The west front of the Prato Cathedral, the main Roman Catholic church of Prato, Tuscany.
hen you think of Tuscany, you don’t necessarily think of fashion. That’s partly because books and movies have done too good a job of selling the cinematography of those rolling hills. (Think “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Where Angels Fear to Tread.”) But it’s also because when it comes to culture and Tuscany, fashion has to get on the end of a very long line.
First, there’s the art. The Italian Renaissance was, after all, born in Tuscany’s regional capital, Florence. Donatello, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico and Botticelli, anyone? The school of painting in Siena – one of 10 provinces that make up Tuscany – was considered more sedate than the Florentine School, but it is no less glorious.
These schools of art were made possible by the Medicis, men with colorful names like Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero the Gouty and Piero the Unfortunate (although Piero the Gouty sounds pretty unfortunate as well). The Medicis were in turn served by the diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, the quintessential political pragmatist, who in works like “The Prince” promulgated the notion that it’s better to be feared than loved. According to Philip Bobbitt’s new book “The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli And the World That He Made” (Grove Press), Machiavelli was less of a Machiavelli than we’ve been led to believe. Still, he’s a drolly ruthless character on Showtime’s “The Borgias.”
Tuscany also boasted poets like Dante and Petrarch, composers like Mascagni and Puccini. And the vintages, well, how about a nice glass of Chianti?
Then there is the architecture that crowns the undulating landscape, as in the small, walled medieval town of San Gimignano in Siena. The Palazzo Comunale, the Collegiate Church and the Church of Sant’Agostino – which contain fresco cycles dating from the 14th and 15th centuries – have earned San Gimignano the nickname the “town of fine towers.” No wonder its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And small wonder, too, that fashion has had to vie for its place in the Tuscan sun. But some experts credit Florence – where luxury textiles have been the economic spine since the 15th century – as the birthplace of not only the Italian Renaissance but of modern (post-World War II) Italian fashion. It’s been the home of Salvatore Ferragamo since 1928. And in the early 1950s, Giovanni Battista Giorgini held soirées in Florence for up-and-coming designers. Roberto Cavalli, Gucci and Emilio Pucci are based in Florence, while Prada and Chanel maintain a sizable presence there.
If you go, you’ll want to hit the Via de’ Tornabuoni, the Fifth Avenue of Florence, where the major fashion houses and jewelers have their stylish shops. Via del Parione and Via Roma are also good bets for fashionistos and fashionistas.
But after clothing and bejeweling yourself you might just want to take an art break with someone who’s as naked as God – or rather, Michelangelo – made him. You’ll find the artist’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, although he once hung out in the Palazzo della Signoria. (Guess he got too cold.) A replica now stands there. Inside or out, Michelangelo’s 1504 Carrara marble creation is a stunner.