Finally, Florence

Sadly, the last leg of the trip came upon us and we will soon be going home after the final five days in Florence. However, despite my general melancholy over leaving Europe soon I am beyond joyous to have arrived in this gorgeous mecca of art at long last! Visiting Florence has always been a dream of mine ever since I was a small child, and this place really delivers on all the promises it made to my young imagination. From the massive architecturally elaborate cathedrals, to the magnificent marble statues, and even down to the cobblestone streets Florence as a city is one giant artpiece. As per our continuing tradition, on our arrival day we took a walking tour of this grand city all the way over the oldest bridge in Florence which is appropriately named the “Old bridge.” Along the way we not only saw the numerous designer shops that littered the streets such as Furla, Diesel, and Chanel but we also encountered several very talented artists who were selling their prints in the streets. This dichotomy of high-end products placed alongside local and world-reknowned art is what makes Florence such a unique destination, and allows it to live up to its title of the “City of Artists.” Although Florence was more of a noticeably tourist area due to its smaller size, you could easily ascertain who was a native of the city solely by their fashion sense. Similar to the residents of Milan in overall taste, the Florentine women wore flowy silk tops with strappy sandals and small clutch bags while the men sported designer polo shirts, fitted and snug jeans paired with flashy designer belts, and fashionable sneaker style shoes. Even bakers and shopkeepers still dressed with the easy air and attentiveness to detail that Italian people are known for. Of course, being surrounded by as well as producing some of the world’s most famous designers probably plays a huge role in the Italian fashion taste. Speaking of notable designers who helped to make Florence such a fashion center brings me to talk about our first museum trip in Florence to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Born in Bonito, Italy Salvatore Ferragamo was always fascinated with the human anatomy, and most notably with people’s feet. His fascination with shoes was evidenced even as early as nine years old when he designed his first pair for his older sisters to attend thier confirmations. His work ethic (gleaned from growing up in a poor family) pushed him to move first to Boston and then to Hollywood, California where he quickly gained his fame designing glamorous shoes for famous starlets such as Audrey Hepburn. Known for creating shoes that were custom made, Ferragamo’s obsession with feet provided him the insight into crafting shoes that not only looked fabulous on the outside but were just as pleasurable to wear because of their made-to-measure proportions. Credited with introducing the wedge (due to lack of resources during WWII), Ferragamo’s shop in Florence became world-reknowned for its designer’s fantastic made-to-order footwear. Salvatore Ferragamo wasn’t the only rising star in Florence though, as evidenced by the fact that the globally recognized brand Gucci also had its roots in this city. Our second museum visit was to the Gucci Musuem where we learned about Guccio Gucci’s own rise from poverty to become one of the biggest and most well-known names in fashion. Inspired by the wealthy guests that frequented the hotel that he worked at in London, a young Guccio Gucci returned to his home in Florence and started producing his own line of travel bags and accessories. As his designs got increasingly more popular, Gucci started to branch out into home goods and other products eventually creating a lifestyle brand that was carried on by his eldest son. The result of so much fashion and art melded into one small expanse of a city has solidified Florence as one of the most artistically bent cities in the world. However, as most people may know Florence is not only praised for its magnificent artwork or its fashionable districts, rather Florence is also highly revered for its food and even more for its wine. Therefore, I could not come to Florence and not go on a wine tour in one of the vineyards that are in such close proximity to this beautiful city. The tour that I and four other girls chose was one that started off in a wine school in Florence and then transported its eager participants to two different vineyards with plenty of wine tastings interspersed throughout the trip. Both of the wineries resided in the Chianti Classico region of Italy, which is most famous for some of the most delicate, heady, and fruity wines in the world. A guided tour through both location’s cellars ensued and then we were given multiple glasses of wine to sample at each stop. As a whole, this particular portion of the trip became one of my favorite memories from traveling abroad and I will always be grateful for the experience. As a whole, Europe offered up some of the most amazing sights and adventures that I have ever lived through in my life. If I had to classify each stop in terms of artistic temperment I would say that London is the major hub for affordable and high end retail and obvious royal influence. France I would label as the home for luxury and attention to detail in every aspect of living. Milan is most certainly my pick for most interesting and expensive fashion capital, and Florence I would say would be the center for artistic and cultural influence. On this trip I learned so much about fashion and how it has weaved its way into our daily lives, and how influential it truly is on every aspect of life. Overall, I have been incredibly blessed to take this trip and to gather so much new information and experience that I can translate into future success for myself, and for this I am the most grateful. Can’t wait to visit Europe again someday and to continue to see where my life takes me!

“Perseus with the Head of Medusa”

View of the “Old Bridge” in Florence.

One of Salvatore Ferragamo’s famous wedge designs in the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.

Gucci bags in the Gucci Museum.

Me and my friends at the second vineyard in the Chianti Classico region.

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Meet Me In Milan

Since Milan is known as the center of the world for prêt-à-porter (or as it is more commonly referred to: “ready-to-wear”) clothing, I was fully expecting to get a lot of shopping done on this leg of the trip. Not only was I not disappointed by the variety of designer shops and affordable stores there, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that we had arrived during the peak season for sales in Milan. Filled to the brim with fashion choices, Milan was quite the industrious center and was very modernized considering the fact that it was once just a small Italian city. Our first planned activity in Milan was a walking tour of the major shopping districts near the first shopping mall in the world, which is called the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy Vittorio Emanuele. While on the tour we were informed that the original reason why people began to flock to Milan was because fashion designers had started to set up shops here and had begun to compete with each other in this area. The biggest two competitors in this city were the world reknowned designers Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace. These two designers could not have been more dissimilar in their chosen styles of dress, and yet this was the very fact that probably made them such ardent rivals in order to prove that their aesthetic was more appealing to the masses. Giorgio Armani was the undisputed king of dark colors and simple silhouettes, while Gianni Versace was the sultan of shining colors and embellishment. The fierce competition between these two world class artists was one of the major draws of Milan during that time as well, because each individual was trying to outdo the other with their grandiose displays of talent. Eventually the battle between the two designers got so fierce that they both decided to stage a runway show on the same day at the same time in order to see whose turnout was more successful. This raging war was brought to a sudden halt though when Gianni Versace was tragically shot and killed in Miami, leaving Giorgio Armani without anyone to test his skills against. Since the end of this famous fued, Milan has continued to prosper and has become quite the industrial center for fashion and shopping. This was clearly evidenced by the fact that nearly every single person that I saw in the streets had some sort of designer product or accessory on their person, and was dressed in easy to wear high fashion. Even the nightlife in Milan is focused on the promotion of high-fashion brands. For instance, one night in Milan me and a small group of girls decided to try to get into Roberto Cavalli’s self-titled club “Just Cavalli.” Once inside, it was clear that the entire club was focused not just on partying, but also on displaying a clear brand message to the attendees, which included several product placements including Roberto Cavalli label vodka. This kind of promotion of a lifestyle for a brand is very helpful in creating and maintaining a label’s longevity in the market. While still visiting Milan, our group decided to also venture out into the biggest silk producing city in Italy, which is known as Como. In Como, we attended an exhibit on the production and manufacturing of silk products in the Silk Musuem or Museo Didattico della Seta as it is known in Italian. Inside the museum were several old machines (that were actually still functional) that were used in tandem with silk worms to create their luxurious finsihed product before modern machinery was introduced. Como itself was the main hub for silk production because it is the most arid and rainy part of Italy, and it contains the most water. This area also had an abundance of mulberry bushes, the leaves of which are the silk worm’s primary dietary choice. The scenery and landscape of Como was simply astounding to see and it was a nice break to be surrounded by nature and water after being so crowded all of the time in Milan. Since this is the second to last leg of my trip I am getting sad to leave Europe, but I am ecstatic to finally be able to see Florence for the first time though!

The entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Walking in one of the older, but still very rich shopping districts in Milan.

The stunning view on Lake Como.

Me enjoying the Como breeze.

The French Mystique

After a long and eventful stay in England I was ready for a more relaxed pace in France. My introduction to this city was very low-key and involved a tour of the major tourist sites via bus. We saw the Eiffel Tower and learned all about France’s history and importance in the art and fashion realms. As our time in France was limited to only five days we had to pack more visits into our schedule. Our first stop was at an exclusive French luxury lobbyist group known as Comite Colbert. Our guide for this visit detailed how Comite Colbert, which was founded by famous perfumer Jean-Jacques Guerlain in 1954, gathered together the biggest and most well known French luxury brands (including fashion, furniture, and glassware brands) in order to promote their specific type of luxury worldwide. In a sense, that was my biggest takeaway from France as a whole was the idea of perpetuating the degree of luxuriousness that the French as a whole have attained. From the shops, to the restaurants, and even to the tourist attractions France exuded this kind of quite elegance throughout. Another interesting experience was our group’s visit to the Dries van Noten exhibit in the Louvre. Inside, we discovered this incredible man’s inspirations for his own collections displayed side-by-side with the finished products that he created. One of the collections that I admired the most in this exhibit was one where he had taken his inspiration from the keys and body of pianos, and then translated those details into intricate filigreed patterns for tailored jackets. Another very special side trip that I made with a group of my friends was to the fabulous French queen Marie Antoinette’s Palace in Versailles.  Of course I had heard of the over-the-top style of this particular monarch (her extreme lavishness and spending eventually got her murdered by the desperate French peasants) but the degrees of opulence in every corner of her palace truly astounded me. From the expansive paintings on every ceiling in every room, to the marbled floors, to the sprawling and lush garden, and even down to the crown molding on the floorboards every single detail of the palace was meticulously crafted. If French luxury has a specific origin then it definitely comes from this woman’s attention to fashionable living. However, despite all of these obvious grandiose displays of wealth and prestige scattered throughout the city, I was surprised to find that the French people themselves did not seem all that glamorous. Almost everybody that I observed in this city dressed with the kind of slouchy indifference that I would usually associate with America. Sweatpants and sneakers abounded as well as hoodies and loose-fit pants, which really struck me as strange considering the French people’s reputation for good taste in clothing. One of our lectures for the class portion of this study abroad that I’m on really opened my eyes as to why this is the case though. My teacher told us that while France is one of the foremost producers of luxury goods they are not one of the top consumers of said goods. Rather places like America, Japan, and the U.K. far outbid the French for the amount of luxury goods purchased and consumed. This obvious divide was made even more apparent by the fact that almost every single person that I saw with a high-end retailer’s shopping bag was not speaking French or was clearly from outside of that country. Despite this realization however, France still held quite the mystique for me especially at night when the Eiffel Tower was lit up and glittering. Now I am just looking forward to spending time in Milan and seeing all there is to see in that beautiful city as well.

Me next to the Eiffel Tower!

Two of the dresses in the Dries van Noten exhibit.

A display in the gourmet chocolate shop Laduree.

Marie Antoinette’s famous “Hall of Mirrors”

The garden of Versailles.

Getting the London Look

One aspect of London that I did not expect at all was how upscale it truly is. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to see the full availability of high-fashion here in England. From Haute Couture stores like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce & Gabbana, to huge department stores such as Harrod’s or Selfridge’s, and trickling all the way down to more affordable high-end stores like Zara and Topshop. London as a fashion capital, really does have something for everyone. There are a whole bevy of upper-class sections in London that cater to the sophisticated elite such as Bond Street near Piccadilly and several shopping sections around Kensington Palace, which I found quite fascinating. Bespoke (custom made and tailored clothing) brands litter roads like Savile Row, which resides in the menswear section of London, and are extremely popular with the upper class. Street style wise as well Londoners are very fashion-forward and trendy. I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing Chanel flats with flowing colored pants and a simple designed sheer top. The bags here are very economical and small as it is kind of hard to maneuver here with a big bag especially on the Tube (a lesson I’ve learned the hard way). Another kind of bizarre rule that I ran across was the fact that numerous stores in London but especially the more exclusive stores do not want large groups to wander together through their stores together. I assume this is because they don’t want people to steal from them (as this is easier in bigger groups and there are no security sensors at the doors). Some other fashion related tidbits I have learned relate to how the Royal Family influenced fashion throughout the ages. An exhibit in Kensington called “Fashion Rules!” detailed how the clothes worn by Queen Elizabeth and her sister Margaret as well as some of Princess Diana’s own gowns and how they influenced trends as well as changed along with the times. After seeing Diana’s dresses I finally understood why she was such a huge fashion icon for so many people during her lifetime as well. Our group was also incredibly lucky to be able to visit the Worldwide Global Style Network (WGSN) which forecasts and discovers trends across the globe. This was another extremely unique experience in London because the company only has centers in London, Los Angeles, and  New York. However, the company was started in London as a way to determine what macro and micro trends in  fashion were occurring worldwide in order to give designers a leg up for competing on a global stage. Used by numerous fashion houses to help select the newest and trendiest hues and cuts for their clothing, the website also showcases which designers have been the most influential for creating trends as well. After we had explored London for a couple of days, our group took an excursion to the city of Bath two hours outside of London. Bath was fascinating for several reasons, the foremost being that every single building in the city according to their laws had to be built out of the same kind of locally grown limestone for aesthetic purposes. As a city Bath itself was rather beautiful, which made sense to me after I learned that Bath used to be one of the most premiere cities to visit in England due to the fact that it housed the only naturally occurring hot spring in all of the country. While in Bath we got to visit the Fashion Museum, which was home to  several Georgian era gowns and suits worn by the extremely rich during that time period. In the museum we saw how the styles of this age waxed and waned between overly decorated, to more staid styles depending on the economic conditions of the time. Overall, I would say that the various fashion exhibitions and sites of London have really solidified London as a very relevant city for trendy fashion followers in my own mind.

A window display at Dolce & Gabbana

One of Princess Diana’s gowns at the V&A Museum

A window display at Harvey Nichols

This dress featured prominently in the Fashion Museum in Bath’s ads.

Entrance to the Roman baths in Bath.