Despite my current city of residence, there's one thing I can identify with more than anything else: living in an area that lacks a huge choice of brands or stores. Having previously lived in places that featured your typical high street stores, a small selection of vintage outlets and perhaps an even smaller percentage of interesting indie boutiques, shopping would tend to get boring... fast. Which is probably why websites like 'Net-a-Porter' have proven to be so successful. Procrastinating at work usually meant browsing such online-stores, because even if you're not looking to buy - it's quite nice to peruse items by designers your local department store doesn't stock. My biggest temptation came when a friend introduced me to Luisaviaroma.com, a website that unlike NAP at the time, stocked goodies by Lanvin, Ann Demeulemeester or Nicholas Kirkwood, labels I had no way of accessing back then. And when the online sales started, I splurged on my very first pair of Lanvin flats (which to this day have gotten more wear than any other I shoes own). It's probably one of the reasons this boutique holds a special place in my heart and why having spent too much time drooling over their online stock, it's always nice to see the actual brick & mortar store that started it all.
Long before the Internet existed, in 1930 to be precise, Luisa Via Roma opened its doors in Florence. Initially a hat boutique founded by Luisa Jacuin, a Frenchwoman married to a Florentine, it was her son who started expanding the business by adding clothes and opening a factory for their production. It is currently still a family business run by Luisa's grandson Andrea Panconesi. Because of its name, most people tend to think the company is based in Rome, but the store name is a result of its location on 'Via Roma', a few steps away from the famous Duomo in the heart of the city. Long known as the Italian capital for ready-to-wear fashion, even Florence wasn't prepared for some of the avant-garde designers Panconesi discovered. One of his favorite stories was how he came across Kenzo in the 70s in Paris, but had trouble getting rid of the items he bought for the store, as his clients just weren't ready for the style yet. Of course these days the business is thriving, not just because of its great selection of local and select international labels (80% of the brands stocked are Italian), but creating an online store in 2000 proved to be a stroke of genius. The web-shop now receives over 40 000 visitors a day: 80 orders are processed daily with average sales of 500 EUR per order. The majority of the consumers are attracted by the more competitive pricing of Italian brands (10-20% lower than in most countries), free shipping and the fact that the boutique tends to offer new-season collections before anyone else.
The entrance area featuring a very snazzy bench and lots of cool jewelry, including pieces by Delfina Delettrez (top left), Jade Jagger (lower left), Iosselliani (top right) and Antonini (lower right).
As appealing as online-shopping is though, nothing quite compares to being in the actual store. For one, Luisa has a reputation of having the best shop windows in the city. And as I approached the large archway with two big LCD screens hovering above, I could see why: three very chic mannequins were completely clad in Balmain and hanging out near a motorcycle. The interior was just as luxurious - at least in terms of the pieces you could find. The decor was modern and white, not even remotely resembling a hat shop from the 30s, but because it was buzzing with people and the staff were incredibly friendly, the atmosphere was neither intimidating nor cold. And the first distraction was provided by the glass cases which housed a multitude of beautiful and edgy jewelry, including some amazing pieces by Delfina Delettrez.
Checking out the merchandise was very pleasant: SAs would keep their distance while you browsed, but the minute you'd turn around seeking help, they'd be by your side. As a constant reminder of their online empire, computer screens embedded into the walls could be found throughout the store allowing you to peruse their website via a touchscreen. I never bothered going online though (I can do that at home), mainly because my attention was caught by the Rick Owens corner near the entrance, which showcased most of his leather jackets and a nice selection of his wedge boots. The adjoining shelf was every Balmain-lovers dream-come-true: more blingy boots than one could possibly take in, and a few of their bags which I found slightly underwhelming.
Animated screens ran along all the walls (left) and one of the many shelves filled with shoes & bags (right).
The main section of the store featured a good mix of brands ranging from Giambattista Valli to Alexander Wang. The space felt quite open, probably because of the smoked glass skylight, which allowed a glimpse of the restaurant's garden patio situated a floor above (note to self: don't wear a short skirt when seated there... ). The items one should really be looking for, are the limited edition collaboration pieces designed specifically for the store. These included thigh-high embellished Zanotti boots, a wool & leather Rick Owens jacket, suede Haider Ackermann leggings or a turquoise snakeskin Pauric Sweeney bag. All of these are also available online of course.
Part of the shoe corner - this one focused mainly on Louboutin, incl. the lace-up red ones (top right) and jeweled-heel snakeskin boots from Diego Dolcini (lower right).
Shoes were displayed throughout the store - my significant other was quite taken with the black lace-up OTK Louboutins which have been everywhere lately... that is until he saw the price-tag. But if you thought this wasn't enough, there's even a separate shoe corner to satisfy any footwear cravings you may have. The opposite end had what looked like a jewelry department for some of the the pricier pieces. This is also where many of the more luxurious evening dresses were located.
To avoid further distraction, the men's department is a good place to go (at least if you're a woman), which can be found a floor above. As previously mentioned Luisa also has a restaurant and coffee bar, which can be a nice place to relax if you've browsed too much. Menswear included more Rick Owens, a lot of Lanvin (including a gorgeous suede jacket) and some funky boots by Gianni Barbato.
Heading two floors down to the basement level, I can't say I found anything that tempted me too much, as this is where most of the sporty and streetwear gear was displayed. Anything from multi-colored Moncler puffa jackets to Juicy Couture tracksuits hung from the racks. An entire sneaker wall showcased a nice selection of Converse (including another limited edition model), Adidas and Asics footwear.
My shopping ban prevented me from getting anything and if you manage to leave the store without spending any money, kudos to you, because I can see how women might lose control of their credit cards in a place like this. Of course the one big problem is that even if you do restrain yourself while browsing the boutique, there's always the online-store waiting for you when you get home...
Some of the limited edition collaboration items available in-store and online (images: Luisaviaroma).Address: Via Roma 19/21r, 50123 Florence
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:30, Sun: 11:00-19:00
Luisa Via Roma Homepage & Online-Shop