Florence, with its incredible Renaissance heritage, might not be as synonymous with high-end retail as Milan, yet it is carving out a niche for itself in the fashion world thanks to its renewed focus on exceptional flagships. Not satisfied with wowing customers with cutting-edge design and gleaming, multi-faceted spaces, the big Italian fashion players are investing in Florence’s heritage buildings and transforming them into celebrations of their own history
Salvatore Ferragamo bought the late 13th-century Palazzo Spini Feroni in 1938 and turned it into the brand’s headquarters. The designer had returned to his Italian roots to launch his eponymous label following his early success as a shoemaker to Hollywood stars. Fast forward 80 years and the palazzo is now home to one of the most alluring fashion flagships in Europe. Restored in 2000, today it is known for its 17th- and 18th-century Florentine art; the basement houses the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, which showcases a collection of 10,000 pairs of shoes designed by Ferragamo throughout his lifetime.
An increasing number of multi-faceted spaces is emerging, embracing many different aspects of a brand and seeking to represent both their present and their past
While Ferragamo shoes are available throughout the world, the flagship in Florence offers a unique visitor experience, combining the rich legacy of the brand with an of-the-moment retail space containing the latest collections. ‘When my husband died [in 1960] his dream was a House of Ferragamo where you could buy shoes and everything else for elegant dressing,’ Wanda Ferragamo told the New York Times in 1981. It was this vision that drove the success of the brand, and still informs its flagship today.
It’s one of a number of exceptional flagships that offer a complete immersion into the DNA of a brand, a growing trend within high-end retail spaces. Nick Leith-Smith is the founder Nick Leith-Smith Architecture and Design, which has conceived stores for brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Harvey Nichols and Kurt Geiger.
‘Expectations are high within new retail,’ explains Leith-Smith. ‘Clients have come to expect more challenging unique experiences, blending modern technology and contemporary craftsmanship, often with strong local art and cultural references.’ As a result, there are an increasing number of multi-faceted spaces that embrace many different aspects of a brand and seek to represent both their present and their past.
The Aquazzura flagship on Lugano Corsini is a good example. To live and operate out of the Palazzo Corsini was a dream of Aquazzura’s founder and creative director Edgardo Osorio when he was a student in Florence – and one that he has since turned into a reality. In 2015 Aquazzura opened its flagship in the 15th-century palazzo where Osorio also resides in a private apartment. It was once lived in by the Medici family, and its walls are covered with Renaissance frescoes. Bold colours and stripes, which are the basis of the brand’s distinctive aesthetic, blend with period Florentine features for a seamless fusion of antiquity and modernity.
Visitors to the Aquazzura flagship can browse a comprehensive selection of Osorio’s designs – footwear that manages to be simultaneously vibrant, sexy and comfortable – and also make use of a made-to-order service. The fact that the store is situated on the banks of the Arno, surrounded by some of the finest shoemakers and craftsmen in the world, only adds to the authenticity of the space.
Another Italian fashion house whose roots are firmly planted in Florence is Emilio Pucci, whose family palazzo was where the eponymous founder first worked with fabric manufacturers in the 1950s to develop the distinctive printed stretch fabrics that made him famous. Over 70 years later and the palazzo is still occupied by the Pucci family and, more importantly, still very much the beating heart of the brand. Recent campaigns have been shot on its large rooftop terrace, which was designed by Gae Aulenti in 1968, but you’ll have to walk to Via de’ Tornabuoni to find the Pucci boutique, where white and silver interiors provide the backdrop for the brand’s colourful printed creations.
Last but not least, there is the Gucci Museo in the Piazza della Signoria – a perfect complement to the flagship store in Via de’ Tornabuoni – whose inviting shop sells one-off Gucci originals. Currently under restoration, it’s home to an incredible archive of pieces that have served as inspiration for the brand’s collections over the years and is set to reopen soon. With Alessandro Michele and his magical creative vision at the helm, one can only wonder what this jewel in the crown of fashion spaces will bring.