Who says exploring museums has to be a chore? You’re in for a real treat when you visit Florence’s Fashion Museums
By Sharon Preston
A number of leading Italian fashion houses, including Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo originated in Florence and have opened superb museums there; but that’s not all you can explore when you visit this fashion-forward city. The stunning Costume Gallery at the historic Pitti Palace will also be worth your time. Here’s what’s in store when you decide to explore these three fabulous fashion museums on your next trip
Museum Salvatore Ferragamo – Via dei Tornabuoni 2
Who says exploring museums has to be a chore? When you visit this historic museum, you’re in for a real treat. Located in a magnificent medieval palace called Palazzo Spini Feroni, the museum tells the story of shoe design and international fashion through famous Florentine master shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo’s creations. You’ll see photographs, sketches, books, magazines, and wooden casts of famous people’s feet. The most exciting displays are of the 10 000 shoes on display, all designed by Ferragamo from 1927 right until till he died in 1960.
What makes Ferragamo’s creations so unique is not only their refined craftsmanship and exquisite design. It’s also the fact that the master was inspired by leading artists of his generation, and used this inspiration to create masterpieces that have withstood the test of time. Having lived in the United States, Ferragamo became known as the ‘Shoemaker to the Stars’ and you’ll see a number of famous stars’ foot casts on display including those of Audrey Hepburn.
Ferragamo bought this historic palace in 1938 and made it his workshop and company headquarters. It was meticulously restored in 2000 and is home to some magnificent 17th and 18th Century Florentine art including exquisite frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti in the chapel.
The museum holds regular special exhibitions, so call ahead to find out what’s on while you’re in town.
Gucci Museum – Piazza della Signoria 10
Located in the magnificent 14th Century three-storey palace, Pallazzo della Mercanzia, this extraordinary museum tells the story of Gucci’s glamorous history. The museum, which was opened with great fanfare to celebrate the 90th birthday of the design house in 2011, has become a popular attraction. The popularity of the Gucci museum can be attributed to its status as a treasure trove of the famous designer’s best pieces that span almost a century.
The superb displays highlight what made Gucci famous initially – the magnificent monogrammed luggage pieces – but there are also lots of beautiful garments to look at, including gorgeous gowns worn by movie stars and celebrities such as the magnificent creation donned by Hilary Swank when she won an Oscar. You’ll also see other fascinating items like a Gucci-upholstered vehicle from the 1970s, and exquisite black and white photographs of Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren sporting Gucci at its most glam.
Costume Gallery (Galleria del Costume) – Pitti Palace
Home to more than 6 000 beautiful items of clothing worn between the 16th and 20th Centuries, the Costume Gallery is Italy’s single real fashion museum that tells the history of fashion through the centuries. Of course, its magnificent setting, in a wing of the magnificent Pitti Palace, makes it even more charming. The museum rooms are in what is called the Palazzina della Meridiana (‘Small Palace of the Sundial’), which is one of the palace pavilions that overlook the lush Boboli Gardens. It was built in the late 18th Century.
The Costume Gallery was created in 1983 and features a variety of costumes on display that date from the 16th Century right up to the present day. Garments include everyday items as well as those worn for theater, movies and TV plus a selection of fascinating accessories. You’ll see court gowns, haute couture dresses, exquisite ready-to-wear items as well as an assortment of theatrical costumes hand-made for theater and film.
Of course, the highlights are items created by 20th Century European master designers such as Saint Laurent, Valentino, Versace, Missoni and Armani. Also worth noting is that the clothing is displayed on mannequins with bodies typical of the period. This gives you the chance to take a look at how the female body has ‘changed’ over the centuries compared to the days when corsets reigned in those waists and made them miniscule.
You’ll also see various fascinating drawings, sketches and patters including those of famous figures. Newly added, meticulously restored funeral garments from the de Medici family in the 16th Century are well worth taking a look at. In fact, the entire museum is a fashion-lover’s delight.