“Where can I find a good leather store in Rome?” has to be one of the most frequently-asked questions I get. Although I’ve dragged my (leather-clad) heels on writing a full list — it’s pending, I promise — here’s one to add: Mancini.
The little shop, tucked behind the Pantheon, got its start back in 1918. The great-grandson of the first owner runs it today. For a small place, it’s had an illustrious history: it provided leather for the 1951 film Quo Vadis, once made a leather folder (random, yes) for Pope Pius XII and was Gucci’s go-to spot for repairs for years.
Just in time for the first day of fall: a workshop near the Spanish Steps that makes leather jackets. (And fur coats!). (Update, December 2016: Agostino’s store moved in November 2016. He’s now at Via dei Maroniti 13, near the Trevi Fountain—and only slightly further from the Spanish Steps. The store’s name is now Crisafulli Leather Fashion).
I discovered the Sistina 26 Crisafulli leather workshop a couple of months ago, and the owner, Agostino—a friendly Sicilian with a passion for all things artigianale—was more than happy to give me a tour. He and his wife, Elisa, not only run the shop, but design all of the jackets. And, as is always one of the best things about getting something handmade, they’re happy to alter the designs to suit anyone’s particular preference. And yes, they’re happy to ship abroad.
The cozy workshop in the back was everything an artisan’s workshop should be, included cluttered and humming with a current creation.
The store in the front has a number of jackets already made, in every color and type of leather imaginable, for both men and women. The styles range from classic to funky to, well, frankly outrageous. (Please see: green-and-yellow jacket, below).
Here are just a few of the leather jackets Agostino showed me:
And if fur’s your preference, they’ve got that too.
So if you’re thinking of splashing out this fall on a leather jacket that’ll last for years, check out Crisafulli. Because the only thing better than a leather jacket from Italy… is a handmade jacket made just for you.
It’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.
I 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.
Needless 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again — saldi time. But for diehard shoppers, the winter also brought something else exciting: Italy’s Zara flagship store.
Not just any Zara store, this Zara, the biggest in the world outside of those in Barcelona and Athens, commands five separate levels. It’s in the Palazzo Bocconi, a gorgeous structure built smack on Via del Corso in the 1880s. And it’s (relatively) eco-friendly, using 30 percent less energy and 70 percent less water than comparably-sized stores.
All of that makes 189 Via del Corso a pretty sweet stop for any Zara lover. But, as much as my jaw dropped, just a little bit, to see a store this slick and this big in little old Rome, it also made me a little sad. Let’s be honest: There had to be some transformation that went along with putting a multinational chain in a 120-year-old palazzo. Preservationists’ tears might be mitigated by the fact that, before, the palazzo was home to La Rinascente — the department store — but still. Yet another chain isn’t exactly helping Rome’s struggling artisans.
Ah, well. If you’re going to go — to Zara or any other Rome shop (including local artisans!) — go now. The saldi end on February 15.
Even with the best English-Italian dictionary, some Italian words baffle. Like tabaccaio. "Tobacco shop," sure. But what else is going on in there — and why does everyone seem to think it's so useful?
First, make sure you have the pronunciation right: "ch" is hard in Italian, so it's tah-back-ee or tah-back-aye-oh, not tab-atch-ee. (One poor tourist confessed to me the other day, "Oh no! I've been saying 'tab-atch-ee' for years of coming to Italy!")
Second, a tabaccaio is not just a tobacco shop. Yes, you can get cigarettes there — but you can get a bottle of water, gum, and likely postcards, batteries and international calling cards, too.
Most usefully, it's where you can get tickets for public transport. At the counter, just ask for "un biglietto per l'autobus" or "due/tre/etc. biglietti" (the ticket works for the bus, tram and metro); it's €1 per ticket. You'll also see Italians using the tabaccaio to pay their electric or phone bills and to "top up" their pay-as-you-go phones.
When you're looking for a tabacchaio, just scan your street for the telltale blue sign with a white T. Just remember that many tabacchi, especially outside of the tourist centers,close during lunchtime and around 6 or 7 at night.
For those of you in Rome who don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that the saldi — or sales — have arrived. And for those visiting, you might be wondering what all of the excitement, and the overcrowded stores, are about.
Unlike in, say, the U.S., Rome’s stores don’t have to tend small sales year-round. Instead, they have big, city-wide sales twice a year: post-Christmas, and July.
The first few days of the saldi can be crazy. The already-overworked-and-underpaid salespeople (seriously: I went into a popular shoe store the other day where there were 10 shoppers and just 1 worker, who had to get the shoes, make the sales and ring everything up by herself) are even more frantic. The line to try clothes on at Zara, always long, gets longer. The wait to get the attention of a salesgirl at Sisley, usually tough, becomes all but impossible.
But, but, but. The sales DO tend to be pretty good (often up to 50 percent off). And if you can’t bear to brave the crowds right away, don’t fear: The saldi will go on for another 5 or 6 weeks. They’ll keep cutting prices, too. Just remember that with a bunch of discerning Italians having come in before you, the good stuff will probably be gone.