Florence’s Fashion Renaissance


Florence’s Fashion Renaissance

By Lee Marshall  •  July 31, 2018

Move over, Milan. The Renaissance city is where style and culture are converging in Italy today.

Around the world, fashion and art have become increasingly and irrevocably intertwined. Witness the plethora of museum exhibitions devoted to designers; the myriad collaborations between fashion houses and art studios (Jeff Koons’s bags for Louis Vuitton; Stella McCartney dresses imprinted with an 18th-century George Stubbs painting); and the calendar of runway shows staged in architectural icons, from Westminster Abbey (Gucci) to Rio de Janeiro’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (Louis Vuitton). In Italy, while Milan remains the capital of the fashion industry, it’s in Florence that the country’s top designers are unleashing their off-the-runway creativity. Beyond the boutiques of Via Tornabuoni, a new wave of culture-centric projects is breathing new life into the Renaissance city’s rag trade.

It might be argued that this has been happening for centuries: The city’s wool merchants became official patrons of the Duomo in 1331. Seventy years later, their rivals in the cloth merchants’ guild launched a design competition for the cathedral baptistery’s Gate of Paradise doors, giving the city one of its enduring masterpieces. The Antico Setificio Fiorentino, an 18th-century silk factory now owned by classic Florentine fashion brand Stefano Ricci, still uses a warping mill designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Over the last couple of decades, however, Florence’s vocation for combining culture and clothing has seen a fresh boost. It began in 1995, when the Museo Ferragamo opened in the storied shoe brand’s quarters in the Palazzo Spini Ferroni. In 2007, Roman designer Roberto Capucci chose Florence’s Villa Bardini as the ideal showcase for his extraordinary archive of sculptural dresses. The Museo Gucci followed in 2011, in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia. And in 2016, fashion fair company Pitti Immagine partnered with the Uffizi Gallery to transform the Palazzo Pitti’s decades-old Costume Gallery into Italy’s first public fashion museum.

It’s impossible to separate Florence’s fashion industry from its artistic and cultural identity.

Having since undergone a top-to-toe reboot, the Museo Gucci reopened in January 2018 as Gucci Garden, a hybrid space that reflects creative director Alessandro Michele’s eclectic vision. Walking through the baroque palace’s eye-popping rooms and galleries reminds one of that brilliant Meryl Streep diatribe from The Devil Wears Prada—how it’s impossible to “exempt yourself from the fashion industry.” At Gucci Garden, fashion is food, in the downstairs restaurant helmed by Italian uber-chef Massimo Bottura, with a playful fusion menu. Fashion is music, in two rooms dedicated to Gucci’s collaboration with Icelandic alt-diva Björk. Fashion is art, in the Gucci Galleria on the first and second floors, where video works and murals by artists like Jayde Fish and Coco Capitán mingle with items from the Gucci archive. (The curator is Maria Luisa Frisa, of Venice’s IUAV design museum.) Fashion is nature: snakes, tigers and birds of paradise romp on scarves, statuettes, bags and garments, while an embroidered floral fantasy riots over one side of an otherwise sober gray coat. And, of course, fashion is commerce: A shop that spreads over two ground-floor rooms offers clothes, accessories, housewares and other items designed by Michele exclusively for sale at Gucci Garden.

Just down the street, the Museo Ferragamo displays thousands of pieces from the company’s archive, plus loaned works and multimedia content, all under the vaulted ceilings of a 13th-century Gothic palazzo basement. The current show, Italy in Hollywood (on view until March 10, 2019), reveals the Italian influence on the American dream factory, particularly during the early 20th century. Scattered amongst the exhibit’s halls are shoes that founder Salvatore Ferragamo made for cinema’s greatest stars: patent black pumps with extravagant bows, designed for Gloria Swanson, rub up against a pair of elegant calfskin riding boots crafted for Rudolph Valentino.

For Raffaello Napoleone, the CEO of Pitti Immagine, it’s only natural that such a dance between fashion and culture should be happening in Florence. “We’ve been working on this front since the late 1980s,” he says, “building strong links with the city and its extraordinary artistic heritage.” The events company was an early pioneer in bringing fashion shows to historic locations like the ornate Sala Bianca in the Palazzo Pitti as far back as the 1950s. In January 2019, it’s throwing a major men’s fashion exhibition—curated by French fashion historian Olivier Saillard—at the Palazzo’s Museum of Costume and Fashion. Fully appropriate in a city where fashion, art and politics have long gone hand in hand, and where a new generation of designers like Michele are hailed as harbingers of a new cultural Renaissance.


Museo Ferragamo: Palazzo Spini Feroni, Piazza di Santa Trinita, 5; +39 55-356-2846

Museo Roberto Capucci: Villa Bardini, Costa San Giorgio; +39 55-2006-6210

Gucci Garden: Piazza della Signoria, 10; +39 55-7592-7010

Palazzo Pitti Museum of Fashion & Costume: Piazza dei Pitti 1, +39 55-290-112


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  • September 25, 2018

    I have been to Firenze 36 times over the years. It is my favorite city in Italy and perhaps the world. Fz. is the perfect size for walking. Florentine renaissance art, particularly the quatrocento, was a significant part of my university studies.
    Ravello is my favorite small town.

Written By: Lee Marshall


Locations: Tuscany

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