Italy for Fashionistas

Italy’s major cities — Florence, Milan and Rome — are a fashion-lover’s paradise. By: By Liane Bonin

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Click here for a list of the writer’s Fave Five places to eat in Milan.

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There’s one mark of quality every fashionista knows to look for when she’s shopping — and it’s not the brand label. It’s the simple phrase, “Made in Italy,” a virtual guarantee that the product in question is well-made, whether it’s a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos or a Prada dress. When it comes to high-end fashion, product originating from “the boot” is expected to be a cut above. 


Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II // (C) 2010 Sergio Calleja

Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II // (C) 2010 Sergio Calleja

I can attest that Italy’s reputation for delivering the goods, so to speak, isn’t just hype. Having spent time covering the fashion business beat, I’ve swooned over innovative designs and gorgeous workmanship at the Micam footwear fair in Milan, toured apparel factories in Salento and shopped at boutiques throughout the country. I’ve never been less than impressed with the skill and craftsmanship that goes into those locally made shoes and dresses, regardless of the brand name. The good news is that your clients don’t have to be reporters to get up close and personal with Italian fashion — anyone can, thanks to fashion tours custom made for the fashionista.

The best place to start any fashion-oriented tour of Italy is in the country’s largest city, Milan. Not only is Milan the headquarters of couture brands such as Valentino, Gucci and Prada, it is the home of what is believed to be the oldest shopping mall in the world, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in the Piazza del Duomo. A visit here may be the only time you can really claim that retail therapy is educational.

While casually window shopping the high-end streets near the majestic Milan Cathedral may be tempting, savvy visitors will want to sign up for a shopping tour. With sights like La Scala Opera House (which has a variety of opera legend Maria Callas’ costumes on display) and the Milan Cathedral (the fourth-largest church in the world) just steps away from the shopping district.

Keeping yourself on track isn’t the only reason to call in the professionals. For starters, there’s the sheer scope of Milan’s fashion district. Every street is studded with stores for some of the world’s best-known brands, such as Via Montenapoleone (Pucci, Prada, Etro, Gucci and Narciso Rodriguez), Via della Spiga (Chopard, Dolce&Gabbana,
Sergio Rossi) and Corso Venezia (Armani, Miu Miu). Even the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a far cry from your average U.S. mall. Although the 19th-century glass-vaulted structure houses a McDonald’s, it also has stores dedicated to Prada and Louis Vuitton.

Shopping tours of Milan don’t just cater to those seeking a luxury experience, however — some also appeal to the bargain hunter. Half-day jaunts to the Serravalle Designer Outlet, just an hour outside of Milan, promise shoppers some of those same luxury brands found in the city for up to 70 percent off year-round.

Milan Shopping Tours ( offers half-day tours with stops including Versace, Gucci, Prada and Brioni. Private tours are also available, although hotel pick-up and drop-off is not, and tickets must be purchased three days in advance for $70.

Milan Fashion Campus ( also provides customized half-day tours, priced from $230 for two people. Viator (, another local tour operator, offers a full-day trip to the Serravalle Designer Outlet for approximately $28, as well as a half-day tour of Milan’s high-end boutiques for $129 per person. Select Italy’s ( half-day Style & Substance: Shopping for the Best of Milan tour is priced from $693 for a group of up to six clients.

And while Milan might be the hub of the fashion industry in Italy, it’s not the only shopping hot spot.

Florence, known as the “cradle of the Renaissance,” has many of the same high-end shops in a setting that is, if anything, even more beautiful than the more urbanized Milan. Fashion lovers with a taste for history will want to get started with a visit to the Palazzo Pitti, which has a gallery devoted to clothing dating from the 16th century to the present, while those with a passion for designer goods will want to prowl Via de’ Tornabuoni, home to Armani, Ferragamo and Bulgari boutiques. Jewelry lovers will find all that glitters along the scenic Ponte Vecchio overlooking the Arno River.

But what draws most fashionistas to Florence is its proximity to the Prada outlet in nearby Montevarchi. Though only an hour-and-a-half away by car, the inconspicuous warehouse space is notoriously difficult to find, making the decision to opt for one of the many available half-day transports a wise one. For some tourists, the outlet might even be a more important destination than the Uffizi Gallery and, with deeply discounted prices on all things Prada, it’s hard to argue in favor of sightseeing.

But if that’s not enough for die-hard shoppers, many tour operators will also take visitors to the nearby McArthurGlen Barberino Outlet (featuring more than 100 stores including Missoni, Lacoste and D&G) and The Mall (home to Gucci and Bottega Veneta). The good news is that, with bus tickets available for as little as $40, a few good buys will easily cover your overhead. Tour operators that transport clients to these shopping meccas include Enjoy Florence (; and Gray Line Florence (

Finally, though Rome may be better known for the Colosseum than bargain hunting, that doesn’t mean there are few opportunities to shop there. While some visitors will want to explore the Versace and Dolce&Gabbana boutiques outside the Spanish Steps, the hustle and bustle of one of Italy’s fastest-moving cities makes hiring private shoping tour guides such as Stefania Troiani ( a savvy investment.

With so many different goods available, from Piazza Navona’s antiques and art to Porta Portese’s flea-market finds, fashionistas should never fear — in Italy, there is always ample opportunity to burn through those last few euros.