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Rome - Eternal and exclusive

The front row, normally occupied by international VIPS – the likes of Anna Wintour, Victoria Beckham, Catherine Deneuve and George Clooney – is reserved for Rome’s high society: princesses with melodious names like Ruspoli, Colonna, Borghese and Doria Pamphilj, ambassadors and their wives, an occasional former Miss Italy and leading local politicians.

On the catwalk, mostly Italian models reveal what people will be wearing next summer or winter – at least if it’s up to the designers who show their creations not in Milan, but in Rome, which tends to play second fiddle in the fashion world. Twice a year, in January and July, the Eternal City celebrates Alta Roma within the majestic walls of Complesso Monumentale di Santo Spirito church, which dates from the eighth century and shares the banks of the Tiber with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Castel Sant Angelo.

The Romans certainly knew how to make a virtue of necessity. After the capital’s great couturiers, Valentino Garavani and Roberto Capucci among them, had pretty much retired and the world’s top designers opted for Milan or Paris, Alta Roma gradually became a relaxed, very intimate and thoroughly Roman fashion event.

Alta Roma is very much a closed community that celebrates established local designers, such as Renato Balestra and Camillo Bona – behind closed doors. Without an invitation, no one slips past the stewards at the church door. The shows are accompanied by a marathon of parties held in studios and private homes, but these are reserved for an even more intimate circle. The uninitiated are lucky even to get wind of them the following day in the press. A typical notice in Il Messaggero read: Tutta Roma (all of Rome) dined at actor Patrizia Pellegrino’s salon on Via Appia Antica.

The organizers endeavor to provide a platform for innovative designers and zeitgeisty trends: “We certainly give upcoming young talents a chance here,” says Alta Roma board member Nicoletta Fiorucci, “we collaborated with Vogue Italia on the competition “Who’s on next.” The competition winners get to show their collection on the Alta Roma catwalk and make a name for themselves overnight.” Some of the recent years’ winners have now become established, among them Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi, the two creative directors of Fay, and also Marco de Vincenzo, who has just successfully presented his creations in Paris and Milan.

“The competition was an important impulse for promoting my brand,” designer Gabriele Colangelo commented in a interview with the Italian magazine Wit, one of the many independent fashion publications to be seen in the satellite show Fashion on Paper, which is open to the general public.

Here, too, the setting is breathtaking: the remains of Tempio di Adriano, built in the year 145 AD as a tribute to the Emperor Hadrian on Piazza di Pietra, right around the corner from the Pantheon. A row of monumental pillars still stands and today forms the facade for a building that was added in the 17th century and normally houses the stock market.

During the Alta Roma event, Fashion on Paper provides a platform for alternative publications, web magazines and blogs. And because the possibilities in this area are still relatively limited, Italian print and online media are not the only ones to promote their products here, but those of Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain and Belgium, too.

Each Alta Roma also involves further satellite events that are open to all comers – an exhibition showcasing jewelry one season, maybe, or the works of a fashion academy the next. But there are other fashion hotspots to be found in Rome, too: the bar of the Hotel de Russie, for instance, an aperitivo spot popular with local trendsetters and celebrity guests from all over the world; the Roscioli, a restaurant where booking a table is a virtual impossibility; and Heaven, the ultimate Roman nightclub.

Last but not least, the streets, of course, especially those around the Spanish Steps, Via del Babuino, Via Bocca di Leone and Via Borgognona, where many of the leading fashion houses have stores. Since the elegant city palaces of this neighborhood are home to some of Rome’s nobility, there’s a very good chance of suddenly finding yourself face to face with the blond Principessa Maria Pia Ruspoli or patrician entrepreneur Principessa Marina Colonna.


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