MY NINE: Clara Soto

DIGEROLAMO handbag designer shares her Florence

Growing up in Ecuador and Argentina, Clara Soto always dreamed of learning how to make leather bags, inspired by her grandfather who was a shoemaker. Watching him all around the house, drawing patterns, creating shoe samples or handcrafting wallets surrounded by leather, the young Clara was transfixed. Moving to Paris in her early 20′s, Clara began working in jewellery yet her passion for creating with leather was too much of a pull. With help from her father, she discovered an intensive course at the Leather School of Florence, and her next life move was set. With an initial plan to stay for only three months for the course duration, the city′s charms took hold with Clara opening her first studio in Borgo San Frediano.

With an Italian heritage, both sets of great grandparents came from the southern Italy region of Basilicata, who left for Argentina after the Second World War. Both grandfathers were shoemakers who passed down this skill to their children with DIGEROLAMO a nod to Clara′s Italian roots. The architecture, shapes, forms and colours she discovers on trips around the globe inspire her designs as does her adopted home of Florence, its dusty terracotta, Chianti red and sandstone crèmes seen in the leather colours she sources. In the DIGEROLAMO showroom, her creations are on display, every part of the final product made in-house in her basement workshop. She designs the bag′s intricate pattern using a handheld punch, glues and sews the stitching, and will even emboss your initials on your purchase for an added artisan touch. The showroom also features contemporary jewellery created by her Argentinian-based mother who works with bronze to shape the pieces before being gold plated in 24k Gold. So where does this fashionista frequent when not designing her latest collection? Find out, as she shares her Florence NINE.

1. Galleries I Love

I really like Galleria dell′Accademia. I love the power of a piece like David, its scale and beauty makes you humble and inspired for greatness at the same time. I think that no matter where you look around the streets of Florence, there′s a sight to be seen. Just looking at the facades of churches like Santa Croce, Santa Maria del Fiore or Santa Maria Novella can take your breath away. Every corner in the centre of Florence transports you back into the Renaissance, and you find yourself walking the same streets that Dante, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, and Michelangelo created their masterpieces. Whenever I remember this, I am blown away.

When I lived in Paris, my father was with me for the first month and to distract ourselves from the stress that comes with trying to settle down in a new city, and we visited what felt like every museum and gallery and restaurant – after a month we′d left no place unseen. After a year and a half, the wonder of discovering the city had faded, the mystery was gone, so when I moved to Florence, I vowed to do things it differently. Now, after five years, I have not been in all the galleries or the churches yet. I like the feeling of walking around a city that I don′t know completely, where there are still things to discover and see for the very first time. It adds to the city′s magic. Now I wait until I have friends or family visit and we choose a gallery to see for the first time together.

2. For A Perfect Dinner

I really enjoy ll Santo Bevitore in Santo Spirito. When my Mum came to help me build our showroom a year and a half ago, we would end up working so late and tired of building shelves, painting walls, finishing bags and preparing for the opening, that we would reward ourselves with beautiful dinners at this restaurant after a long day of hard work. The candlelit rooms feel so warm and romantic that it sets the tone for such a relaxing and gratifying evening. It′s so inviting, and everyone who works there makes you feel right at home. The food is, well, amazing! I like to say it′s traditional Italian dishes with a twist. A past favourite dish is pumpkin soup prepared with coffee beans, and it was incredible. Their wine selection is recommended to match perfectly your dish and dessert. We would always leave the restaurant satisfied and regenerated. A charming place for a dinner out.

3. For A Sweet Treat

Gelateria della Passera always brings a smile to my face; I love their ice creams! Piazza della Passera cannot be a more perfect location for this beautiful little shop. I love sitting with a book on one of the benches dotted around the piazza or listening to the musicians that are usually playing in the square and take in some sun as my ice cream melts all over my hands. It′s a wonderfully secluded spot in the heart of the city.

4. My Florence Style

To me, Italian fashion is classic and timeless. I love when you can spot, out of a sea of casually dressed tourists, a perfectly dressed older couple. He wears his suit with a hat, and she wears a dress or maybe a skirt with a blouse that matches her bag and shoes, it′s flawless. They look as impeccable as they probably did fifty years ago. That is what Italian fashion is to me – a design that will survive the passing of time and this has influenced my style. I find that the older I am becoming the more classic my dress sense is. Maybe because I design accessories I feel shoes, bags, and jewellery can make the simplest outfit look completely different and suit any occasion. So I count on accessories to dress up or down an outfit and set the tone for my style. I am inspired by the colours of Florence, which you can see reflected in the leather I′ve chosen for the bags I create. Yellows, pinks and reds of the Tuscan sunset and the warm creams and earthy tones that make up the city′s buildings have definitely had a significant influence on my style, and bag designs.

5. Favourite Shopping Stores/Areas

I′m always a fool for a great vintage market, which you can find plenty of around Florence throughout the year. I love that one-of-a-kind piece. For some great shops, I head to via dei Fossi, and I am enjoying walking around the area of Santo Spirito these days, particularly Via Maggio. This street has welcomed a lot more independent designers and small concept fashion stores in the past eighteen months, especially handmade designers passionate about slow fashion. Nearby on via dei Serragli, I′ve recently spotted a new small shop of handmade shoes and hats, which I can′t wait to get my hands on a few of those! For more contemporary pieces BJØRK on via dello Sprone has a large selection of young, independent designers, which I can count on for finding a unique more avant-garde piece or Boutique Nadine by the Ponte Vecchio has some great pieces as well.

6. For Sunset Cocktails

My ideal space these days be it for dinner or drinks is Santarosa Bistrot in Lungarno Santa Rosa. It′s one of those places that makes you feel you are outside of Florence when in fact you are just a few blocks away from the historic centre. Surrounded by a charming garden by the old medieval walls of the city, they grow their plants and herbs which they use for their dishes and cocktails. It′s a breath of fresh air. They offer traditional Italian dishes or be surprised by some creative fusion including spicy curries. It is a magical location for a relaxed, easy going evening.

7. For Art & Culture

I like L′Appartamento in via Girladi. It has a café bar on the first floor of a historic building set like a real apartment where you can sit in the living room and read or play board games all afternoon while you wait for the live band that is playing that evening. I love it! Born as a cultural association, with a passion for including more engaging activities into the nightlife in Florence, they offer conferences, host music concerts, present movies, and give courses. An excellent place to have your fix for a more contemporary, culture-filled night, Florence style.

I′m a sucker for music concerts which you can be sure to find all around the city. One of my favourite venues is Hangar, in the area of Santa Croce. It′s another of those places where you feel like you have a band playing in your living room and if your home was in the middle of India with a few random decor inspirations from Alice in Wonderland! The main room offers eclectically decorated sitting areas where you are welcome to challenge someone to a game of chess or checkers as you wait for the show to begin. Which is one way to make friends very quickly. Or you may find yourself dancing with the group of new friends you′ve just met sat at the next table to you. In the middle of the bar, there is an outside area following on to another room that I am convinced is inspired by a fairy tale. I don′t want to describe it too much because if you are in town, you should go and experience it for yourself. These places are highly recommended on my list for fun night out.

8. Favourite Green Space in Florence

Il Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden) hands down. It′s not very secret if you know where to find it, however, if you arrive early enough you′ll find a little space in-between a few bushes of lovely coloured roses with the most amazing view of Florence. There are 400 types of roses in this garden, and in the spring the scent is incredible. A picnic here is always a great idea. Bring a book and a blanket and on a sunny day just lay there and let all that beauty, and smells, soak in.

9. Escape to the countryside

Last summer I made a road trip with a friend to Lago di Isola Santa near Lucca. It was by far the best trip I′ve done in my years of living in Italy. We decided to have a picnic in a little rundown pier overlooking the lake, the peace of being surrounded by complete nature is overwhelming. The lake is emerald green positioned around vegetated mountains and hills; it′s the closest version I could ever imagine of paradise.

Photo credit: Olga Makarova / Fabio Chessa