Florence is not a city crowded with souvenir shops selling cheap or amusing tourist tat. Street stalls may hawk plastic reproductions of Michelangelo’s David and snow domes featuring the Duomo’s famous cupola, but most Florentines find these deeply distasteful. For them – as for the vast majority of tourists – this is a place to source quality handmade products in classic designs. Some visitors find what they’re after in the famed Mercato de San Lorenzo, crammed with inexpensive clothing, leather goods and ceramics, but savvy shoppers tend to gravitate towards historic shops and workrooms specialising in traditional artisanal products.
The recommendations below are a good place to start when seeking that special something to take home; for more, check the website of the Associazione Esercizi Storici Tradizionali e Tipici Fiorentini (Association of Historic, Traditional and Typical Shops in Florence; esercizistoricifiorentini.it).
Florentines take great pride in their dress and appearance. The first Italian prêt-à-porter show was staged here in 1951, and cutting a bella figura is part of the local DNA. The two biggest names in town, Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo, have their flagship stores on elegant Via de’ Tornabuoni – Ferragamo has been welcoming customers to its showroom in the Renaissance-era Palazzo Spini Feroni since 1938, and Guccio Gucci set up shop in a nearby street even earlier, in 1921.
They’re not the only local fashion royalty here, though: the psychedelic prints of local aristocrat Emilio Pucci are as popular today as they were when he opened his palazzo showroom in the 1950s.
When refreshing their wardrobes, fashionable Florentines often choose to sell their retired ensembles to one of the city’s growing number of vintage fashion boutiques. Designer labels from France and Italy are heavily represented, with designer staples, statement pieces and classy accessories easy to source. Popular boutiques include Street Doing in San Marco, Il Cancello in Santa Maria Novella and Boutique Nadine in Santa Croce.
Most visitors to Florence will walk past the glittering gold-filled windows of the famed Ponte Vecchio jewellery shops at some stage during their stay, but these tourist-oriented businesses aren’t the best places to buy jewellery. To find the work of the top goldsmiths in the city, you’ll need to investigate the wares at traditional stores such as Torrini (torrini.com), a family-run business established in 1800 which sells everything from wedding rings to 24-carat gold Florentine florins. Alternatively, modern maestros Paolo Penko and Alessandro Dari create distinctive pieces in both gold and silver at their respective ateliers – Penko’s pieces are whimsical, Dari’s are often fantastical.
Of the many artisanal industries in Florence, leather is perhaps the most famous. Shoes and other leather products have been crafted here since medieval times, when leather workshops were found on or around Via dei Calzaiuoli (Street of the Shoemakers). These days there aren’t many leather stores on this central thoroughfare, but the cobbled lanes of the Oltrarno district on the opposite side of the Arno River are filled with shops selling locally made shoes, bags and gloves.
Contemporary cobblers of note include Francesco da Firenze, known for his brightly coloured women’s sandals, and two upmarket shoemakers crafting men’s shoes to order: Mario Bemer (mariobemer.com) and Roberto Ugolini (roberto-ugolini.com). For gloves, head to Madova near the Ponte Vecchio. Opened in 1919, it stocks more than 3000 models lined with cashmere, silk, sheepskin or lambswool. Quality handbags and luggage aren’t as easy to source. Cashed-up shoppers gravitate to Gucci and Ferragamo, but those with more modest budgets can often be found browsing the stock at Cellerini (cellerini.it), a family-run business which has operated in Via del Sole since 1960, and Il Bisonte, opened in nearby Via del Parione in 1970.
Beauty products and fragrances
Florence isn’t just a feast for the eyes – it’s also mighty easy on the nose. This is largely due to the traditional officine profumo-farmaceutica (perfume and pharmaceutical workshops) operating in the historical centre. Originally established by medieval religious orders, these workshops have been producing sweetly scented herbal remedies and potions that are as popular today as they were back in the heyday of the Medicis. The most famous of these, Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, was founded in 1612 and has been making items such as perfume, potpourri, milk-based soaps and almond-butter face cream to the same recipes ever since.
Farmacia SS Annunziata (farmaciassannunziata1561.it) in San Marco has been around since the 16th century, and relative newcomer Officina de’ Tornabuoni set up shop on the street of the same name in 1843. Following in their footsteps – and housed in an equally gorgeous historic setting – is Aquaflor near the Basilica di Santa Croce, where perfumier Sileno Cheloni oversees production of 300 items and offers personalised consultations for those wishing to create their very own signature scent. Also notable is La Bottega dell’ Olio, a bijou boutique in a little-visited piazza off Borgo Santi Apostoli. Everything here is olive-based, and its olive-oil soaps and body balms are almost miraculously moisturising.
Stendhal, Byron, Shelley and Dickens are among the literary luminaries who have chosen to purchase top-quality stationery when in Florence. They were all customers of the ultra-elegant Pineider, established here in 1774 and now welcoming customers to its handsome showroom in Piazza de’ Rucellai. Nearby, in Via del Parione, is Alberto Cozzi, a family-run business specialising in handmade marbled paper and bound journals. Similarly exquisite paper and journals are found at Giulio Giannini e Figlio, opened in 1856 in a prominent location directly opposite the Palazzo Pitti.
In these days of mass production, few businesses can justify the high labour costs associated with the painstaking art of hand embroidery. Florence is fortunate to have retained a number of boutiques where smocked and embroidered children’s clothes, hand-embroidered linen and exquisitely finished embroidery-and-lace lingerie are produced and sold. Chief among these is Loretta Caponi in Piazza Antinori, established in the 1960s and known globally for its luxe lingerie and sleepwear. Another favourite is TAF (tafricami.com) in Via Por Santa Maria, which opened its first shop in 1919. It sells table linen from the original premises, and has a second store across the street where delightfully old-fashioned children’s outfits and christening robes are sold.
It goes without saying that Tuscany is known the world over for the quality of its food and wine. Less well known – but equally impressive – is traditional Tuscan kitchenware. Serious entertainers may want to check out the elegant porcelain tableware produced by Richard Ginori (richardginori1735.com), a Tuscan company established in 1735 whose showroom in Via de’ Rondinelli is one of the city’s most beautiful retail spaces. Close by, in San Lorenzo, is foodie favourite Bartolini, an emporium selling every gadget, appliance, pot and pan needed to produce classic Italian dishes at home.
Yes, we mean fashion for the head – hats, caps and even wigs. Florence has long been famous for its millinery and wigmaking. In fact, Filistrucchi (filistrucchi.com) in Santa Croce is the city’s oldest family-operated retail business (it was established in 1720 and the present owner is the ninth generation of his family to create wigs here). Ultra-fashionable milliner Grevi is nearly as old, having started production in 1875. Antonio Gatto, though a new arrival to the industry, produces a range of straw, felt and wool hats that can be accurately described as modern classics.
Last updated in January 2018