Diane von Furstenburg: From Florence

Courtesy Diane Von Furstenberg

Going to Florence is in some ways like going home. It is where my first factory was located and where the original wrap dress was made in 1973. This past summer I was invited by the Italian fashion association Pitti Immagine to present my premier cruise collection show there, and it was wonderful to be back. I discovered parts of the city I had never seen (including the magnificent Torrigiani gardens, where we showed our La Petite Valise collection), I saw old friends like my original patternmaker, Bruna Sequalino, who sat front-row, and I experienced the city for the first time with my granddaughter, Talita. The thing about Florence is that no matter how many times you visit, there is always something to discover: a hidden villa you overlooked or a new shop that just opened. It is a city from the past that is still finding its future. Even if you are feeling blasé, thinking you have seen it all, Florence still finds something to impress you with—all you have to do is gaze out at the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio.

Do you know what makes a romantic garden?

(a) An element of water (c) A hermitage

(b) An architectural ruin (d) A chinoiserie

Actually, it’s all four. I learned this when visiting the Torrigiani gardens, the largest private garden in Florence, where I had never been before. It contains portions of the original Medici walls built under Cosimo il Vecchio (the ruin!) and remains beautifully preserved as one of the city’s most significant examples of an English garden. It is closed to the public, but you can arrange a private visit.…I hope that you do. 144 Via de’ Serragli; 39-055/224-527

Address Book

I always stay at...Hotel Lungarno because it feels like a private home with all the luxuries of a hotel (14 Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/27261). It helps that it is owned by the Ferragamos, one of the most historic families in Florence. For the full American luxury-style hotel, there is the Four Seasons (99 Borgo Pinti; 39-055/26261).

For dinner it must be…Cammillo Trattoria. It is tiny, but I love it, and you can walk there from the Lungarno. 57R Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/212-427

Florence is definitely a walking city…but the traffic is terrible, so make sure you bring comfortable shoes.

There are two villas that you have to cab to that are worth a visit.… Villa I Tatti belonged to Bernard Berenson, the famous Renaissance art historian and great-great-uncle to my good friend Marisa Berenson. Located on the hills of charming Settignano (26 Via di Vincigliata; 39-055/603-251), it today houses the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. On the opposite hill on Via Bolognese is Villa La Pietra (120 Via Bolognese; 800-361-1108), home for nearly a century to the “Anglo-Florentine” aesthete Harold Acton and his family. Now it also has a scholarly purpose—it belongs to New York University.

The store so small it can take only one customer at a time is called Lo Spillo (The Pin)…and it is the most precious antique jewelry shop in Florence, run by a charming grande dame. 72R Borgo San Jacopo; 39-055/293-126

The Palazzo Pitti hides a fashionable secret…the Galleria del Costume, which houses an incredible collection of fashion pieces and gifts from designers. It also hosts historical exhibits. 1 Piazza Pitti; 39-055/238-8801

The only thing better than seeing art…is making it. Visit Fiona San Jiuliano, an artist who worked as a print designer at Pucci before returning to her first love, watercolors. She favors painting interiors and gardens (like the one she did of the Villa Corsini gardens, where we had lunch after my show). She also organizes classes at the different estates her family still owns. 39-33/9120-4793; fiona@fionacorsini.com

Would you believe there is a synagogue in Florence….Amid all the churches and convents stands the Tempio Maggiore. Built between 1874 and 1882, it has a design that integrates both Moorish and Italian traditions. 6 Via Farini; 39-055/234-6654

There is a place I keep trying to visit…La Specola, the museum of zoology and natural history on Via Romana. It has a huge taxidermy collection. 17 Via Romana; 39-055/228-8251.

Going to Elba

Elba is really beautiful and not so far from Florence. You can go by ferry boat or aliscafo (jet ferry) from Piombino, which is south of Livorno. (Piombino can be reached by train, and also by motorway, from Florence.) We spent a few days exploring and hiking many undiscovered parts of the island. Elba is also full of history and intrigue because of its most famous resident, Napoléon. He was exiled there in 1814 and ran it like his own little country. It was here that he also received his most beloved mistress—Countess Marie Walewska—and his son during a famous visit, about which little is still known. The countess was the only lover to visit him during his exile, which I find both romantic and sad.

  • You cannot leave this city without…eating gelato from Vivoli. It is the best ever. When it closes for the August holiday, Florentines go into mourning. 7R Via Isola Delle Stinche; 39-055/292-334

  • My camera is with me wherever I go. I am constantly taking pictures of people, places. I find inspiration everywhere.

  • Reading, for me, is also a form of travel.…Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence transports you to both Renaissance Florence and Moghul India. I love how the two cities are connected through a magically beautiful and powerful woman who is trying to make her way in a man’s world.