However. I’ve made a big stinktheme out of supporting Rome’s artisans and independent stores. As I’ve explored the non-chain-store side of Rome shopping, I’ve found some pretty great shops. And more and more readers have been requesting for me to share some of my finds with them.
So: I’ll be doing so more frequently. Starting with this outfit, which I bought just last week.
The dress is handmade, fairtrade, and made from organic cotton. (I wish the pictures could show just how soft and comfortable the material is!). I found it at Altromercato, the fairtrade store near Piazza del Popolo, on Via di Ripetta 262; the store was under renovations for a while, but just reopened.
(By the way, as well as clothing and jewelry, Altromercato sells toiletries and even food. I walked out not only with this dress, but with an armful of organic pasta and sauce from the anti-Mafia organization Libera Terra).
The shoes, which are handmade, suede, and super comfortable, are from Barrila Boutique, another store near Piazza del Popolo. The store is located at Via di Babuino 34.
And, no, I couldn’t decide between the blue and the pink, so—especially because I can never find shoes I like—I scooped up both pairs.
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.
Walking into Le Talpe for the first time, I wasn’t immediately sure what the place was. An art gallery? (Paintings hung on the walls). A jewelry store? (Bracelets, earrings and necklaces in different media, including bronze, lace, and silicon, were arranged here and there). A clothing shop? (Racks of trendy clothing lined the store’s side).
The answer, of course, is that Le Talpe is all three. And then some—Le Talpe also hosts events, including readings and aperitivi.
Le Talpe opened about a year ago on Via Panisperna in Monti, and it’s yet another example of just how hip and contemporary Rome can be. Every month, Giovanna Dughera, one of the two owners, told me, they completely switch out everything in the store, showcasing different designers, jewelers, and artists. And because it’s always a mix of artists—all of whom make creative, beautifully-crafted goods—no matter the month, the store itself is fantastic to explore.
Just check out the variety of colors and designs you can find in there right now:
Currently, artists whose work is on display (and for sale) include Francesca Caltabiano, Alessandra Fiordaliso, and Simone Bath. But if you want to get your hands on one of their headbands or jackets or purses or paintings, go now, because in a month, everything will look different.
Extra tip: If the items in the front room are a little out of your price range, head to the back room on the left, where Giovanna has items left over from the last “exhibit”—at discounts of up to 50 percent off.
Le Talpe is located at Via Panisperna 222/a. Phone: +39 064871249.
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!
I've set a new goal: For the next year, when shopping for clothing or accessories in Rome, I'm only buying handmade or preworn.
And I'll be sharing what I discover with you. That means that, over the next few months, I'm going to be writing about artisanal stores around Rome—including what streets to hit up for Rome's best (unique, great-value, and no-chain) shopping, and blog posts on some of my favorite artisans.
If this sounds niche, or like a topic only for those of us who live in Rome, I don't mean it to be. Travelers to Rome often ask me what they should buy as a souvenir or gift; I can't think of a more priceless memento than, say, a handmade leather passport holder, or a handcrafted ring reminiscent of ancient Rome. Even if it costs more than a made-in-China "Rome, Italy" T-shirt, it'll last longer, feel more special, and bring you into contact with a Roman artisan, perhaps even letting you see how it was made. (Plus, these handcrafted goods aren't always pricier than the factory-made stuff. But more on that later).
Still curious why I've made the decision to avoid chain store shopping in Rome?
I want to support Rome's artisans—not the stores I can see in Any Other City, U.S.A./Canada/Europe
One of my favorite things about Rome is its artisans (above: Anna Preziosi at Silice, an artisanal glassmaker).I love seeing sewing machines in clothing shops. I love that there are still picture-frame makers and basket weavers here. It adds a sense of diversity within, and uniqueness to, Rome that simply wouldn't exist if H&M and Zara replaced every atelier and Pier One took over every picture-frame shop. It makes walking around—and shopping—fun.
Plus, when I grab something off a rack in a big store, I always feel like I'm simply "acquiring." Keeping up with the trends. Purchasing a necessity. You know—consuming. But getting something handmade? Picking it out with the help of the person who crafted it? Getting to see the smile on their face at you being so happy with the product? Well, call me a sucker, but that's ideal. Not to mention…
Right now, Italy can use my dollars more than a multinational corporation
My relationship with big chain stores is one-sided
So, in general, I've tried to avoid chain stores in Rome. Except for one: Zara. Open my closet, and you'll still see so many clothes from the Spanish label's line, I could practically open my own branch. (Not that Rome needs another one—there are three on Via del Corso alone!). When their Italian flagship opened on Via del Corso, I was thrilled. And then, this winter, I stopped by—an all-too-frequent habit—and, as I browsed, accidentally knocked down a hanger from a pole overstuffed with clothing. I picked it up and, rather than replace it and recreate the problem for someone else, set it on a table. One of the shop workers beelined over. "Oh," he said in Italian, "so you knock things down for me to pick up, do you? Is that how it goes?" I looked at him, speechless. "Right," he continued. "Yep, I see. I just clean up after you. Oh, that's great! That's really great! Thanks so much!".
That's when I realized. My addiction to chain-shopping? It wasn't just bad for my wallet. It was bad for my emotional health. I was giving my complete loyalty to… a corporation that didn't care less.
If I wouldn't do that in a relationship, why would I do it with my hard-earned money?
And so is their relationship with everyone else
Of course, a quick Google search can show that many of these big, beloved brands don't only not care about you (they have so many other millions of shoppers!)—they also don't care about the people they employ. Zara recently was penalized for the terrible conditions of one of its factories in Brazil. It's no secret that Forever 21 is one shady business, running sweatshops both at home and overseas, and, by blatantly ripping off designers and artists, breaking so many copyright laws it's faced more than 50 copyright lawsuits… all while proselytizing Christianity to its employees and printing Bible verses on their shopping bags! Even Urban Outfitters—which, from their clothing's urban trendiness, you'd think would be all about planet-saving hipster ideals—has no labor guidelines; the International Labor Rights Forum accuses the store of using child labor in Uzbekistan.
I don't care what label is sewn into a factory-made good when it's finished. It's still factory-made (read: not high-quality)
Big-theme issues aside, there's another good reason to get away from factory-made goods: the quality. I don't just mean for the cheapie stores, like H&M. I mean for the upmarket stores, too. I recently purchased an expensive bag from Baldinini, an upscale Italian store, that promptly lost its dye. The store sent it back to the factory to be repaired; it was returned to me and the same thing happened again. When they let me trade that bag for another, within a month, the strap of the new bag had started tearing off. They repaired the bag again. And three months later? The outside pocket started ripping right off the bag.
Turns out, when you're paying €300 for a bag, you're still paying for assembly-line production and factory-level quality. Just more for it.
So there you have it. Ciao, chain stores. I'll see you around
Of course, I know the whole issue is complicated. I know that all of these issues have to do with globalization, and the modern economy, and outsourcing, as well as the particular decisions made by these particular brands. And I don't mean to romanticize an artisan-filled past: Obviously, factories and machines have made life much easier and cheaper for everyone First-World consumers.
But, just as I think we lack a crucial understanding and awareness of what we're eating when we consume food that's traveled thousands of miles from its origins, been repackaged, marketed, and sold out of season… so do we all lose something when we only buy products delivered far away from their source of creation.
We lose the awareness that, for the product to be so cheap, very cheap labor was involved. We lose knowing how many hands it passed through to get to us (and how many of those people touching it were involved with the black market and the Mafia—just read Saviano's Gomorra if you're curious). We lose a sense of responsibility for how it was manufactured, why, and what it took to get it to us (i.e. thousands of miles of petroleum-heavy shipping and trucking).
What do you think? Those in Rome, have any artisans for me to try? And anyone want to join me on my year-long effort?