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Rome's homegrown brands


Rome has been a rich source of inspiration for many centuries. Stephen Doig explores the history of the labels that have made their homes in the Eternal City

Stephen Doig,

In Italy, a country that relies heavily on its reputation for high style, there has forever been a question mark over which city can claim the lion’s share of glamour. Milan, located near some of Italy’s most productive and prestigious mills and the host of the country’s fashion week, may be the most feted of the Italian fashion cities, but Rome’s status as a bona fide fashion capital in its own right is thoroughly justified. The catwalks of Milan may draw the flashbulbs of the world’s paparazzi, but it is in Rome that legions of designers have founded their businesses, finding inspiration in the romantic history of its winding boulevards.

Past masters

This is by no means a 20th-century phenomenon. The art and importance of fine attire was ingrained in the city in the era of the Roman Empire, and as time passed, a cottage industry of weavers and mills developed in the surrounding countryside to accommodate the well-heeled residents’ sartorial demands. But it was centuries later, in 1937, that the Cinecittà studios were founded, and Hollywood focused its attention on Italian cinema. Stars such as Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor flocked to the Italian capital and snapped up the products of the artisanal leather companies and tailors that called the city home.

Star wattage

It was in 1945 that a tailor called Nazareno Fonticoli and his business partner Gaetano Savini opened Brioni, a menswear emporium named after a particularly beautiful group of islands in the Adriatic. Fonticoli and Savini aimed their wares at Rome’s impeccably dressed gentlemen and the company’s original focus on hand-sewn pieces crafted in the highest quality fabrics is still just as evident today. Catering to the Hollywood elite that flooded the city at the time, the brand dressed Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson. It’s hard to imagine that the label would have evolved in the same way without the influence of Rome itself and the seductive world that was established there in the 1950s; the label still offers a shirting lined named Roma. And its handsome dinner jackets and crisp, lightweight shirting couldn’t look more at ease on the glamorous Via dei Condotti.

La Dolce Vita

The Roman connection is inherent to the storied house of Fendi too, and was never more evident than when the brand declared this year that it would be taking over the financial responsibilities of restoring the city’s iconic Trevi fountain, made famous in Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita. Fendi was founded in 1925 in Rome by Edoardo and Adele Fendi and the label’s current custodian, their granddaughter Silvia Venturini Fendi, is enthusiastic about just how essential this Roman heritage remains. ‘We have always supported things in a quiet way, but there is a big link between Fendi and the fountains because in the 1980s the Fendi sisters produced a book on Rome’s fountains,’ she explains. Fendi’s focus on leather and fur throughout the decades has served to remind the international fashion community how essential the Italian mills are to their businesses.

Jewel in the crown

Although Bulgari was initially launched in Greece, the business moved to Rome in 1884. Costantino and Giorgio Bulgari, the sons of the founder, developed a distinctive, high-octane style that appealed to the cinema stars when they took up residence in the city; Elizabeth Taylor championed the brand and her extraordinary collection of Bulgari jewellery was auctioned after her death in 2011. Bulgari paid tribute to Rome’s adopted sweetheart with an event and exhibition to display pieces formerly owned by her.

Location, location

In 2009, Gucci’s creative director Frida Giannini moved the Gucci operation to Rome from Florence, setting up a sumptuous Roman flagship base opposite the iconic Spanish Steps. An Italian newspaper reported that the reason behind the move was that Rome would act as more of a source of inspiration. Giannini herself, interviewed at the time of the move, said of the return to the city of her birth: ‘After a while, Florence was too oppressive to me, too small, more like a village.’ She is a keen art enthusiast and the company’s headquarters are now in a 16th-century building with a façade by Raphael. ‘My office is like a small Sistine Chapel – very inspiring,’ says Giannini.

From opulent art at every corner to the click of Ferragamo heels on the Via Veneto, it would be hard not to find a source of aesthetic inspiration in the Eternal City.

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