I admit it: I have a foible for street markets. Perhaps because it makes me feel like a gold prospector: stumbling upon a few precious nuggets amidst rocks and sand!
Here in Italy, where the whole country is celebrating the Ferragosto (15 August), street markets are a particularly rewarding experience. They can be surprisingly sustainable, too.
I had a chance to see a few of them: in the northern port of Genoa, in the picturesque towns of Tuscany and on the holiday island of Sardinia. Each was unique, and each has yielded some treasures.
First, however, you must shield your eyes from the ‘Made in China’ cheap plastic toys and ‘Made in Paris’ counterfeit designer bags that are by now ubiquitous. Instead, head straight to the artisans’ stands where you get a rare opportunity to see them weave the fabric and work the metal right before your eyes.
Among my favourite finds were bracelets made from leftover beads and swimsuit fabrics in a variety of neon hues. They would go rather well with my lime-green eco-friendly Melissa flip flops!
As I was browsing the clothes racks, I found a pair of white Bermuda shorts. I picked them up expecting to find ‘Made in China. 100% cotton’ written on the label. Much to my surprise, it read: ‘Made in Italy. 100% TENCEL’. TENCEL, as you may recall, is one of the most sustainable modern fabrics. Another great market treasure!
And then I spotted a €20 printed silk top in a small fair trade shop in the middle of a charming medieval town of Castiglione del Lago (PG) that would not be out of place in a Kenzo or Escada boutique. Finders keepers!
Finally, I found a perfect cashmere wrap from a family-owned label Del Santo which has shops in the famous towns of Assisi, Montepulciano and Siena. The company produces the finest knitwear entirely in Italy in its factory near Perugia and supplies several luxury brands.
Overall, Italy certainly lived up to its reputation of the world’s premier fashion destination. I particularly admire the well justified sense of pride in the ‘Made in Italy’ label and strong national identity – be it fashion or football.
At a time when some of Italy’s most prominent labels are being bought up by big luxury groups – LVMH’s recent acquisition of Loro Piana being a case in point – I hope that Italian craftsmanship and style will be of the same enduring quality as the country’s rich culture and history.