Within a two-hundred metre radius of the Spanish Steps, you can hoover up the latest trends just as easily as you can in Milan – and at the same prices
Prada, Fendi, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Versace – the flagship boutiques of these and other major Italian (and international) designer brands line Via Condotti and surrounding streets. Though most of the main ‘label’ boutiques resemble branches anywhere in anywhere in the world, a couple do stand out.
The new Fendi store (Largo Goldoni 419-421, 00187 Roma; +39 06 334 501; www.fendi.com) at the Via del Corso end of Via Condotti occupies an entire nineteenth-century palazzo. The striking interior by New York architect Peter Marino, with its lavastone floors and waves of travertine suspended from the ceiling, is worth a look even if you’re not here to buy.
And the historic Bulgari boutique (Via Condotti 10, 00187 Roma; +39 06 696 261; www.bulgari.com) is like a museum with its windows framed in green African marble, its Pompeian-style stucco decoration, its old-fashioned display cases in which dazzling (and dazzlingly expensive) necklaces, bracelets, brooches and rings are laid out like Tutankhamun’s treasure. With its doorbell and one-to-one service, this is not a shop for casual browsers. I was lucky enough to be given a complete tour some year back when I was researching an article on the family firm. Otherwise the best strategy is to come on as a very confident potential purchaser (you never know, you might even be tempted to buy a trinket or two for that special person).
A host of one-off shops still exist here alongside the global brands. Places like Battistoni, tucked away in a courtyard off Via Condotti (Via Condotti 60-61A, 00187 Roma; +39 06 697 6111; www.battistoni.com), which has been purveying tweeds and made-to-measure suits in the ‘English style’ to the city’s well-heeled classes since the 1940s; or charming little Settimio Mieli (Via San Claudio 70, 00187 Roma; +39 06 678 5979), which crams hundreds of beautifully wrapped (and competitively-priced) women’s and men’s leather gloves of every possible hue into a shop the size of a broom cupboard.
Things get quirkier as you head north from the Spanish Steps. Ever since the Renaissance this has been the artists’ quarter, and although few penniless painters can afford to live here these days you’ll still get a flavour of the area’s more bohemian, villagey side if you wander along Via Margutta, with its antique shops, art galleries and lovely hidden courtyards (like that of number 51 – where Gregory Peck’s character lived in Roman Holiday).
Nearby, venerable stonemason Enrico Fiorentini presides over the Bottega del Marmoraro (Via Margutta 53B, 00187 Roma; +39 06 320 7660), an Aladdin’s cave of a shop full of marble friezes, classical busts and jokey carved inscriptions in Italian, Latin and English. I once went in here when signor Enrico was having his lunch on the huge slab of antique red marble that he uses as a dining table; after we’d chatted for a while, he invited me to join him for a plate of spaghetti. Like a true romano, he was more interested in convivial company and good food with maybe a glass or two of vino rosso than he was in actually selling anything.
Just around a couple of corners in Via del Babuino is chi-chi ‘concept store’ TAD (Via del Babuino 155A, 00187 Roma; +39 06 9684 2086; www.taditaly.com). Inside you’ll find cutting-edge fashion, homeware, books and magazines, a hairdresser and beauty salon, a flower shop and even a café-restaurant with a very stylish menu of fusion snacks and salads. It ain’t cheap, but it’s well worth a browse, and a good bet if you’re stuck for presents for difficult-to-please hip friends.
There are a couple of worthwhile stops at the top of the Spanish Steps too. In elegant Via Gregoriana, Indoroman (Via Gregoriana 36, 00187 Roma; +39 06 6919 0908; www.indoroman.com) is a real find. Owner Gaia Franchetti brings handwoven textiles back from regular trips to India and personalises them with her own printed motifs. You can buy fabric by the metre or made up into one of Franchetti’s very desirable quilts, scarves, dresses or other creations. She only opens from Monday to Friday; if the door’s closed, try ringing the bell.
Finally, right next to the Hotel De La Ville in swanky Via Sistina, Lisette Lenzi has been in charge of Rome’s most famous hair and beauty salon, Femme Sistina (Via Sistina 75A, 00187 Roma; +39 06 678 0260; www.femmesistina.com) since 1959. She’s done everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Nicole Kidman to my wife - by far the most glamorous and beautiful of the three. (There's nothing like taking dictation from one's better half to ensure a healthy and happy marriage...)
More expert advice on Rome
For more shopping advice, read my Shopping in Rome page.
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