The first time I heard of the Principe di Firenze, the top of my head reached the hem of my mother’s skirt. He held my hand and we went downtown to buy nice shirts for babbo (dad in Florentine) and some little gifts for us.
I remember its windows, one after the other, at which we scrupulously stopped. Then a narrow entrance and off into another world, made of walnut and a large staircase covered with a damask carpet. The owner is today, as then, Andrea Doni, or for me, Signor Doni. Mr. Doni is a man of authentic charm, with a style that has its roots in Savile Row and in sailing clubs all over the world, with an immense passion for his craft and the art of commerce. He tells you that the best cashmere sweaters are made in Scotland by the oldest wool mill in the country, he explains the difference between a fil a fil shirt and a double-twisted cotton shirt and enchants you by expanding on the various types of silk in his ties.
All this knowledge comes from a beautiful family history, a story that began almost 100 years ago.
The first Principe “workshop” was founded in 1930 in the central Piazza Strozzi in Florence, on the initiative of Sergio Doni. Following the family tradition – one grandfather is a tailor, the other a shirtmaker – he created tailor-made suits, shirts and ties for the man, according to a taste that is inspired and derives in part from the English and military styles of the time. The name “Principe” comes from the custom in use before the war, of dedicating the signs of commercial activities to the ruling family. After the Second World War, thanks to Sergio, father of Andrea, a particular elegant taste was selected, one which refers to the English style and which is still found in today’s offerings of the Principe di Firenze shops. From the 1950s Principe di Firenze developed rapidly: in 1957 a new shop was opened in Forte dei Marmi, a fashionable holiday resort in those years, and the Florence shop was enlarged; in 1966 the first women’s clothing collection was introduced; in 1971 the lines for children and for the home were introduced; in 1979 the shops in Pisa, Livorno and Pistoia were opened.
Here you will find clothing items of rare beauty, from the most historic brands to contemporary research always with an eye to quality.
Signor Doni tells me that he has been doing this job for 63 years: “Do you want to know at what age I made the first sale? When I was 6, my dad used to take me to the store in December to pack Christmas presents, you know, the kids had small hands and they made bows like no other. But I couldn’t sit still and so I started selling one-size-fits-all silk ties printed with porcini mushrooms.” “But why porcini mushrooms?” I ask. “Yes, they were terrible but a 6-year-old boy who said Thank You or Good Morning could sell anything… From there I spent all the Christmases of my life in the shop.”
He tells me all this during a phone call at 6:30 pm on Thursday, he tells me that in his house in Forte dei Marmi there is no television but only an old Radio Tivoli, he is sipping his Blanquette de Limoux (champagne outside Champagne) and he wants to tell me his story. In front of his eyes he has more than 150 vintage awards won on a sailing boat with his father between the 50s and 70s. The most beautiful, he tells me, is that of the regatta in England where out of 150 participants they arrived: “first overall” – he exclaimed this with a perfect British accent.
For the Florentines, Principe is an institution: whether you are a young entrepreneur or a scion of a noble family. If you are originally from Florence you cannot miss having Principe’s pajamas at home. Pajamas, like their shirts, are a status symbol, a must have, they are handed down in families, almost as if they were precious goods or old collectible watches.
The true beauty of Principe and Signor Doni are stylistic coherence, unchanging over time: you can find the sweater your grandfather had on their shelves even today; the lisle socks in the most unthinkable colors as well as silk ties always adorn the entrance. Here there is a scent of other times, of tradition, of a Florence that today is found only in ancient palaces or in the family on Sunday for lunch. Here you will find a luxury that does not want to appear outward, you will find only and solely tradition, substance and quality. Anyone who comes from outside and wants to take home a piece of the real Florence, must pass through here.