Rome: Italy's Other Fashion Hub

Milan may have the International runway shows, but in Rome a culture of artisanal couture has persisted for centuries.

High fashion in Rome is nearly as eternal as the city itself. In an age in which Milan is considered the hub of Italian moda, Rome’s handcrafted, artisanal couture has persevered for decades. The result? Timeless, wearable works of art that easily withstand the whims of mainstream fashion and continue to shape how we dress today.

To properly delve into true Roman fashion, start at Gattinoni (Via Toscana, 1). A matriarch of Italian couture, Fernanda Gattinoni turned down a job offer from Coco Chanel and moved to Rome to set up her own dress atelier. Gattinoni’s humble shop soon became the go-to destination for Hollywood heavyweights including Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, and Ingrid Bergman, and she spent her career concocting personalized dresses as well as extravagant costumes for the starlets’ cinematic roles. Along with an Oscar nomination in Costume Design for the 1956 film War and Peace, she is credited with reviving the high-waisted empire dress and experimenting exuberantly with macramé lace, silks, and velvets. Today, Gattinoni originals, including gowns, wallets, bags, and gloves, are sold at the same address where the founder opened her doors nearly seven decades ago.

Another female pioneer of Italian couture is Rome native Laura Biagiotti (Via Mario de’ Fiori, 26). Known as the “Queen of Cashmere,” Biagiotti debuted her eponymous line in 1972 and promoted the use of soft luxe fabrics as well as flattering styles like the babydoll dress. Biagiotti’s flagship store continues to feature the designer’s signature blend of luxury meets comfort. Seek out her extensive line of accessories, particularly her glamorous movie-star-inspired sunglasses.

Greek immigrant Sotirios Voulgaris opened his jewelry shop Bulgari (Via Condotti, 10) on Rome’s Via Sistina in 1884. According to legend, Voulgaris arrived in southern Italy with 18 cents in his pocket, but through a firm work ethic and successful collaboration with his sons Giorgio and Costantino, he steadily shaped the Bulgari brand into one of the most renowned jewelry houses in the world. Bulgari pieces are instantly recognizable for their bold, Art Deco inspired look, and have been the favorite of royalty and leading ladies of the past and present. Bulgari was a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, and regularly supplies gems to Julia Roberts and Naomi Watts, among others.

Valentino fashion on runway, Valentino Red
The signature shade of Valentino Red (©Valentino)

A few international fashion houses can also trace their origins back to the city’s capital, including the legendary brands Valentino and Fendi. Perhaps considered the “emperor” of Roman society, Valentino (Via dei Condotti, 15) began his fashion career when he was a child, apprenticing for his seamstress aunt. After studying in Paris, he started his own line in the late ‘50s, and has since dressed some of the most iconic women in the 20th century, including Jacqueline Kennedy (he designed her wedding dress when she married Aristotle Onassis), Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren. Known for his signature shade, “Valentino Red,” he is also praised for introducing a generous dose of Old Hollywood glamour into the wardrobes of his clients, whether it be through a sleek accessory or a stunning gown.

In 1925, Adele and Edoardo Fendi (Largo Goldoni, 187) launched a small leather and fur workshop on Rome’s Via del Plebiscito. The two artisans began what would become a multi-million-dollar business by constructing innovative calfskin bags. Adele was said to have admired the leather saddles on horse-drawn carriages, and adopted an identical artisanal technique for her own handbags. Eighty-nine years later, the brand has revived these Selleria leather bags, each one made completely by hand by a team of 30 master saddlers. Creative director of accessories Silvia Venturini Fendi has also dreamt up iconic “it” accessories like the bestselling peekaboo and baguette handbags. So how does the company sum up their success? “Rome,” says Venturini Fendi, “is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.” We couldn’t agree more.