Text Ilona Marx Photos Bernd Wichmann
For most visitors, Florence is first and foremost the birthplace of the Renaissance. Here you can immerse yourself in world-class art, wander streets that have barely changed over the centuries and peek down narrow side streets that have a thousand stories to tell.
But for the fashion world the picturesque city on the banks of the Arno also has a special standing: Guccio Gucci and Roberto Cavalli were born in Florence, and Emilio Pucci lived and worked here. To this day the Via de’ Tornabuoni with its elegant shops, is a testimony to the city’s fashion past and present, and boasts a high density of exquisite flagships – even though the Tuscan capital has fewer than 400,000 inhabitants. In addition to Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo, who have both enriched Florence with museums – fashion is considered a valuable cultural asset here – Prada, Miu Miu, Lanvin, Chanel, Burberry, Tod’s and Emporio Armani have all opened up shops on the elegant boulevard.It’s a well-known fact that wherever big names are present, shops selling high-quality vintage fashion also do well. Second-hand stores, hoarding top notch treasures from the last 50 years, can be found all over town. But the owners are also well aware of the value of their stock: even a used Gucci or Prada bag can set you back 700 euros. A real treasure, yes. But definitely not a bargain by a long chalk.
It’s not only design that has a long tradition in Florence though; the craftsmanship behind it also has a rich legacy. It was the skilled masters of the manufactories that laid the foundations for the big labels. As early as the Middle Ages, there were so many wool producers and textile workshops on both banks of the Arno that one could already talk of a kind of fashion industry. It’s a tradition that continues to this day: workshops, including many leather makers are dotted around the city. With the Scuola del Cuoio, Florence is also home to a school that has taught an international crowd in the art of leatherwork since 1950. Fashion design and management is taught at the Polimoda, a private academy run by the progressive director Linda Loppa since 2007.
Twice a year, at the beginning of every season, the international fashion fair Pitti Immagine draws big crowds and the who’s who of the fashion scene to Tuscany, especially from the menswear sector, but also sportswear. No wonder that the independent shops in Florence – which, compared to the German retail trade, are very often family-run – are extremely popular and flourish in harmonious coexistence with the high-end labels.
The fact that there is a different, younger, alternative Florence waiting behind the usual tourist destinations of the Piazza del Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi and the Piazza della Signoria, is often overlooked. In order to discover this side of the city, you need to cross the bridge over the Arno into the narrow labyrinthine streets of Oltrarno. It is here that J’N’C editor-in-chief Ilona Marx and Düsseldorf-based photographer Bernd Wichmann discovered a whole bunch of stores with especially inspiring ranges of fashion and unusual interior design ideas – the modern Florence, which, instead of resting on its old laurels, is actively looking for new approaches. Even if the Renaissance was half a millennium ago, Florence still seems to have retained the energy of its rebirth and the potential to reinvent itself on a daily basis – but without turning its back on its long traditions, which have their place here too. So it wasn’t hard for us to find an exciting mix of classic, established shops as well as refreshingly unconventional stores, which you can read all about in our city guide.