Surprises in store at Boutique Luisa Via Roma

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Boutique Luisa Via Roma has long been Florence's fashion hub. Now it has opened its doors to the next generation of stylists, says Rebecca Gonsalves

In the late 1920s Frenchwoman Luisa Jaquin opened a Parisian boutique selling straw hats, with the help of her Italian husband Lido Panconesi.

After Panconesi, who loved to bet on horses, lost all his money at the Arc de Triomphe, the couple fled to Brazil, where they accrued a small fortune before returning to Europe. Settling in Florence, Panconesi's home town, in 1930, Luisa once again opened a hat boutique. Demand was great; this was a time when women changed their hats three times a day – in the morning, for tea and again in the evening. The business gradually expanded, and Panconesi introduced lines of apparel, building his own factory in which to produce the garments before it was deemed too much of a commitment and sold off in the late Sixties.

It was at this time that the couple's young nephew, Andrea Panconesi, a college undergraduate, became involved with the family business. He learnt the ropes as a window dresser before flying over to Paris on his first buying trip. Through his connections in the fashion world, he learnt of a Japanese designer who was showing innovative and avant-garde designs. Intrigued, Panconesi decided to take a closer look at this designer's work. That designer turned out to be Kenzo and subsequently Luisa Via Roma became the first European store to present the designer's autumn/winter 1968 collection.

Since that first Kenzo collection, Luisa Via Roma, named for the road in central Florence on which the flagship boutique is situated, has grown a world-wide reputation as a champion of emerging and avant-garde designers. As well as sourcing the best and freshest in design talent, the team behind the boutique, led by Andrea, now CEO, has embraced new technology as a way of spreading the ethos of the brand to worldwide markets.

In December 1999, was born – a reaction to the demands of global customers who wanted the same service and quality that they would receive on a visit to one of the physical stores. Andrea Panconesi explains: "The only difference between online and reality is quantity and space – online there is no limit, but in reality we cannot fit more than a certain amount of designers, we have to give them rotation. Online you can see the whole collection. The clients are the same – even the ones in Florence buy online.

"A year and a half ago we were celebrating 10 years of activity online and decided to invite our friends from all over the world, including all the bloggers we were collaborating with. As they were coming from all over, we thought, "let's give them a chance to do something useful." Because they are young and many are inexperienced, and without the backing of a publisher, they don't have photographers or access to garments to make professional editorial content. For 40 years we have tried to promote young designers, and now they are famous names when 20 years ago they were just kids coming here to shop on Saturdays. The bloggers are a new, independent voice; tomorrow they will hopefully become influential. I'm always excited for new things. That's part of our mentality in Florence – we live for new adventures."

For the inaugural event, christened "Firenze4Ever... it's magic", an invite to the city was extended to 40 bloggers – chosen for the quality of their blog's content and their popularity with followers – who are all part of the store's affiliate programme: a way for bloggers to build a relationship with Luisa Via Roma as well as to create revenue from their site. Now in its third season, Andrea thinks that the attention that Firenze4Ever brings to the city is priceless: "Florence is not Milan, London, New York – nothing much happens here. So Firenze4Ever and Pitti Immagine Uomo [an annual menswear trade show] are events that bring the city a lot of attention, and the whole city responds.

"This year for the first time, we decided to open the city – we opened a pop-up Red Valentino greenhouse nearby where the bloggers can do their photoshoots and the people can satisfy their curiosity because it's all glass. Before, the fashion world was closed, but now thanks to the web people are able to share their passion – it becomes a form of art, a universal language."

The invited bloggers are each provided with a professional make-up artist, hair stylist and photographer and given free run of the new collections from a diverse selection of designer names, from Gareth Pugh to Lanvin, Haider Ackermann to Givenchy and the choice of using a professional model or putting themselves in the picture. Bryan Yambao, better known to his 110,000 Twitter followers as BryanBoy, was one of the bloggers invited to attend the inaugural event and now returns every season. "I started blogging seven years ago and was an early supporter of the site because living in the Philippines we don't really have the shops that sell all the brands they have," he explains. "For somebody who's interested in fashion, the brands that they have are always top of their game, they have all things new.

"Now the shopping in the Philippines has changed, luxury consumption is really big in Asia and people are getting sick of the same big brands, while people are becoming more aware of the options they have, thanks to the internet. Of course, everybody still wants to buy something identifiable, hence the big brands, but it's great that people are supporting young designers."

Someone who knows the support that Luisa Via Roma can provide to brands is Laudomia Pucci, the daughter of Emilio Pucci – one of the city's most famous design houses. "Luisa Via Roma is an institution of Florence. When my father died in November 1992, they exposed a beautiful window of Pucci prints with all the mannequins dressed in black – that was a lovely homage. From a fashion fan's perspective, the store is one of the successes of Italy because it has been able to integrate not only a concept store but a whole way of servicing clients internationally, keeping a very unique profile. Heritage is an important part of the profile – there needs to be good roots but wings at the same time."

In fact, Andrea Panconesi talks of plans to bring the event to London to coincide with London Fashion Week. "That will be the next step. London has a different personality from the rest of the world. We like differences in personality and approach so we'll try and find a new formula for London, concentrating on British designers and collaborating with the British fashion school – different but with the same result: to give a service to the young people who are passionate about fashion."

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal