand-made limited edition collection can all be viewed at www.ferragamo.com. Prada, was heavily weighted towards accessories and large expanded assortments of what we have here. Miu Miu was its own store on another street and featured a more spirited collection. Gucci, my next door neighbor from my hotel, heavily weighted to accessories/footwear…best boots on the street!
Roberto Cavalli, across the street from my hotel, was celebrating his 40th anniversary in the biz, with lots of splash in windows of photos and apparel of vintage Cavalli. However, I loved coffee in his next door coffee bar, Café Giacosa, with an outdoor seating area of lawn chairs covered with leopard seat covers, no surprise there?! Pucci, a white store with lots of bold, colorful print apparel! Dolce & Gabbana, only saw windows here and there was at least one leopard piece in every window…again, not a shocker?! Gianfranco Ferre, beautiful store, underneath my hotel; photoed men’s black mink full length vest as fur was rarely seen in Florence
This third group is a mix of the biggest French designers, both of which are famous for their accessories as much as their apparel, a very big, well-established Italian accessories house and a much lesser known, in America, Italian Jewelry designer. These are the people that so excited an accessories lover like myself.
Chanel, located at the Piazza della Signoria, where the Carousel and people excitement were located. Windows were stark and featured the highest end of trends, such as the puffy nylon jackets that I had seen so much of on the street. Fur, basically non-existent in Florence, was represented here in Chanel Boots. Louis Vuitton, a store very similar to our Galleria location, excited us with its creative and changing window displays. Bvlgari, on my corner so I passed it daily, offered selections of the finest leathers, jewels in to-dream-of setting. Angela Caputti, my fave and a place where I truly did drop some euros because the selection was massive, it’s not available in Houston (I’ve spoken to them about changing that?) and the value is so apparent on a style to euro ratio.
DEPARTMENT & CHAIN STORES…
Having a daughter who moved to Florence in August and was freezing to death, we headed out to the stores where we could shop for HER! H&M was our first stop and we saw a few things there but seemed filled with party wear and that was not what a student needed to build her wardrobe around. Prices were o.k. but selection was not what we had hoped for. Our mecca for Crystin, myself and my family that I needed to find real clothes to purchase came from Zara. They had two stores across the street from each other and carry everything from women’s, men’s and bambini in apparel and accessories. We bought Crystin’s puffy quilted coat at an unbelievable price, basic sweaters in many colors, boots and a leopard belt for Mom, here! Too hot! Hands down best value for the euro/dollar and all of the latest fashions at an exceptional taste level!
Coin is the Department Store that I knew from trips to other parts of Italy and had thought it was the lower-end store. Almost didn’t go in but purchased fragrances I buy here at great prices and filled with great accessories, apparel and gift depts. Not designer driven, probably private label but unique, creative items at good prices. Pleasant surprise! Rinascente is the Bloomingdale’s of Italy and was just as I expected it. Right on Piazza de Republica, it was a crowd pleaser for many of the Americans, saw them going in in droves. Calzedonia (not pictured) is probably the best leg store I’ve been into anywhere. Nothing but leggings, tights and socks for her and for him. From Cashmere to Cotton to Spandex in every imaginable size and hue. Not to be missed, I could have spent a lot more here but Alan was watching!
DESIGNER OUTLET AND OUTDOOR MARKETS….
With the euro at $1.50 and prices still high, there had to be something I could do to bring all that I had promised a touch of Italy? I must say for myself, there was hope in my heart that the Gucci boots and other high ticket items would be a bargain in the outlets that I had heard so much about….not really the case. We did some purchasing at the Designer Outlet in Leccio where buses run regularly from Florence with the words, THE MALL painted on their sides. (what does that tell you?!) Bartering was non-existent at the Mall stores. The place to barter was at the outdoor markets. San Lorenzo was a little higher quality than the Straw Market and both of them were fine for many of the small things we needed to bring home such as cashmere lined leather gloves, scarves and shawls and of course, touristy things. Leather jackets, boots and handbags should be avoided here, I was warned and believe me there are plenty of stores around that have large selections and will “work with you on price” to some degree.
If you want to shop till you drop, you can do it here….I think I just dropped!
I would love to hear comments about your experiences in Florence. Please share using the comment box below!