Rome - Our 3 nights in Rome is really an excuse to be a real tourist. So Olivia and I head off as soon as we land to wander through the Plaza Navone filled with artists, easels and some rather dire paintings just around the corner from our 'hotel', a convent presided over by a delightful American nun called Sister Katherine. (I chose a convent rather than a hotel just for the experience! Hmmm.) Rome is busy, full of tourists, HOT and expensive, but impressive with monsterously enormous blond stone buildings and complicated fountains. For me the highlight is the walk through the lengthy corridors of the Vatican into the Sistine Chapel. The other highlight centres around eating - our dinners which we eat al fresco at tables set up on the pavement of a narrow street running parallel to Plaza Navone are fresh, tomato-y and tangy with basil!
No fashion museums to visit here – just the experience of Rome, in all her majesty and plenty of shopping. Of course, one of my favourite stories in Dreaming of Dior is the one about our snazzy lunch at the top of the Spanish Steps and our wander along via Condotti into Zara where I buy (with Olivia's insistence) a stunning digitally printed long silk gown! Zara in Rome is one of the best.
Venice – really nothing more I can say to bring on the oohs and aahs – just so fabulous. And for me, truly decadent as I book Olivia and I into the Londre Palace Hotel, one of the Luxury Small Hotels right on the Grand Canal. I decide to splurge and enjoy Venice as the Romantics on their Grand Tour did. Even though our room does not overlook the Grand Canal it does overlook the most striking church whose bells toll sonorously on the hour and keep reminding us we are in Italy. The hotel is filled with an exciting mix of antique Venetian glass (mirrors) and new (chandeliers). As Olivia always says, “This is the life!”
We have come to Venice to visit several museums I had read about – 'must sees', it said in my guide book.
On our first morning (of torrential rain) we go straight to the Fortuny Museum. Isabelle de Borchgrave, an artist from Belgium, is renowned for her exquisite paper recreations of Fortuny gowns which she stencils, paints and pleats just as Fortuny did to his gowns. It is one of the most delightfully intimate and inspiring museum exhibitions I have seen in many years. Over three floors in the hushed and ancient house of Mario Fortuny, Ms Borchgrave has a display of her gowns, all made from paper and printed with hand applied stencils in the manner of Fortuny (knife edged pleats of silk cascading from the rounded neck to the floor in a sheath like column), within the darkened and Pre-Raphaelite feeling rooms of the Palladio and interspersed with real Fortune gowns. I bought the book, 'Un Monde Di Carta Isabelle de Borchgrave incontra'. It is the ultimate artist's book bound by a stenciled fabric cover filled with personal photos of the artist and her creations. Really wonderful.
Now, I have always dreamed of wearing a Fortuny gown, but I now conclude the shape, cut and drape of his gowns really don't suit my figure (one needs to be super tall and reed thin) so I would just like to dream of owning one in my collection. The museum is empty so I have a wonderful opportunity of just wandering silently from room to room.
We also visit a private museum housed in a palazzo which tells the story of one rich Venetian family of the 1700s. The house is filled with the original furniture and sumptuous silk dresses worn by family members. It is a bit historical society, fashion museum and a complete 18th century time warp. A rather creepy guard keeps a close eye on us – we turn around and there he is! (I will find the name of this museum and post it for anyone interested.)
Olivia and I visit an inordinate amount of churches – each frescoed and decaying in that wonderful European way. I rains non-stop so we are content to retat to our beautiful hotel room to dry off and soak in deep bubbly baths in our seriously marbled bathroom
And on to Florence
Now Florence is my dream destination. It is romantic, beautiful, historic and the place you want to visit with the love of your live!! So visiting with my love of the moment, my gorgeous daughter Olivia, we arrive in Florence by train on a hot, early summer's evening. We check in to our sumptuous hotel near the train station and flop onto the bed after turning on the air conditioning and gaze at the ceiling – decorated with the most beautiful subtle frescos of angels, columns and puffy clouds all done about 400 years ago. We are here in Florence to discover fashion as only the Italians can do. Our ‘rendezvous' include the Ferragamo Shoe Museum and the Pitti Palace. Our other mission though is related to one of the stories in my first book, Dreaming of Dior. We are searching for Lizzie Boott's tomb in a 'cemetery in Florence'. Now this is quite tantalising - I love a good romance and a good escapade. This story is one I plan to write about in depth one day.
So, we are off straight away to the Pitti Palace to see the button exhibition – every button you could wish to adorn any garment from painted porcelain, to gold bees, to portraits carved from semi-precious gems. Thousands of them. There is also a wonderful history of fashion display beginning with silk taffeta dresses from 1700s to wonderful surrealist embroidered capes by Elsa Schiaperelli. There is also a small display of ethereal gowns and capes of floaty chiffon portraying the fashions in Italy from the 20s to the 50s.
We next explore the Ferragamo Shoe Museum housed in the Ferragamo Headquarters and shop just near the Arno. Every decade of Ferragamo shoes, made in the factory in Florence from 1927, chronicles the changes in shoe styles. Wonderful black and white photos of famous star wearing their beloved Ferragamo's line the walls. I learned that Ferragamo himself always measured his clients shoes personally and with the belief the heel was central to the shoes character and the character of the wearer.
Our adventure finding Lizzie Boot's tomb is a truly remarkable experience which includes helpful bus drivers, directions like "get off the buss when you see a long row of Cyprus trees", many buses, a caretaker at the cemetary who doesn't speak a word of English and Olivia discovering the tomb first. I will save the story for my next book - it deserves a long and romantic retelling. But I will tell you Lizzie is buried in the Cimtiere Allori on the outskirts of Florence and I have beautiful photographs documenting our adventure.
The rest of our stay revolves around window gazing at mouth watering gowns by Roberto Cavalli, Pucci and Versace with dazzling luggage and handbag displays inbetween. We eat just near our hotel in a restaurant in the square under huge umbrellas. Swallows swope overhead as the church bells toll. Aaaahh. Did I mention the delicious wines?! Yes, I am definitely addicted to the luxury and elegance of Florence. Next time I go back I am staying at the Helvetia & Bristol Hotel! ....and I will buy every book on Italian fashion I can find and another 5 pairs of shoes!
Have a look at the Galleria del Costume Di Palazzo Pitti to see what is on.