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The Ferragamos' Florence

what to buy

Planning Your Attack The well-organized, energy-conscious shopper in Florence plans his attack by neighborhood, says Giovanna, allotting time for each of the key areas: the Centro Storico, Via Tornabuoni, Centro, and Oltrarno.

Centro Storico The city's ground zero takes in the Duomo, Uffizi Galleries, and Piazzas della Signoria and della Repubblica. Via Calimala and Via Calzaiuoli, the quarter's major shopping streets, are the setting for Florence's most popular passeggiata, the evening stroll that is a defining ritual of daily life.

The Shabby Shop (12RVia del Parione; 39-055/294-826) is where Leonardo finds presents for his wife, Beatrice. Calling the shop "shabby" is the owner's idea of a joke—antique carafes, saltcellars, and champagne buckets do not get any more splendid than this. Ferruccio, who says his wife, Amanda, is "extremely difficult to buy for," swears by the jewelry boutique Ugo Piccini (9-11R Via Por Santa Maria; 39-055/214-511), which has the city's largest selection of classic gold jewelry (bamboo hoop earrings and rope-twist bracelets are staples). Amanda and Ferruccio's twin boys are now 27 years old, but that doesn't stop her from stocking their wardrobes. When her sons need socks, she heads for Principe (21-29R Via Strozzi; 39-055/292-764), a sort of mini-Brooks Brothers. Amanda also recommends BM Bookshop (4R Borgo Ognissanti; 39-055/294-575): "It's the city's best English-language bookstore." American travelers race here when they realize they forgot to pack Faith Heller Willinger's Eating in Italy, the shopping bible Made in Italy by Annie Brody and Patricia Schultz, or Burton Anderson's Pocket Guide to Italian Wines.

Luigi Mazzoni is the second generation of his family to serve Wanda Ferragamo, the company's chairman, at the Mazzoni luxury linens boutique (14R Via Orsanmichele; 39-055/215-153). This is the matriarch's secret source for fine percale sheets, embellished with pinhead stars or snowflakes. Tea towels with jacquard images of the Palazzo Vecchio and Michelangelo's David make amusing souvenirs. Wanda also relies on Mazzoni for the extra-extra-wide—but seamless—damask tablecloths she needs when setting a holiday table for her brood. And it wouldn't be an Italian table of taste without Richard Ginori porcelain (17R Via Rondinelli; 39-055/210-041), prized for its opacity and brilliance.

Via Tornabuoni Bordering the west side of the Centro Storico, Via Tornabuoni is to Florence what Via Montenapoleone is to Milan: the city's most glittering shopping artery. Every Ferragamo woman has in her trousseau a slithery Harlowesque peignoir from Loretta Caponi (4R Piazza Antinori; 39-055/213-668), purveyors of what must be the world's most sumptuous lingerie and linens. Silk crepe de chine bedsheets, anyone?Loretta Caponi also sells classic children's wear, as does Baroni (9R Via Tornabuoni; 39-055/210-562), where Wanda finds Shetland shorts and smocked velvet dresses for her 21 grandchildren.

Other essential stops: Archimede Seguso (65R Via Tornabuoni; 39-055/283-467), a leading name in Venetian glass, makes muscular bowls and vases. Pineider (76R Via Tornabuoni; 39-055/211-605), across the street, is the place for status stationery—straight- or deckle-edged, satin or textured finish. Most imposing of all the street's boutiques is Ferragamo (16R Via Tornabuoni; 39-055/292-123). A Florentine's first purchase here is a rite of passage.

Centro Fanning out around the Centro Storico in a wedge from the Arno to Via dei Servi, the Centro is home to Ceramiche Ricceri (14R Via dei Conti; 39-055/291-296), a dusky store devoted to terra-cotta tableware made in Impruneta, six miles south of the city. The town's smooth gray clay has a high iron and aluminum content that results in unusually strong platters and pitchers.

While every stratum of Florentine society lays its tables with faïence, the cosmically priced brocades and chiseled velvets from Lisio Tessuti d'Arte (45R Via dei Fossi; 39-055/212-430) are the reserve of families like the Ferragamos. It takes three months to program the perforated cards that set Lisio's handlooms in motion, and eight hours to turn out a 3-by-23-inch morsel of jacquard.

In the same careful, labor-intensive tradition, L'Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (16 Via della Scala; 39-055/216-276) is a perfume, beauty, and herbalist's shop housed in the former (but still hushed) chapel of a Renaissance monastery. Intriguing tonics, unguents, digestives, and creams (one with snail oil to fight dry skin) are sold beneath a lofty vault depicting the four corners of the earth. More expected but no less sublime are the eaux de toilette, shampoos, soaps, and famous potpourri. It smells like nothing so much as an Italian church.

Oltrarno Stretched along the south side of the Arno and reaching back to Via della Chiesa, the Oltrarno has Florence's highest concentration of crafts and antiques shops. "A lot of people stay at the Lungarno because of the shopping that's just outside the door," says Leonardo. "Turn right down Borgo San Jacopo and you're in the thick of it."

Every member of the Ferragamo family raves about Paolo Pagliai (41R Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/282-840), a silver shop in a carriage house. Pagliai's reproductions of 18th-century Florentine trays are cast using molds handmade from octopus cartilage.

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