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Small is bellissima: Rome’s best independent boutiques for fashion and accessories



Since, well, forever, Rome, the Eternal City, has been home to craftspeople who make beautiful, sought-after things. Its expertise in creating elaborate jewellery and fashionable clothing can be traced back to the days of the empire. 

In the 20th century, an exalted handful of artisans — stars such as Valentino Garavani, Elsa Schiaparelli and the five Fendi sisters — also made, and maintained, Rome’s status as a capital of international style. 

But real Roman retail lies largely beyond big-name fashion. The best of the bunch tend to be the small, independent shopfronts and ateliers offering handmade collectibles that you won’t find on Mount Street or Madison Avenue. Rather conveniently, many of Rome’s finest such purveyors are on, or within easy striking distance of, one of two centro storico arteries that have recently emerged as epicentres of one-off style: the Via di Monserrato and the Via dell’Oca. Below is my list of go-to shops and designers for fashion and accessories — the one I share with visiting friends who are keen to head home with a sui generis Roman treasure or two. (And for those who will miss the Italian capital in person this year — all ship internationally too.)


L’Archivio di Monserrato

Via di Monserrato 150, 00186 ROME

  • Good for: bragging rights; no one will be wearing what you’re wearing

  • Not so good for: gents, alas — unless they’re avid textiles collectors (or gift shopping). It’s pretty much about women’s apparel here

  • FYI: the framed works on paper lining the boutique’s walls — all for sale — are by Twombly’s ex, Alessandro, son of Cy. (Website; Directions. For online shopping contact

At L’Archivio di Monserrato, Soledad Twombly’s vibrant fashion designs . . .
At L’Archivio di Monserrato, Soledad Twombly’s vibrant fashion designs . . .
. . . sit alongside totes, tableware and textiles
. . . sit alongside totes, tableware and textiles

Soledad Twombly makes one of the city’s more dazzling style statements at L’Archivio di Monserrato. There is a smattering of glass- and tableware, woven and leather totes and clutches, kimonos and suzanis (large, hand-embroidered textiles), and the odd pair of vintage Manolos in pristine condition. But it’s Twombly’s own fashion designs — evoking elements of Hermès and Stella McCartney, but via richer tones — that pack the most punch. Fine silks and wools take the shape of classic trousers and fitted blouses, capes and sweeping midi-length coats. 

Giuliva Heritage

  • Good for: classic style, and especially good for women who like carrying off menswear styling 

  • Not so good for: ruffles, frills — dresses, really. Fans of Dolce & Gabbana’s feminine frocks, for example, may not jive with the energy here

  • FYI: the brand’s star is on the rise; witness the recent collaboration with H&M (Website)

Margherita Cardelli and Gerardo Cavaliere modelling two looks from one of their recent collections
Margherita Cardelli and Gerardo Cavaliere modelling two looks from one of their recent collections
The husband-and-wife duo’s aesthetic is all about classic fits and ultra-fine textiles
The husband-and-wife duo’s aesthetic is all about classic fits and ultrafine textiles

In 2017, husband and wife Gerardo Cavaliere and Margherita Cardelli launched Giuliva Heritage, a men’s and women’s line born of Cavaliere’s original Neapolitan tailoring business, Sartoria Giuliva. They are all about classic fits, ultrafine textiles and careful detailing; the vibe, for men and women alike, is “I inherited this blazer/trench/pair of summer wool trousers from my aristo uncle”. There’s something deliciously 1980s Ralph Lauren about it all (with — caveat emptor — Purple Label prices).

Atelier Bomba

Via dell’Oca 39, 00186 Rome

  • Good for: sleek, austere style with serious Made in Rome bona fides

  • Not good for: dandies and girly-girls — frippery doesn’t cross the threshold here

  • FYI: co-owner Michele Am Russo works as an on-site tailor who might fit your trench, blazer or signature Bomba trousers for you (Website; Directions)

Everything at Atelier Bomba is created on site from vintage fabrics
Everything at Atelier Bomba is created on site from vintage fabrics
Many of the 40-year-old label’s pieces have become collector’s items
Many of the 40-year-old label’s pieces have become collector’s items

Founded by Cristina Bomba and now run by her children Caterina Nelli and Michele Am Russo, Atelier Bomba has been quietly making impeccably tailored separates from meticulously sourced vintage fabrics for 40 years — a neat nod to both an elegant aesthetic and an interest in sustainability. All are crafted on site in an old-world, drawer-lined shop, with many now collector’s items among a cohort of stylish women and men worldwide. 

Roi du Lac

Piazza di Pasquino 76, 00186 Rome 

  • Good for: a dose of zany, flâneur-like zing (with beautifully flattering fits)

  • Not good for: the colour averse. This is see-and-be-seen style

  • FYI: there are ceramic votives and throw pillows as well, if colour at home is what you’re after (Website; Directions)

Flamboyant colours and motifs are the hallmarks of Roi du Lac
Flamboyant colours and motifs are the hallmarks of Roi du Lac fashion
The Roman brand also offers equally vivid homeware
The Scots-Italian brand also makes equally vivid homeware

At the other end of the aesthetics spectrum is cult Roman brand Roi du Lac, founded in 2016. The flamboyant silk prints designed by Scots-Italian proprietors Marco Kinloch and Antea Brugnoni Alliata (replete with colours and menagerie motifs that make Gucci’s Alessandro Michele look tame) are shaped into pussy-bow or scarf-neck blouses and dresses for women, dress shirts, bowling shirts and pocket squares for men, and natty slacks and trousers for both sexes.


Maison Halaby 

Via del Monserrato 21, 00186 Rome

  • Good for: truly unique booty. No single piece is exactly the replicate of any other

  • Not so good for: anyone in a hurry. This little maison is about the experience, and shared appreciation of beauty, as much as it is the takeaway

  • FYI: designer Gilbert Halaby is a crack pâtissier; there are almost always Lebanese sweets and coffee on his counter — and sometimes champagne (Website; Directions)

Designer Gilbert Halaby outside his Via di Monserrato boutique
The store specialises in bags crafted by leather artisans, silk foulards and vintage treasures

In 2017, Lebanese designer Gilbert Halaby opened Maison Halaby on the Via di Monserrato. Beyond his beautiful clutches and totes — all made to order by leather artisans in Parma and favoured by princesses of the Hollywood, Park Avenue and titled varieties — he sells one-off jewels and watercolours, a small collection of silk foulards bearing his drawn designs, and vintage treasures such as wind-up clocks and crystal perfume dispensers sourced across Italy and beyond. Most days he can be found reading philosophy and listening to Chopin between salon-like client visits.

Patrizia Fabri

Via dell’Oca 34, 00186 Rome 

  • Good for: hats with clean-lined but adventurous shapes in traditional materials

  • Not so good for: designer-goods affirmation — Fabri is still fairly strictly for those in the know 

  • FYI: her workshop is lined with antique head-shaped walnut hat blocks; they’re works of art in themselves, though sadly not for sale. (Website; Directions)

Patrizia Fabri’s Via dell’Oca showroom
Patrizia Fabri’s Via dell’Oca showroom
The milliner’s workshop is lined with antique walnut hat blocks
The milliner’s workshop is lined with antique walnut hat blocks

Patrizia Fabri is a milliner’s milliner, as opposed to a fashion designer who does hats on the side. Much of her stock is fashioned from pristine lots of vintage woven straw she has acquired over the years; the designs themselves range from Jacquemus-esque attention getters — think brims that spill over shoulders and wildly coloured bands of grosgrain — to sleek unisex coal-grey and sable-brown felt fedoras. (My adornment-free, wide-brimmed Panama elicited at least half a dozen “Where did you get that?”s over the summer.)

The all-star

Chez Dede

Via di Monserrato 35, 00183 Rome

  • Good for: small-batch editions that showcase best-in-class Italian eccellenze

  • Not so good for: trend hounds — Chez Dede style is built to last, and as such is totally outside of fashion

  • FYI: co-owner Andrea Ferolla takes private commissions for his inimitable artwork. (Website; Directions)

Chez Dede’s range of bags has acquired a cult following
Chez Dede’s range of bags has acquired a cult following
The boutique is a ‘singular hybrid of Italian, French and international references . . . with an unmistakably Roman core’
The boutique is a ‘singular hybrid of Italian, French and international references . . . with an unmistakably Roman core’

It’s safe to say that when Andrea Ferolla and Daria Reina (authors of Assouline’s runaway-success tome Italian Chic) opened Chez Dede in 2015, they altered the retail landscape of the city. The large boutique — a double shopfront on the Via di Monserrato — is a singular hybrid of Italian, French and international references and influences, but with an unmistakably Roman core. Ferolla made his bones as a fashion illustrator and Reina as a creative director, so they know beautiful things and quality artisanship. Here they curate a very select edit of designers and makers who hail from as far afield as Paris (Astier de Villatte), New York (John Derian) and Japan (Camoshita).

But you should come for the trove of glorious things signed Chez Dede: the canvas and leather bags and totes, which have achieved major cult status across multiple time zones; the silk and cashmere scarves printed with Ferolla’s illustrations (the ruins of Villa Pamphili, or a déshabillée young miss leaning out a window); the notebooks, the clutches, the tiny table lamps with hand-painted shades, and more. And Reina’s limited-edition womenswear — cotton blouses and smocks, capes, long wrap skirts — is pure elegance. 


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German ruling party backs Laschet as candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor




Armin Laschet has won the backing of Germany’s governing Christian Democratic Union in his bid to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, after a campaign that exposed deep rifts in the party five months before national elections.

Thirty-one of 46 members of the CDU’s executive committee backed Laschet in a secret vote, with his rival, Markus Söder, prime minister of Bavaria, receiving just nine, according to the party. There were six abstentions.

The result means Laschet is all but certain to be the centre-right’s candidate for chancellor in September’s Bundestag election, when Merkel will bow out after 16 years as Germany’s leader.

Söder, who is leader of the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, had said he would accept a clear vote in favour of Laschet.

But the ballot revealed deep misgivings among senior Christian Democrats about Laschet’s suitability to run. The party executive had given its unanimous backing to his candidacy last week, but he garnered just 77.5 per cent of the vote, with 22.5 per cent going to Söder.

Laschet, 60, was elected CDU leader in January. But he has struggled in the polls, and many in the CDU/CSU bloc thought they had a better chance of winning the election with Söder as their candidate.

The chaos within the ruling party has also reflected its performance in the polls. The CDU surged to almost 40 per cent last year as voters rewarded it for Germany’s deft handling of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

But its approval rating has slumped in 2021 as public anger mounted over the slow pace of Covid-19 vaccinations and the revelation that some MPs earned huge commissions on deals to procure face masks.

The CDU also faces a strong challenge from the opposition Greens, which some pollsters believed could take the chancellery in the election. The party chose Annalena Baerbock, a 40-year-old MP, as its candidate for chancellor, in a smooth process that marked a sharp contrast with the open power struggle in the CDU/CSU.

The son of a miner, Laschet studied law and edited a Catholic newspaper before being elected to the Bundestag in 1994. He served as a minister in the government of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, in the 1990s and became prime minister there in 2017.

Laschet is an ideological ally of Merkel and has said that if elected chancellor, he would continue her middle-of-the-road policies. He was long considered her natural successor.

But his popularity has suffered over the course of the pandemic, when he has come across as hesitant and erratic. By contrast, Söder, who earned a reputation as a decisive crisis manager, has seen his polling soar.

The poll ratings of Markus Söder, prime minister of Bavaria, had soared, but he said he would respect the CDU executive committee’s decision ahead of the vote © Reuters

Laschet was endorsed on Monday by some of the CDU’s most influential grandees, such as Wolfgang Schäuble, the former finance minister and Bundestag president, Volker Bouffier, prime minister of the western state of Hesse, and Ralph Brinkhaus, leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group.

But other members of the executive, such as Peter Altmaier, economy minister and a close Merkel ally, favoured Söder, a move that will badly dent Laschet’s authority.

The prime ministers of Saxony-Anhalt and Saarland also broke ranks with Laschet in recent days and threw their weight behind Söder, saying he enjoyed far more support among the party’s rank-and-file members. The powerful youth wing of the CDU, the Junge Union, also backed the Bavarian.

Söder garnered support among many CDU MPs who fear they will lose their seats in September if Laschet leads the campaign.

Some attendees of Monday’s meeting said the CDU/CSU parliamentary group and regional party bosses should be involved in any decision on who should run for chancellor.

But Laschet insisted that only the executive could decide and demanded a vote to resolve the issue. “We should decide today, as we planned to at the beginning,” he said, according to participants.

Söder made clear he would respect the CDU executive’s decision, telling reporters this week he had made the party a proposal “but only the CDU can decide if it wants to accept this offer”.

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After Afghanistan, China and Russia will test Biden




“America is back” proclaimed Joe Biden, a few weeks ago. But in Afghanistan, America is out. The US president has just announced the withdrawal of all remaining American troops from the country. A 20-year war will end on the symbolic date of 9/11, 2021.

The watching world will wonder if a gap is emerging between White House rhetoric about re-engagement with the world, and a reality of continuing retreat. Biden insists that this is not the case. He argues that America has achieved its counter-terrorism aims in Afghanistan and now intends to “fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20”.

But perception matters. The danger is that the pullout from Afghanistan will be seen outside America as a Vietnam-like failure that could eventually lead to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, a replay of the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam in 1975.

Rival powers, in particular Russia and China, could now be emboldened to test the Biden administration’s resolve a little further. The obvious flashpoints are Ukraine and Taiwan. In recent weeks, the Kremlin has assembled more troops on its border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014 when Russia grabbed Crimea. Last week, China sent a record number of military jets into Taiwanese airspace. Both countries are combining military muscle-flexing with warlike rhetoric.

Biden himself has used confrontational language with Russia and China. He has called Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, a killer and his administration has branded China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide. The US also recently imposed sanctions on Russian and Chinese officials and has eased restrictions on American officials meeting their Taiwanese counterparts.

The strategic situation in Asia and Europe is similar in one key respect. The US has expressed strong support for both Taiwan and Ukraine, but neither country enjoys an explicit American security guarantee. The US relies on a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan. The idea is that China should understand there is a strong chance that the US would fight to defend Taiwan, without a firm promise being made. In a similar way, the US has never spelt out what it would do if Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Although Taiwan and Ukraine are separated by thousands of miles and involve different antagonists, the two stand-offs feel connected. Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to Nato, believes that: “Moscow and Beijing will look closely at how we react in one situation to set the stage for the other.” Daalder argues that “we need greater strategic clarity on what we would do if Russia moved militarily against Ukraine, or China on Taiwan”.

There are voices in the US calling for America to now make an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, and for Nato to accelerate the process that would allow Ukraine to join its alliance. The hope is that these moves would deter Moscow and Beijing, and so reduce the risk of war starting by miscalculation. The argument against these policy changes is that China and Russia may interpret them as a threatening shift in the status quo — and feel compelled to respond. American allies in Asia and Europe may also feel that explicit security guarantees for Taiwan and Ukraine are too provocative. The joint statement issued by Biden and Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese prime minister, after a meeting last week, stressed the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait, but remained vague about how Washington and Tokyo might respond if conflict broke out.

It would obviously be particularly difficult for the Biden administration to respond to simultaneous crises over Taiwan and Ukraine. Some western strategists are concerned that Moscow and Beijing may be co-ordinating their actions, to maximise the pressure on the Biden administration. They point to an increase in the frequency of high-level meetings between the Russian and Chinese governments. Beijing and Moscow also made statements, after a recent meeting between their foreign ministers, which signalled a deepening of their strategic relationship and a more open rejection of a western-led world order.

The internal situations in Russia and China may also be raising the dangers of conflict. Putin recently imprisoned Alexei Navalny, the most popular and dangerous opposition leader he has ever faced. Navalny is currently on hunger strike and may soon die, sparking further protests. The Kremlin knows that conflict over Ukraine boosted Putin’s popularity back in 2014. Another small war may look like a tempting option.

As the Chinese Communist party prepares to celebrate the centenary of its foundation later this year, President Xi Jinping may be looking for a triumph over Taiwan. American officials believe that Xi and his advisers have convinced themselves that the US is in deep and terminal decline. They fear that the Chinese leadership may believe the US would ultimately back down rather than fight over Taiwan.

But even the most confident and nationalistic officials in Beijing and Moscow will still be conscious of the risks of head-on confrontation over Taiwan and Ukraine. The likelihood is that Russia and China will continue to use “grey zone” tactics that stop just short of all-out conflict. As America discovered in Afghanistan, it is much easier to start a war than to control its outcome.

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Alexei Navalny’s supporters say his life is ‘hanging by a thread’




Supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have called on Russians to protest against his harsh treatment in prison, saying that it could end in his imminent death.

Leonid Volkov, who runs Navalny’s foundation from exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, said in a video message on Sunday that the anti-corruption activist’s life was “hanging by a thread” 19 days into a hunger strike in protest at the prison’s refusal to let him see a doctor of his choice.

“However we might want not to think about it, distance ourselves, or change the subject — it doesn’t change the fact that they’re killing Alexei Navalny. In the most terrible fashion. In front of all of us,” Volkov said.

“And the question rises before all of us, whether we want it or not: are we ready to do something to save the life of a man who’s risked his own for us for many years?”

Yaroslav Ashikhmin, a cardiologist, posted test results on Saturday that he said showed Navalny had heightened creatine levels that could bring about kidney failure, as well as potentially fatal levels of potassium that could cause a cardiac arrest at “any moment”.

The sharp deterioration of Navalny’s health comes as the Kremlin appears increasingly resolved to eliminate the threat from President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.

Russian prosecutors said on Friday they would move to have Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of regional offices declared an “extremist organisation”, an unprecedented step that would essentially shut down his operations while exposing his team to potential criminal prosecution.

Navalny’s supporters described the crackdown on their group and his harsh treatment in prison as a “desperate attack” by the Kremlin in response to Putin’s declining approval ratings amid a years-long economic decline.

“If we don’t speak up now, the darkest times for free people are at hand. Russia will descend into total hopelessness. Peaceful political activity in Russia will be impossible,” Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s foundation, said.

Navalny’s team called for the protest — which they called “the final battle between good and neutrality” — to be held on Wednesday evening on a square outside the Kremlin. Putin is set to give his annual state-of-the-nation speech to Russia’s elite just a few hours earlier.

The rally will be a big test of support for Navalny — and the Kremlin’s willingness to crack down on it — after a heavy-handed police response forced them to abandon protests over his arrest in more than 100 cities this January.

Navalny, 44, was arrested at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recuperating from a poisoning with the military nerve agent novichok.

He was then ordered to spend two and a half years in prison for missing parole meetings relating to a 2014 suspended sentence — including several while he was in a coma after the poisoning.

On Saturday, US president Joe Biden said Navalny’s treatment was “totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate on the basis of having been poisoned and then on a hunger strike. Wrong”.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, imprisonment, and the terms of his confinement.

“He will not be allowed to die in prison, but I can say that Mr Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan, absolutely,” Andrei Kelin, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, said in an interview with the BBC on Sunday. “His purpose for all of that is to attract attention for him.”

Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday: “We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr Navalny in custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community . . . [T]here will be consequences if Mr Navalny dies.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, tweeted on Sunday: “I am deeply worried about Alexei Navalny’s health. He must immediately receive access to proper medical treatment. The EU continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Leonid Volkov, left, and Ivan Zhdanov at a press conference
Leonid Volkov, left, and Ivan Zhdanov are calling for Russians to protest against Alexei Navalny’s harsh treatment in prison © John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Last month, Navalny was moved to a prison colony with a reputation for its harsh treatment of detainees.

He went on hunger strike in late March in protest at wardens’ refusal to let him be treated by a doctor of his choice for severe nerve pain from two herniated discs in his back, as well as sleep deprivation tactics he said amounted to “torture”.

Navalny’s team is likely to face significant difficulties organising the protest after prosecutors deemed their organisation “extremist”.

That designation equates Navalny and his supporters with neo-Nazis, al-Qaeda and the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo. It means his foundation’s leadership could be jailed for up to 10 years and supporters could face as many as eight years in prison for donating to it, according to Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, a legal aid foundation.

Since Russia declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist organisation” in 2017, 463 members of the Christian denomination have faced criminal charges, while police have searched 1,416 homes of members of the group, Chikov said.

Several of Navalny’s top allies are under house arrest on charges of violating public health rules by organising unsanctioned protests for his release in January.

Police have detained Zhdanov’s elderly father, as well as several employees at Navalny’s regional headquarters in recent weeks.

On Friday, a court also sentenced Pavel Zelensky, a cameraman for the foundation, to two years in prison for writing two tweets deemed “extremist”.

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