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Indagare Insiders: Rome’s Top Independent Designers Share Their City Secrets

The center of Rome today could easily be mistaken for a massive luxury mall, so prevalent are the internationally known luxury brands that line its streets. For those shoppers who are looking for an item that is handmade and likely only found here, it can be hard to know where to look, so Indagare tracked down some of the last independent designers who sell their wares only in Rome and who deliver that sense of “Eureka!” for shoppers who like a treasure hunt. Here, they share their favorite shops, sites and restaurants in the Eternal City.

Contact us for assistance planning a customized journey to Rome.

Soledad Twombly

Twombly is a fashion and interior designer whose pieces can be found at L’Archivio di Monserrato (Via di Monserrato, 150).

Soledad Twombly, Photo by Rafik Greiss

How long have you had your shop and can you describe what makes it unique? Is there a particular style or product that you think best represents your work?

L’Archivio di Monserrato opened in October 2017. It is a space that brings together my career as a designer; a collection of antique fabrics and works of art; and my aesthetics as a stylist and a home decorator. I believe all the handmade tailored jackets and coats with trims and linings of precious materials are the best representation of my work. 

What is your favorite aspect of living in Rome?

The beauty of Rome is captivating. Every corner and building is exquisite and shines under the golden light that covers it all.

What are some favorite sights, activities, museums or neighborhoods in Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

For shopping, I certainly love the center of Rome around Campo dei Fiori, particularly Via Monserrato, the road where L’Archivio is located, surrounded by my amazingly creative neighbors. Fabio Salini, Gilbert Halaby, Delfina Delettrez, Chez Dede and Maja Arte Contemporanea are all wonderful. I enjoy going to the MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art and the Galleria Borghese. The best way to explore Rome is by foot, as the monuments are spectacular everywhere, and every street hides a jewel.

What should no visitor to Rome miss seeing or doing?

A stop at Terrazza Caffarelli is a must to overlook all the Roman ruins, as well as the Galleria Borghese, Galleria Doria Pamphilj and the Caravaggio paintings in the San Luigi dei Francesi church.

Do you have a favorite restaurant, shop or hotel?

I like the Hotel de la Ville because of its spectacular terrace and impeccable decoration by architect Tommaso Ziefer. For a boutique hotel, I recommend the G-Rough Hotel just a few steps from Piazza Navona, with nine exquisite rooms with great contemporary art on the walls.

My favorite restaurant depends on the season. In the summer, I enjoy Pianoalto, with its great terrace overlooking the Tiber. In the winter, I like to go to Nino, where I have been a regular for 20 years.

Do you have a favorite day trip or weekend trip from Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

Certainly lunch at La Posta Vecchia in Palo Laziale: an amazing villa on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Elif Sallorenzo

Sallorenzo is the founder of Artisanal Cornucopia (Via dell’Oca, 38).

How long have you had your shop and can you describe what makes it unique? Is there a particular style or product that you think best represents your work?

The keyword is artisan-made. Artisanal Cornucopia (AC) opened in the historic center of Rome near Piazza del Popolo at the end of October 2015. It is a cornucopia that often catches the eye of the discerning traveler: a rich, eclectic mix of curated local and international artisans, hence the name. Nothing in the store is mass-produced, and everything has been handpicked for a reason. It is a “slow shop” of sorts, similar to the “slow food” movement. There is an ample selection of local Roman artisans, and the bulk of what you find at any one time at the store is “made in Italy,” but since I love the cosmopolitan feeling (perhaps being a “dipkid,” or a diplomat/ambassador’s daughter), you will always find international artisans and brands coming from places as varied as Istanbul, India, Spain, Sweden, Columbia, New York and Paris, to name a few. I also have my own line, and oftentimes I will collaborate with artisans to create items made exclusively for AC. You will always find plenty of gift ideas and accessories, including jewelry, bijoux, shoes, bags, clothing, swimwear, fragrances and home objects.

What is your favorite aspect of living in Rome?

That it is a historic city with a rich heritage. That there is a story on every corner if you research or dig a little. That is green, with plenty of parks, and the seven hills it is founded on. That it has a wonderful climate. I also love the pineta marittima, the dramatic pine trees that have the most elegant silhouette!

What are some of your favorite sights, activities, museums or neighborhoods in Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

A few that come to mind: GNAM (Galleria Nazionale Arte Moderna), MAXXI (the building was designed by star architect Zaha Hadid), Villa Giulia (the Etruscan museum), Palazzo Pamphili (on Via del Corso, an exquisite palazzo). Take plenty of walks around the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Ghetto, and at night in the Foro di Augusto, Fori Imperiali and Terrazza Caffarelli. Walk around Gianicolo, one of the seven hills of Rome, and go to all the parks, including Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphili and Villa Ada: all huge parks that used to be private villas belonging to prominent families. Last but not least, of course pay a visit to Artisanal Cornucopia, around the corner from the Piazza del Popolo!

What should no visitor to Rome miss seeing or doing?

See Rome from one of its divine terraces, and enjoy the view of the city at your feet. Terrazza Caffarelli by Fori Imperiali, Terrazza Borromini by Piazza Navona (good for an aperitivo), Hotel de la Ville near the Spanish Steps (also good for an aperitivo) and Palazzo Manfredi‘s bar all offer amazing views.

Do you have a favorite restaurant, shop or hotel?

I love La Matriciana (Via del Viminale, 44), Metamorfosi (Via Giovanni Antonelli, 30), Ristorante Capoboi for fish (Via Arno, 80) and Da Baffetto for pizza (both locations). I’d recommend staying at Hotel Locarno on Via della Penna; it is so different from all the other hotels.

Do you have a favorite day trip or weekend trip from Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

Rome is wonderful for these short trips, you can even go to Tuscany for a weekend! Try Capalbio (stay at Locanda Rossa, dine at Rosso e Vino alla Dogana on the beach and at La Macchia Club in Macchiatonda). You can typically visit the beach from May through mid-October. You could also go to Santa Marinella, a 40-minute drive away, and stay at Hotel Ville Le Palme for a swim and scrumptious dining. Or visit Orvieto, where you can stay at Misia Resort or Altarocca Wine Resort for Sunday lunch and a vineyard visit.

Michele Am Russo

Am Russo is a bespoke tailor, designer and the CEO of Bomba, his family’s atelier (Via dell’Oca, 39).

How long have you had your shop and can you describe what makes it unique? Is there a particular style or product that you think best represents your work?

My mother Cristina Bomba founded Atelier Bomba in 1980. As of today, we design and produce one evolving no-season collection. We produce a RTW line in limited amounts, sold exclusively at our boutique on Via dell’Oca 39 in Rome. Here, we also offer a made-to-measure and bespoke tailoring service. Atelier Bomba has never taken part in the fashion system directly; we have moved with it, yet have never submitted to it. We are free from its dictates and able to work within our own rules. Throughout our history, we have always stood in the circle of culture, design and the arts. Besides being a bespoke handcraft tailor, I am currently the director and CEO of Atelier Bomba. My sister Caterina Nelli designs almost everything that we produce. And we work with our mother Cristina to bring Atelier Bomba’s vision into the future.

What is your favorite aspect of living in Rome?

Besides my work at Atelier Bomba, one thing I immediately think of is the light in Rome, the way it fills the space. Each morning I walk to the Atelier through the Villa Borghese and walk home at night around sunset. The light here has me falling in love everyday.

What are some of your favorite sights, activities, museums or neighborhoods in Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, San Pietro in Vincoli and getting lost anywhere within “the walls.”

What should no visitor to Rome miss seeing or doing?

Seeing Ponte Rotto from Isola Tiberina’s shore: a truly unique Piranesi experience. (It’s best to keep in mind to avoid Isola Tiberina during the summer season, as the temporary stands erase some of the beauty and romance.) And wandering the city in the early morning, near dawn, which is the only time in the day to really experience the city space.

Do you have a favorite restaurant, shop or hotel?

I love Hotel Locarno, because we are neighbors and because Caterina Valente really treasures this heritage with true effort, care and culture. My favorite restaurants typically depend upon what I fancy at the moment, but three standouts include Colline Emiliane on Via degli Avignonesi 22, Da Baffetto on Via del Governo Vecchio and the newly opened Marigold in Ostiense.

There is a very tiny shop for slippers, shoe trees, creams, laces, brushes and more at Via della Croce 39, with a hand-painted glass shop sign that’s about a hundred years old and difficult to spot among the restaurant tents lining this small street. I also love Buccone on Via Ripetta for wine, and the workshop at Via del Vantaggio, 2. Ring the bell, and I’ll leave the rest for you to discover (but I will say that Napoleon Bonaparte was among their early clients, back when he was crowned King of Italy).

Some of my other favorite shops have closed in recent years. They were historic shops that couldn’t afford the increasing rent. Landlords are less likely to value the uniqueness and historical importance of these shop and would prefer to take advantage of new touristy shops and restaurants, which is the main reason why there is almost nothing authentic left in the historic center of Rome.

Do you have a favorite day trip or weekend trip from Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

I would recommend Villa di Adriano in Tivoli; Caprarola and its Palazzo Farnese; and of course, Naples! In Naples, do beware of pickpockets, as this is not a myth. Have lunch at Trattoria da Nennella and dinner at Ristorante Europeo Mattozzi. Visit Certosa di San Martino and the unique Cimitero delle Fontanelle. If you are adventurous and in for an authentic Neapolitan dive, you may sleep at Casa del Monacone in Rione Sanità or at Patrizia Izzo’s B&B literally facing the Maschio Angioino.

Cristina Pavelescu

Pavelescu is the owner, artist and curator behind the shop Spazio Artigiano (Vicolo dei Serpenti, 13).

How long have you had your shop and can you describe what makes it unique? Is there a particular style or product that you think best represents your work?

I opened Spazio Artigiano in 1997. I was a collector of ceramics, fabrics and glasses, and my house became too small to hold it all, so in a way, it was the continuation of a passion that necessitated a larger home. What is unique in my shop, in my opinion, is the mix of materials, techniques and colors that are so different but still find a way to come together.

What is your favorite aspect of living in Rome?

Living in Rome is like living in the center of history….it is about stones with a story to tell, and I often take inspiration from antique crafts. In Rome, the light is special: the blue of the sky is more blue, and the way the sun drops in Tevere, the colors of the sunset and the light in the morning all make the city unique and special, a continuous source of inspiration. Take a walk early in the morning, before 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and you’ll understand.

What are some of your favorite sights, activities, museums or neighborhoods in Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

Of course, the museums are all great, and there is plenty to learn about the history of Rome.

But one of my favorites has nothing to do with this history; it is the Museo Mario Praz (the house museum of a collector and architect). Another one is the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, a place to visit if you believe that history doesn’t stop with Bernini. I also adore going to Villa Torlonia and Casina delle Civette, the best for arts and craft lovers. 

What should no visitor to Rome miss seeing or doing?

Travelers should stay at least a month and see every place. But I know this is not possible, so I suggest Fori Imperiali and Musei Capitolini, the Baths of Diocletian and the National Roman Museum to understand the Roman origins. Then, I suggest viewing Bernini’s works and comparing them to Borromini’s to understand another important period in Rome’s history. Of course, you can’t miss a walk through Monti, a very poetic place, where you can still see the walls that once divided this area from the center of the city.

Do you have a favorite restaurant, shop or hotel?

In Monti, I love Trattoria Valentino on Via del Boschetto. The food is fresh and delicious, and the wine is wonderful. And I adore the owners Rita and Valentino, who have a real Roman sense of humor.

When I go for a walk on Sunday mornings, I like to stop at Grand Hotel de La Minerve and have breakfast in the roof garden, where the views and the coffee are perfect. For a good pizza (though not the typical thin-crust), I go to Pro Loco Pinciano on Via Bergamo, which uses only local products by small producers. For gelato, I like the huge gelato cups at Giolitti.

Do you have a favorite day trip or weekend trip from Rome that you would recommend to a visitor?

I would visit Farfa, with its beautiful monastery and shops with linen towels made on a Jacquard Loom, as well as Calcata, a village of artists where the local residents may even invite you for a cup of coffee.

Contact us for assistance planning a customized journey to Rome.

– Melissa Biggs Bradley on October 24, 2019

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