The Story of One Artisanal Outfit in Rome

Artisans shops in Rome

An all-artisanal outfit from Rome

This summer, I decided I needed two new pieces: a comfortable dress that I could wear as easily to the beach as to dinner. And a new wallet, since my old one was falling apart.

Instead of turning to a chain or department store, as I did in the past, I headed to two of my favorite Rome artisans. Each one handcrafted me exactly what I wanted… within just a couple of days. And the prices were reasonable—especially considering how much you'd usually pay to be personally involved in a piece's design.

Artisanal shopping in Rome

Now that's what a shopping bag should look like…

First: the wallet. For those who've followed my artisanal shopping adventure in Rome, it might come as no surprise that I headed straight to Armando Rioda.

I chatted with my buddy Vinicio Reggi, one of the owners, as we figured out what kind of wallet I wanted. He handed me several they'd already made to help me figure out size and style; when we had the basics figured out, he started sketching on a piece of paper. "You could have an extra pocket here, if you want," he said, drawing, "and the credit cards here. How many slots for them would you want?".

When we had the design figured out, it was time to choose the leather. He pulled out one bolt after another—camel, dark blue, red, black. I said I wanted dark brown, and for that, he had the perfect choice: a dark brown leather that was stamped to look like alligator skin.

When we'd finished designing my ideal wallet, he said it would be ready in just a couple of days. At the end of the week, I went to get it… and couldn't have been happier with the result.

Wallet from Armando Rioda

(The other leather options I had)
Leather from Armando Rioda

(Nice extra touch: the silver wheel)
Leather in Rome

(Going artisanal means attention to detail: the interior is lined with nubuck leather)
At Armando Rioda

(With Vinicio and his work of art: my new wallet!)

Obviously, I was pretty pleased. 

Next stop: finding a simple, travel-friendly dress. For that, I headed to Le Nou, located on Via del Boschetto (one of the best shopping streets in Rome!).

As usual, the store was sparse: just a few dresses and shirts hung on the rack. But the patterns change frequently here, and this time, I saw exactly the design I wanted. When I tried it on, it fit perfectly. (If it didn't, one of the two seamstress-designers who runs Le Nou assured me they could alter it to my measurements—at no extra cost).

The only problem was the color, a light green that didn't exactly complement my olive skin. So, instead, I was directed to a few bolts of cloth, and told to pick whichever one I wanted. I went with navy blue.

Bolts of cloth at Le Nou

(Bolts of pretty cloth at Le Nou)

I left my name and phone number, and the girls told me they'd text as soon as the dress was ready. Less than 24 hours later, I received a message. The dress was finished. Simple and classic, it was exactly what I'd wanted. The cost? €35.

Dress from Le Nou for web

One of Le Nou's designers-dressmakers with the result

I told you: You've gotta love Rome's artisans.

The details from outfit photo, at top: Handcrafted wallet from Armando Rioda, €200. Handmade dress from Le Nou, €35. Handmade suede espadrilles from Barrila Boutique, €59. The process of being involved in the design of a piece you're buying, and of supporting Rome's artisans? Priceless. 

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Looking for Leather in Rome? Head to Armando Rioda

Leather workshop in Rome, Armando RiodaIt’s the perfect gift from Italy: a handmade leather wallet. Or purse. Or passport-holder. But in Rome, figuring out where to go for an artisanal leather souvenir can be tough. There’s not even a leather market here, like there is in Florence (not that most of the leather there even seems to, ahem, be from Italy).

Enter Armando Rioda.

Although it’s in the heart of the Spanish Steps neighborhood, Armando Rioda is a molto local secret. It’s hidden on the second floor of a residential palazzo, and you have to ring the buzzer to enter; its name doesn’t even hang outside the building’s door. But it’s where leather-lovers in the know go.

Since 1949, the workshop (above… and below) has been turning out handmade leather goods by request. As proof of Armando Rioda’s craftsmanship, well-heeled Romans come here to get their Gucci purses and Prada jackets repaired (talk about trust!).

For 50 euros and up, you can get a wallet handmade here; for 100 euros and up, a purse. They also do luggage, tote bags, even jackets. Pricey, perhaps—but for a unique, handmade leather gift, hardly unfair.

Making a leather tote at Armando Rioda, Rome
Snakeskin purse at leather workshop, Rome
Leather and snakeskin at Armando Rioda leather workshop, RomeI first ventured there last year, looking for a Christmas gift for my father: a leather passport holder. I wasn’t satisfied with the machine-made ones I’d seen in stores, so decided to give an artisanal shop a try.

I can’t remember how I found out about this place. But I was glad I did. The guys inside, including the owner, were friendly and passionate about their work. (I’m not sure, however, how much English they spoke, so if your Italian is zilch, you might want to call first to ask).

Although there were some already-(hand)made passport-holders, wallets and purses for sale, I decided to have one made from scratch. I got to pick the leather (smooth or pebbled, brown or black—and, for that matter, leather or something zanier, like snakeskin) and the monogram (I went for a gold stamp). As well as being on a money budget, I was on a time constraint: I was leaving for the U.S. at the end of the week.

In three days, I came back to pick up a beautiful, handmade passport-holder. The cost? Fifty euros.

Leather gift from Rome workshop, Armando RiodaNeedless to say, my dad loved it.

Armando Rioda is located at Via Belsiana 90. Like lots of traditional shops, they have traditional hours: from 9am-1pm and 4pm-8pm. Call +39 0669924406 for more.

Update, April 2017: The artisans behind Armando Rioda have parted ways, meaning that Armando Rioda is now basically two locations.

One location is at Via delle Carrozze n.16, on the second floor; ring number 6 on the bell “Pelletteria Nives”. Call Nives (one of the owners) at +39 3385370233 or  Vinicio (the other owner) at +39 3333370831 to double-check their hours before stopping by.

The other location, which is called Rioda, is at Via del Cancello 14/15. To double-check their hours, you can call them at +39 066784942 or email them at


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