I’ve been fortunate enough to build a business — Sorelle Bionde — that requires travel to Italy, frequently. Logging countless hours wandering the streets and passageways of cities such as Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome and more, I have uncovered great finds from artisans and designers who truly do march to their own beat.

The result: I’ve honed my hit list for shopping hot spots to which I return post-haste once I’ve dropped my luggage in the hotel. What sets these boutiques apart from others is that they are not mass chains, their products are rarely seen in the U.S. and they offer items that instantly say “of another place.” In fact when I really think about it, isn’t that all you want to buy when you’re traveling? Why pick up something that looks like or can be purchased at home? Exactly, so read on.

In Venice, I have two:


For the several years I have followed Maliparmi and collected their shoes, handbags and clothing items, the themes that remain constant are ornamentation, an organic sense and a nod to tribal influences. Whether in the patterns that the beading take or a silkscreen stamp that gives interest to an otherwise unadorned fabric, Maliparmi feels of an exotic local. Also a little rustic, as if someone in a village with a threaded needle sewed those beads on … not a master artisan in a Parisian atelier.

As Maliparmi states: Looking ahead remembering the important lesson of the past.  Using new technologies to re-elaborate old craft secrets. We are not interested in imposing a single idea of how to dress.

While I have picked up Maliparmi pieces in fashion boutiques in the South of France and Florence, Italy, I have found Venice to be the best source. Perhaps it is because of the proximity to the mother ship; Maliparmi is headquartered in Padua in northern Italy, just 40 km outside of Venice.  Venice boasts an entirely Maliparmi “negozio” – Italian for boutique — and it is far more interesting to be immersed in the complete brand experience: handbags, belts and shoes side-by-side with the clothing collection. Not to mention the attitude-loaded Italian salesgirls who bring the designer’s vision to life.

WHAT TO BUY IN AUGUST/SEPTEMBER:  Sandals. Festooned with sequins, beads, stones and shells, they are the perfect whimsical anchor to your holiday look. Most likely on sale at this point, they will be just as wearable next summer. Best of all, today you have the treat of wearing them during the rest of your trip in Italy.

Calle del Teatro – San Marco 4600/A
+39 041 5285608

Fiorella Gallery
A cross between an art gallery and a retail space, Fiorella Gallery is billed as “the best gay fashion in Venice.” Yet, there I was. There I bought. There I have returned. (For the record, I am hetero.) In my book if it’s fabulous, it’s fabulous. Period.

Artist Fiorella Mancini creates everything found in the gallery. Many items actually are not for sale, either presented as sculptures or strange compositions of mixed media art works. There are pieces that are so fantastical and wild, I found myself assuming it was art, only to discover… “yes, but wearable art.”

What is for sale is an edited selection of dramatic but very wearable clothing. Fiorella tends toward saturated colors and large-scale prints in cleverly repeating patterns. The “repeat” obscures for many the subject matter of the print – for example the use of rats (which, I was told, is one of the more popular images sold). She works with velvet in the Fortuny style and applies paint and pattern to velvet coats, jackets and wraps and some smaller pieces such as t-shirts. In addition to geometric and scroll patterns, common themes are dragons, lions (the symbol of Venice) and rats (frequently sighted at night swimming the canals or scurrying between buildings).

Her pieces have appeared in numerous fashion publications and have been selected by stylists in Europe and the United States. All pieces are made by hand, and one of a kind.

WHAT I BUY IN SEPTEMBER: Velvet blazer – fingertip or longer. It will be perfect for this fall/winter season where velvet, gold and rich colors were trotting down the runway for Alexander McQueen, Balmain and Blumarine. Based on the longevity of my Fiorella jacket (seven years and still going strong), you’ve invested in a timeless piece of wearable Venetian art. Now that’s joy.

Campo Santo Stefano, 2806
Venezia 30124
Tel. 0789.34723 – 06.3203500
Mobile 335.8200873