TIM MAGEE explores Florence, the world’s FIFTH FASHION CAPITAL …
Soon Daniel Day Lewis will appear in a new movie for the last time, portraying American couturier Charles James. Our Joyce, our Beckett, our Meryl Streep, I’m still hoping Day Lewis will be coaxed from another retirement, but from next year on we can only look back at his work. 1985 was the year DDL arrived. His gay punk and My Beautiful Laundrette were the beginning of a career with fewer mis-steps than any before or since. He showed off his range in the Merchant Ivory jewel A Room With A View. Even in a movie cast from the honours list, full of dames, Day Lewis’s character, the wealthy and impossibly restrained, buttoned-up Cecil Vyse, doesn’t arrive into the movie for almost an hour but when he does, it’s almost impossible to watch anybody else. Julian Sands and the lovely Helena Bonham Carter poncing through poppy fields is the movie’s seminal scene but Cecil Vyse’s stiff-upper-lip kissing technique is the most comedic in cinema. And the co-star for this galaxy is the Renaissance beaut, Florence.
Apart from some fridge magnets and soccer scarves as decoration, the Tuscan capital looks just the same now as it did in the film. The little red book by Baedeker that Lucy and Charlotte religiously consulted in their version of Florence would, bar the un-PC remarks about the “natives”, still carry you through a city that contentedly spins on the same axis of Uffizi, Duomo, Santa Croce, Ponte Vecchio and classic Firenze backstreet trattoria. And you can see Cecil’s high-buttoned, long-legged Edwardian dandy look everywhere – hipsters aspire to Mr Vyse. For a five-star room with a view, the recently-revamped Hotel Lungarno looks out over the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. The cool blue and white interiors make it a refreshing refuge from the hot streets.
When asked about dining in Florence, I have mostly just been adding to the queues for Trattoria da Mario, whether it’s for the roast chicken or anything else in that mad trattoria where the VIP room is yet another room in Florence that doesn’t have a view of any kind – it’s a storage space downstairs, where you can dine surrounded by boxes of toilet roll. It’s great.
It is easy to eat poorly in the Tuscan capital. There is only so much ribollita, bistecca Fiorentina and lampredotto (traditional tripe street sandwiches) that you can take on board while making your way through the crowds, without needing a lie-down. For the latter, make a beeline for Sergio Pollini’s chioscho and decide whether you want the bread of your panino al lampredotto bathed (bagnato) in broth or dry, then add all the herby and spicy trimmings, and tuck in. Your trousers won’t thank you but your tastebuds will.
Just off the Ponte Vecchio is one of the best wine bars in Italy; Le Volpi e L’Uva – the fox and the grape – a perfect place to while away a few hours exploring the wine and cheese not just of Tuscany but from all over Italy. The democratically-priced everyday cooking of Trattoria Sabina has been drawing locals since the 1950s; its terracotta tiles and wooden tables bounce the slagging waiters’ voices around like they’re in their own kitchens. Finally, when any more nonna food is just a (picturesque) bridge too far, La Valle dei Cedri makes a good change – I believe in trying to find a good Lebanese wherever you can.
Phantom Thread, set in post-war London, is DDL’s last show. His ties to the industry continue with his model son Gabriel who might be walking the catwalks of the old fashion capitals in Milan, in Paris, New York and London as well as in Florence. I’ll remember his da, not just for his Cecil, but for some of the most stellar work ever seen on a cinema screen.
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Piazza Santo Spirito is the pulsing heart of the city with a daily food market and a fabulous flea market on the second Sunday of every month. For lunch, try La Vecchia Bettola for its penne alla bettola. Nip in to see the Masaccio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria della Carmine. Try Gelateria della Passera before a visit to the Marino Marini museum. For a pre-dinner drink, the loggia of the Palazzo Guadagni is a great vantage point. The Trattoria Cammillo in Oltrarno is the best for service and food. Try their fried zuccini flowers or signature bruléed pecorino cheese. Amber Guinness
Florence’s Fashion Gems
Luisaviaroma is a key destination, so make it your first stop. Then admire the palatial splendour of the Aquazzurra flagship in Piazza della Republica. Bjork is the city’s go-to concept store for “Nice Things” as its slogan declares. Cobbler to the stars, Salvatore Ferragamo, and his love of avant-garde art is shown in the exhibition 1927 The Return to Italy with work by contemporaries such as Gio Ponti, Balla, Depero and Maccari, at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. Make tracks for Richard Ginori, the historic Florentine porcelain house which has supplied china for Gucci’s new homeware line. Don’t leave without a post-retail coffee on the rooftop terrace of the centrally-located department store, La Rinascente.
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