Florence is not, and has never been, shy about fashion. Florentines love dressing up and do put a lot of effort and make any excuse to put on their best outfits. From grandmothers to granddaughters, you will see a mix of styles and tastes out there, from floor length fur coats and pearls to the tighest skinny jeans and stilettoes, but there’s no doubt about it, the Florentines love fashion. Perhaps it found its way into the culture through the roaring trade of fine wool and silk in the Middle Ages – the best that Europe could offer – or the century later with the Renaissance Medici rulers, who loved to surround themselves with beautiful things. Lorenzo the Magnificent was the one who supposedly made wearing black utterly fashionable, while Eleonora di Toledo, Duke Cosimo I’s wife, made opulent dressing an art form. Either way, more recent times have seen local Florentines take centre stage amongst the biggest of international fashionistas.
This fashion giant was founded by Guccio Gucci in Florence in 1906, where it all started out as a small leather shop, selling leather saddle bags to horsemen. As the business took off, so did the designs and Guccio’s bamboo handle bag in 1947 (still one of the most popular items) and suede moccasins became company trademarks. When icons like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie O made Gucci the “pinnacle of chic” as Vanity Fair described, there was no turning back.
Born into one of Florence’s oldest noble families, Emilio Pucci began his fashion career with a uniform for his college skiing team. Knowing how to do a thing or two with stretch fabrics, his sleek no-wrinkle printed dresses, scarves and swimwear caused a sensation in the 50s and his career took off. Recognised world-wide for his bold, colourful swirling and geometric patterns and designs, his dresses were made even more famous by the likes of Sophia Loren and Jackie Onassis appearing in them.
Born into an artist family in Florence, it was almost natural that Roberto Cavalli decided to study textile print at the local art institute. Eventually opening up his own collection in the 70s, Cavalli made a name for himself with his sand-blasted jeans and wild prints. His collection now boasts a mens and womens line, eyewear, underwear, accessories, perfume and beachwear in boutiques all over the world. Florence has something that no one else has, though – Cavalli’s first cafe-store, decked out in his characteristic animal print and stingray-leather walls, it’s a terribly fashionable place to get a perfect coffee or Negroni cocktail (which was invented in the very same spot, ninety years ago when it was known as Bar Casoni) after an overwhelming visit to the Cavalli boutique.
Often jokingly referred to as the “modern day Medici”, the influential Ferragamo family, made wealthy by Salvatore Ferragamo’s fabulous taste in shoes, now not only owns one of the most important fashion houses in Italy, but also own some of Florence’s most stunning properties and hotels. Although born in southern Italy, Salvatore Ferragamo set up in Florence in 1927, and built himself an empire by fashioning covetable shoes for stars like Marilyn Monroe. The current store is housed in the medieval Palazzo Spini Feroni, an impressive medieval palazzo on the most luxurious street in Florence, which also includes the unique Salvatore Ferragamo shoe museum, all testament to the continuing reign of the Ferragamo family.