Of course you would. You’re in Rome. You’re in Italy. It’s October; still warm enough for flirtatious bare shoulders yet not so humid as to discourage gentle layering of fabrics or hours of ambling in the sunshine from boutique to boutique. Oh, that’s one of my favourite things about this city – all boutiques and hardly any shopping malls. The art, the pleasure, the antiquated idea of going to a specialist rather than some fluoro-lit conglomerate with elevators and vacuous shop assistants with little to no product knowledge is what shopping in Rome is about. The journey from store to store takes you through piazzas, past fountains and, if you’re shopping with me, numerous stops for caffe’ shakerato (sweet black coffee shaken over ice and often served in a martini glass – just enough elegance to convince yourself you truly DO need that silk scarf/pair of loafers/tailored trench in the last store).
When visiting friends ask me for advice about where to shop I always prepare them with the following caveat: globalisation isn’t a myth, these days almost every store, from designer to mainstream, carries the same stock in Sydney or Vancouver as it does in Rome or Florence. Of course, I have plenty of friends who emerge from the multi-level Zara extravaganza on via del Corso, laden with bags, exclaiming, “Oh but Kylie, I know I can get it at home but now I can say I bought it in Roooooome!” It’s true. And for those who want a Zara fix, there are three stores on via del Corso so close to each other you won’t even finish a single-scoop gelato in between visits. The largest is opposite Piazza del Parlamento. For something more authentic, there are also places for Roman shopping you can’t do you in your home town.
For me, one of the most exemplary Italian sartorial experiences is Ripense. Mamma mia! I remember I left a very chic male friend alone for a couple of hours (despite my dolce vita, every now and then I put in a few hours of work to make myself feel less indolent) and he came back flushed, infatuated, grabbing my hand and insisting I return with him to this cosy little tailor that is the quintessence of eleganza. When you think of the word ‘gentleman’ it is these handmade loafers, umbrellas, bespoke suits, shirts and satchels that you fantasize about. This friend of mine was utterly seduced by Ripense’s window and ventured inside to be fawned over by the impossibly chic yet unpretentious staff, which speak only Italian but have such an acute eye for menswear that surprisingly, nothing gets lost in translation. Via di Ripetta 38 lies just between Piazza del Popolo and Ara Pacis, in the street that runs parallel with the river.
Perhaps you want something for a bambino that hasn’t been manufactured in China or mass-produced by Disney? Seek out the most eccentric old man in Rome, a modern-day Geppetto whose wooden toys and puppets are crammed into a quaint little store on Via dei Pianellari 14. He’s known as Il Maestro Ferdinando Codognotto and is an extraordinarily talented artisan. Then again, maybe I’m biased because I met him one day in a bar and without even introducing himself he handed me a stone and said in Italian, “Bella, carry this with you always and it will bring you good luck.” What can I say, I’m a sucker for superstition from a romantic puppeteer.
The magnificent Fendi store on the corner of via del Corso and via dei Condotti, meanwhile, is worth a trip just to admire the store – be sure to go up the staircase to the second level.
Via del Babuino is my favourite street for shopping and is where you’re most likely to run into Italian and international celebs gliding out of Valentino, Miu Miu, Chanel or the backstreet of via Margutta, famous for its galleries and art dealers. It’s a little more serene and refined than the bustling via dei Condotti, where you’ll find all the luxe staples from Bulgari to Prada to Dolce e Gabbana.
I find the most common request from female tourists is “Where can I get some nice reasonably priced wedges?” While the stiletto is enchanting on a balmy evening, the cobblestones in the historic area make a chic suede wedge the shoe of choice for most Italian women from 18 to 80 years old. It may slip in and out of vogue in other countries, but here it is always welcomed and is perfect for days traipsing around the streets when a pair of Havaianas would be oh-so-anti-Italian-chic-in-the-city. My favourite store is just near the Hotel de Russie on via del Babuino but honestly, this city is packed with stores selling wedges for more or less the same price. Expect to pay around 50-70 euro for a decent pair in suede.
The two biggest shopping streets in Rome are via del Corso (nearest metro Spagna or Popolo) and via Cola di Rienzo in the neighbourhood of Prati (metro Lepanto or Ottaviano). The latter is less picturesque so only go here if it’s close to your hotel or you happen to be in the area visiting the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo.
If you’re young and cool, with a yearning for vintage finds, head to Monti, a small but super trendy area with cute stores and, aside from American Apparel, less mass market brands. I adore the bookshop there at the top of the hill on via della Madonna dei Monti, 112. It’s called Libri Necessari – which translates adorably as ‘Necessary Books’. I found these guys open at midnight, packed with vintage classics, scripts and newspapers from another era. Perhaps I just love the notion that a stained, musty copy of Keats’ poetry can be classed as absolutely ‘necessary’.
Oh dear, we’re at the end of the article and I haven’t even mentioned even half of my favourites. Vabbe’, step out, fuel yourself with strong Roman coffee and find your own shopping segreti.