(Author's note 2021: late summer..this time of year always makes me think of Italy. The sun-baked fields, vineyards, and orchards and the clear blue skies of Tuscany. And, of course, of Florence –so I wanted to bring this article from a couple of years ago to the top of your reading list. Like so many others around the world, I haven't really been able to travel for almost a year and a half now. Hopefully, that will change in the near future, but that's far from certain at the moment. If you're lucky enough to travel this year, I've checked and Case dei Tessuti is still there, open, and welcoming customers. Please say hi to them for me..)
I know, I know..this is a big assertion, “the world's finest fabric shop..” After all, the world's a big place and there are a lot of good fabric shops, but please read on and you'll understand. As I've written about many times before, I've been sewing all my life. I've also been fortunate enough to have lived in quite a few different countries and traveled a lot. So as you can imagine, I've seen a lot of fabric shops in my day. All that being said, nothing could have prepared me for what I discovered in Florence, Italy a few weeks ago when we were on holiday there.
I was walking down one of the beautiful side streets just next to the famous Duomo and I saw this window display with some of the most lovely fabrics I'd ever seen.
I found myself in Casa dei Tessuti or simply “House of Fabrics” in English. From the cover photo in the article, you'll see the Duomo in the background and get a sense of just how central this shop is.
Inside the shop were shelves and shelves of some of the most incredible fabrics I'd ever seen. I've definitely been to bigger fabric shops, but certainly nothing like this in terms of quality, brands, and history.
Names like Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Versace, Valentino, Ungaro, Pucci, Cavalli, and Armani are known to many as fashion designers, but most don't know that these fashion houses not only design garments but they also design their own original custom fabrics that are used in their creations. All made in Italy.
Most of these fabrics are produced by the storied Italian fabric mills based around what's poetically called the Stada della Lana or the “Wool Road” in Northwest Italy roughly between Milan and Turin. These names are less well known but form the backbone of the global fine and luxury textile markets where quality and design are paramount. Some of the better known are Lanificio Egidio Ferla or simply called Ferla as well as Vitale Barberis Canonico who have been producing fabrics since 1663!
I'm not sure anyone could consider the fabrics on offer at Casa dei Tessuti to be inexpensive. They most definitely are not, but they are of a truly exceptional design and quality. And the selection that the store carries is extraordinary. It would be easy to spend a fortune in this place.
Stunned from being surrounded by so many wonderful fabrics, I was furiously snapping photos to share with you on the blog when I was approached by a portly man who seemed a little concerned with my now overheating iPhone. (In hindsight, most of the fabric designs are originals and proprietary to the designers, so the apprehension is understandable.)
In the end, I had a long conversation and interviewed the manager, Mr. Andrea Spulcioni, who has worked at the shop for more than 40 years. Casa dei Tessuti, dates from 1929 when it was founded by Egisto Romoli, a native of Florence. The store has been the inspiration and source of many designers from around the world. Andrea said he has tended to the Queens of Denmark and Holland as well as international stars like Cher and various rock bands. He has also tended to people who walked into the store seemingly in rags and walked away after spending thousands of Euros.
The conversation with Andrea was interesting. Today, he laments that most people don't seem to dress with care like they used to. Most of his customers today come because they are connoisseurs of textiles or those, like me, who are attracted to the quality from the window display.
On a curious note, Andrea said that only men work in the store. In Italy, it's perceived that women would potentially be limited by jealousy while a man only cares to see a woman more beautiful and therefore is better at recommending colors to them. Ahh, Italy..
My biggest regret is that I could not speak with Andrea more. I can only imagine the stories he has to tell in more than 40 years working at Casa dei Tessuti.
There were a couple of my finds that hopefully, you'll see in upcoming posts, a Dior silk print with lace back and a Chanel pure wool double crepe in red. Wow. Magnificent.
While I didn't know it at the time, if you look on their website, you'll note that Casa dei Tessuti offers guided tours of the shop. Any fabric shop where people line up for tours is probably a pretty good fabric shop. In my book, it's the finest fabric shop in the world. If you're ever in Florence, you really must check it out. And please say hello to Andrea for us!