Looking for gifts from Italy while you’re in Rome? I’ve got you covered (just in time for the holidays)!
Here are some of my favorite shops in Rome for picking up the perfect present (maybe even for yourself…). Not only do these stores sell great gifts, but they’re all one-of-a-kind, too, unlike that J. Crew sweater that tens of thousands of people will unwrap on Christmas! Consider it just another perk of buying from artisanal and independent shops.
I paid a visit a week ago, and among the items I found were fantastically handpainted booties, elegant-looking jewelry made from (surprise!) medical tubing, and an ermine shrug that’s actually a stuffed animal ermine. Oh, and this handcrafted shawl/mini-jacket, which I couldn’t afford but could, at least, model for a moment. (Prices tend to be on the higher side—think €200 for a shrug like the one I’m wearing—but since the items are all handmade by some of Italy’s hippest designers and artists, it makes sense).
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.
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.
(The other leather options I had)
(Nice extra touch: the silver wheel)
(Going artisanal means attention to detail: the interior is lined with nubuck leather)
(With Vinicio and his work of art: my new wallet!)
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 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.
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.
Looking for the best shopping in Rome? Particularly if you’re in search of one-of-a-kind (and handmade! and stylish!) clothing and jewelry, beeline to Via del Boschetto, located an easy walk from Via Nazionale, the Roman forum, or the Colosseum.
In the heart of Rione Monti, one of Rome’s most ancient and hip neighborhoods, Via del Boschetto is packed with top-notch boutiques, artisans and ateliers, selling everything from hip clothing to handcrafted jewelry to vintage bags. The biggest surprise? At many of the stores, the pricetags are on par with what you’d find at a chain store—yet another reason to shop artisanal in Rome.
And remember: Over the next few months, I’m going to be focusing more on Rome’s unique stores, including with posts on some of my other favorite shopping streets in Rome, so stay tuned.
Now, let’s go shopping…
Tina Sondergaard, Via del Boschetto 1/D: The clothes at this tiny shop, all designed by Danish import Sondergaard (above), are hand-stitched and top-quality. The fabrics come from just outside Florence. Along with her whimsical-but-classy pieces, Sondergaard will create items by request—she’s made everything from costumes to wedding dresses in the past. But even her bespoke work won’t break the bank: She recently custom-made a cocktail dress for €200. Tel: +39 3343850799.
Kokoro, Via del Boschetto 75: Items at this “clothing laboratory” (above) are up-to-the-minute (items change weekly) and, well, frankly fabulous, with lots of play with color, prints, and texture (hello, suede leggings!). All the items, which include purses and accessories, are original Kokoro creations. And the prices are more than reasonable. Blouses are about €40, dresses €70. Who said shopping artisanal had to cost a ton? (P.S.: Kokoro also has another location on Via della Chiesa Nuova). Tel: +39 0664760251.
C.A.M., Via del Boschetto 76: The store’s name—which stands for “Classe Artigiana Monti”—gives you an idea of what the store is all about. Since 2009, Valentina Maroni and Giorgio Bacci, who met studying at the Academy of Fine Art (ABAV), have been designing and sewing their own creations here… right in the workshop in the back (below). Their designs, including lots of blouses and dresses, make classic, clean shapes contemporary with fun colors and textures, including, right now, lots of hip metallics. (Although C.A.M. is where Le Gallinelle used to be, it’s a completely separate store). Tel: +39 0648907175.
Il Giardino del Tè, Via del Boschetto 107: This tea shop, the first in Rome, has been a fixture in Monti since 1998—a feat in a city of cappuccino-lovers. Even if you’re not a big tea-drinker, it’s hard not to be sucked in by the aroma. Teas range from oolong and Turkish apple to hibiscus and walnut chocolate; jams and, yes, even some coffees are on sale, too. But what I’m really lusting after is some of the china on display (below). +39 0689535176.
Eliodoro, Via del Boschetto 109: Peek into the display window at Eliodoro and just try not to salivate. Precious gems as big as lemon drops make the rings look like they were stolen off of a very rich (and very hip) cardinal’s hand, while the earrings, necklaces and bracelets strike a similar classic-gone-chunky note. Rings start around €150. Tel: +39 064827486.
Le Nou, Via del Boschetto 111: This is the kind of hole-in-the-wall you could easily pass by. Don’t! The hip folks behind Le Nou design, and then handsew, trendy creations right there in the store lab. Lest you think getting something handcrafted makes it expensive, just wait: blouses start at €30. Yep, you heard me. The same price as at Zara. Tel: +39 0631056334.
Ashanti, Via del Boschetto 117: In the 12 years that jeweller Raffaelle Cinzio has been running this jewelry-shop-cum-art-space, he’s received serious accolades, like a mark of excellence for artisanship from the region of Lazio. Not that it’s any surprise: Raffaelle’s jewelry, handcrafted from silver, bronze, and gold in his workspace at the back of Ashanti Galleria, manages to be both exquisite and funky, much of it with a cool, androgynous tone (above). Contemporary paintings by artists, most of them Italian, hang on the walls. Sound too upmarket for your wallet? Actually, Raffaelle’s jewelry starts at €45 a pop, and the works of art at €100. Tel: +39 064884203.
Pulp, Via del Boschetto 140: This is a store with a serious cult following—and with reason. The boutique (above) sells not only colorful, funky vintage clothing and accessories, but vintage pieces that have been reworked by the owner, Fabrizio, to be both a) better-quality (no holes or tears here!) and b) even more hip. That’s not to mention the clothes that Fabrizio designs and creates from scratch. The overall effect? Fun (and sustainable!) fashion at a reasonable price. There’s a big collection of bags, shoes, and sunglasses here, too (below). +39 06485511.
Galleria d’Arte di Jullo, Via del Boschetto 141: Animal-lovers find themselves arrested by the display of this small, elegant gallery with its lovely oil paintings, sketches, and engravings of wild horses—all original creations by Italian artist Roberto di Jullo. Tel: +39 1919027.
Fabio Piccione, Via del Boschetto 148: Walking into this store is like diving into Grandma’s treasure chest. Jewelry from every decade of the 20th century have been repaired by the owner, Fabio Piccione, and resold at excellent prices. For costume-jewelry and vintage junkies, there’s no better bet for bangles. Tel: +39 064741697.
Want more tips about where to find the best shopping, and much more, in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!