Florence is famous for its artisans and high-quality craftsmanship. The Oltrarno quarter across the Arno River is home to many workshops and boutiques. Many fashion designers source their materials, produce their garments, or base their operations in Florence. I’ve looked forward to visiting the museums I described here since I started thinking about studying abroad in Florence, except for the Museo Capucci, which I recently learned about from my professor. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit one of them when you come here!
Located in the same area as the Palazzo Vecchio and Galleria degli Uffizi is the Gucci Museo. It features the work of Guccio Gucci, a prominent Italian fashion designer famous for his double G monogram and handbags. Gucci’s exposure to members of high society as a liftboy at London’s Savoy Hotel strongly influenced his work. Once he returned to his hometown of Florence in 1921, he started a leather goods company specializing in luggage made with local Tuscan craftsmanship. Gucci later went into clothing and worked with an artist to create silk scarf patterns.
The Gucci Museo consists of three floors of exhibitions. One of the most interesting objects in the museum is a commissioned Cadillac Seville featuring the double G logo on the ground floor. Samantha and I were fascinated by the exquisiteness and beauty of the evening gowns on the first floor. Dramatic music played in the room.
The Bamboo Room is a cool exhibit on the second floor showcasing variations of Gucci’s Bamboo bag over the years. Craftspeople heated and bent imported bamboo cane from Japan into a semi-circle and attached the decorative handle to a pigskin body.
There was a film room on the first floor where Samantha and I watched not clips of Gucci and fashion, but of restored films made possible with donations from the Gucci Foundation. It was cool to see the difference in quality before and after restoration.
I would highly recommend this museum to handbag fanatics.
Address: Piazza della Signoria 10, 50122 Florence, Italy
Note: Photography isn’t permitted. Be aware of openings in the glass walls protecting exhibition items. If you stick your hand in, you might set off an alarm!
Located around the corner from the Salvatore Ferragamo store beside the Arno is the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. Ferragamo had always been interested in shoes as a child and was an apprentice to a shoemaker. He moved to the United States to learn about industrial shoemaking and discovered that he preferred making shoes by hand and moved to Hollywood. After making shoes for cinema, he moved to Florence because of its strong tradition of craftsmanship.
Despite the museum’s name, only one room is dedicated to the Italian shoe designer. A majority of the exhibits focus on the history of the building, where the museum, store, and headquarters are situated. Past a giant clock that’s moving backwards in time is a wall covered in shoes. There’s a range in intricacy from simple suede patchwork to jeweled embroidery.
In front of the wall, there are six shoes displayed in glass cases. On the opposite side, there’s an interactive screen with design sketches. Ferragamo hired someone to sketch the shoes he designed. There is also a small table with shoemaking tools between two walls of mounted molds specifically made for celebrities.
Address: Palazzo Spini Feroni, Piazza Santa Trinita 5/R, 50123 Florence
Galleria del Costume is one of the museums inside Palazzo Pitti, formerly the home of grand dukes of Tuscany and the King of Italy when Florence was the capital. The first fashion shows took place in Palazzo Pitti’s Sala Bianca in the 1950s. Samantha and I walked many flights of steps to the second floor (third floor in American terms) and moved past the entrance to Galleria d’Arte Moderna and through a few rooms to get there. Fortunately, the elevator is right next to Galleria del Costume so we didn’t climb back to the ground floor.
The featured exhibit was Women in the Spotlight in the Twentieth Century, showcasing a range of women in fashion, from fashion designers to high-society clients. Each room also had a description of its history. The variety of silhouettes reflected the century between the 1900s to 2000s, such as loose garments from the 1910s and dresses with big skirts from the 1950s. A separate room showed clothing from way back during the Medici dynasty.
Some garments were heavily embellished with beads and crystals or fabric flowers. Others were simpler in comparison. The last room of clothing displayed bridal gowns dating from the 1910s to 1970s, which was followed by a room exhibiting jewelry. There are more jewelry and accessories in the Silver Museum. I also recommend visiting the Silver Museum because the ground floor has rooms with beautiful painted walls.
Address: Piazza Pitti 1, 50125 Florence
Note: Admission to Galleria del Costume includes Boboli Gardens, Bardini Gardens, Porcelain Museum, and Silver Museum.
Museo Capucci is on the fourth floor of the Villa Bardini and is the temporary exhibition on the third floor. Roberto Capucci is a fashion designer from Rome, who is famous for his sculptural clothing. The museum displayed breathtaking gowns and ensembles featuring pleats, layers of fabric, and color-blocking. There were wall-sized mirrors behind the clothes, which allowed viewers to see a different angle. Every garment literally shined.
There were also color pencil sketches and two photographs. An interesting sight was the juxtaposition of Capucci’s garments with Umberto Mariani’s sculptures. It was really cool to see the similar themes of drapery and rolls. Whereas Capucci’s pleated garments could move, Mariani’s pleated sculptures were frozen. This museum is a must-see; it’s gorgeous.
Address: Costa San Giorgio 2, 50125 Florence
Note: Admission to Villa Bardini includes Bardini Gardens. If you only want to visit these places, purchase your ticket at Villa Bardini first, not at Bardini Gardens. Tickets purchased at Bardini Gardens will give you admission to the places listed in the Galleria del Costume section, but not Villa Bardini.
Many designers in heritage fashion houses use their archives as a starting point for their designs. Fashion often repeats itself with variations, so history is a great source for inspiration. However, making a literal copy of a detail or silhouette from the past is unacceptable; it’s important to reinterpret it for the present or future. Some museums in New York City that have fashion exhibitions are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum at F.I.T., and Museum of the City of New York.
Crafting into the sunset,
If you’re interested in studying abroad, check out the Queens College Education Abroad office website.