Italy is closed. I am heartbroken for the country and the people. However, after a cool several thousand years of surviving inbred emperors, bubonic plagues, and the Huns, I am positive that Italy will bounce back stronger than ever. And, I fully intend on doing my part to revitalize the economy by hopping on a flight to Italy as soon as possible and treating myself to every self gift I’ve ever lusted after. Do we consider this type of philanthropy materialistic and self-serving? Probably. Will the Italians still take my money? Definitely. And where might you ask is the best city to shop in Italy? The city that values beauty, quality craftsmanship, and judges American fashion more than any other – Florence.
In 2011 and 2012 I lived in Florence as a graduate student on a stipend of 18,000 USD per year. Don’t get me wrong – I will never be richer than those years in Italy. However, my friends and I did spend many an evening fantasizing about our, “one day when we have money” trips back to Florence. In addition to our suite at the Four Seasons and Michelin Star meals, we drafted a long wish list of luxurious, uniquely Florentine, self gifts.
Well the day has come – I have money and I am dying to hand it all over to small businesses in Italy. Without further ado – here is everything I plan to buy myself in Florence this year. Spoiler alert: none of these will actually break the bank so long as you aren’t living on a grad student stipend (I should also clarify that I am still a few pay grades shy of the Four Seasons suite).
Florence has been concocting fragrances, soaps, and balms since the middle ages when cloistered monks grew, ground, and mixed herbs to produce medications and treatments for their infirmaries. Word of the high quality products was leaked, one thing led to another, and now Florence is a world-renowned producer of quality smell goods, many of which use the same recipes mixed up 800 years ago. I have three separate stops to make on my perfume pilgrimage. First…
Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy | Via della Scala, 16: The no brainer. The pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is the most famous stop for luxury scents and soaps in Florence, and many would argue the world. I have two items on my shopping list while at the pharmacy..
- Rose Water. Originally mixed up to combat pestilence, it feels like a good “on theme” buy considering our current pandemic.
- Acqua di S.M. Novella. Catherine de’ Medici (a Florentine herself) commissioned this signature scent from the pharmacy when she became queen of France. It remains a best seller to this day.
Aquaflor | Borgo Santa Croce, 6: Aquaflor is a modern perfumery, set in a renaissance palazzo that draws from medieval traditions of Florentine perfume making. While I might be tempted to create my very own scent at Aquaflor (a signature of the shop), I will instead be stocking up on soaps and reed diffusers so I can pretend my 600 sq ft apartment is actually a Florentine villa.
Last but not least, the sensory sensation I’ve been lusting after for over a year…
Sileno Cheloni | Via San Niccolo, 72R: I stumbled across the seductive storefront in the quiet San Niccolo neighborhood in Florence while visiting last Spring, and have been dreaming about going back ever since. Sileno Cheloni, the former master perfumer of Aquaflor, has created an exclusive (even intimidating) fragrance workshop. Customers must schedule an appointment on the website before arriving to create their very own personal scent. The space itself is an elegant yet mysterious cabinet of curiosities awaiting a personalized, sensory experience. I. Cannot. Wait.
Leather production in Florence is a centuries-old tradition. Today, you can quite literally smell that tradition as you stroll through the markets and leather bags, belts and jackets sway in the wind around you. With the volume of leather goods available in Florence it is important to first consider what type of product you’re looking for, and then understand how to identify low-grade leather. Personally, I will be indulging in the always fabulous and high-quality…
Madova | Via de’ Guicciardini, 1/r: Madova is a small, but well-known producer of leather gloves. I purchased my first pair a few years ago and literally nothing makes me feel classier than slipping into this buttery perfection. All of the gloves in the shop are kept behind a counter. An attendant will give you a quick hand examination (determining your size) before pulling numerous options for you to try on at the counter – deerskin, lambskin, wool-lined, cashmere-lined, and the list goes on. The experience is fun, fast-paced, and completely worth it. This year – cashmere-lined cognac is on my wish list.
My grandmother consistently gave me the same shopping advice before every trip to Italy – “Remember to pack a few boxes of cigarettes to trade for cameos.” Grandma’s advice on currency may no longer hold up, but her tip to shop cameos in Florence certainly does. I’m personally a sucker for browsing the jewelry box stores that line the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. My now go-to for quality cameos on the bridge is…
Frattelli Peruzzo | Ponte Vecchio, 60: At the far south end of the Ponte Vecchio, Fratteli Peruzzo barely makes the bridge. Founded by silversmiths, the shop is known for just that – silver. However, I’m partial to the high-quality, silver-plated cameos. With a handful of coral cameos in my collection, this year I’ll be in search of an agate (or blue) cameo to add to the collection.
Manelli | Ponte Vecchio, 58: Next door to Fratelli, Manelli is impossible not to pop into. Manelli is primarily known for it’s clasp, gold-plated bracelets, finished with Florentine leather. You’ll find knock-offs all over town – but Manelli is the real deal. At only 20 to 30 euro, the quality bracelets make for an easy impulse buy.
Nothing says, “I’m a grown up who deserves nice things,” like purchasing REAL pajamas. And here’s the thing – if you’re fancy enough to swap a sorority tee for an article of clothing whose sole purpose is for sleeping – you might as well go big. For years, I’ve been fantasizing about doing just that at…
Loretta Caponi | Via delle Belle Donne, 28/r: Ok so this one’s a splurge but a splurge I’ve been dreaming about for some time now. Like most ateliers in Florence, Loretta Caponi is a family business that has been stitching together custom nightgowns and linens for the aristocracy of Florence for nearly a century. I’ve personally been eyeballing the traditional, man-repelling, just-for-me, smock style nighty and I simply CANNOT WAIT to finally indulge.
Why, do you ask, would one need marbled paper? I would like to say it’s because COVID-19 has inspired me to return to a simpler time of sending lovely handwritten notes to loved ones. But the reality is that I actually just want to frame a few pieces for my gallery wall. And the best place to go for colorful marbled paper is…
Il Papiro Firenze | Every 5 ft: Because of the numerous storefronts throughout the city in major piazze, you may be rightfully leery about authenticity. While some of the products at Il Papiro are certainly geared for mass tourist consumption, the beautiful paper creations are not. Every piece is created separately meaning that no two are exactly alike.
And there you have it – my starter list for shopping in Florence. While my recommendations skew slightly high-end, please don’t misunderstand that I also am a proud owner of a Duomo umbrella, David apron, and Birth of Venus toiletry bag. However you choose to indulge, we do hope to see you in Italy when our world is in a safer place. And I mean seriously – has there ever been a better way to do good than shopping?