Once a bustling Venetian trading hub for exotic goods from the world over, The Il Fondaco del Tedeschi – together with the entire city of Venice – saw a turn of fortune with the decline of Venetian Naval Power.
Venice, or La Serenissima, was eclipsed by Milan, Rome and even Florence as Italy’s fashion and glamour capital. Nevertheless, despite parts of the city being swallowed up by tourists and fake designer clothes, the Fondaco still plays its part as a purveyor of exotic goods in the heart of Italy’s arguably most beautiful city.
The Venetian home of shops like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Fendi lends an entirely understandable comparison between Fondaco dei Tedeschi and Harrods. Even the slogan, hung on a black and white banner above the Grand Canal, “I’m not Cinderella, I just love shoes” is implicit of the massive wealth that has engulfed the city. The slogan is clearly aimed at high earning, big spenders aiming to cop the latest Balenciaga’s in one of the classiest places on Earth.
However, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is no Harrods, made apparent from the moment you enter the store – which much like the city outside, is simply beautiful. Upon walking in (the door is held open for you, naturally) the scale of the building hits you. As advertised it contains four floors, each one promising the might of Europe’s fashion delights. What it doesn’t advertise is the sheer awe one experiences from gazing up at an uninterrupted view to the very ceiling of the building, with floors looming around its central courtyard. The echo produced from this cavernous space is reminiscent of an art gallery, a comparison backed up by the shops very own Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto.
The scale of the courtyard is certainly awe-inspiring; nevertheless, the glamour of the place is in the detail. The ground floor is laid out with a central café surrounded by pillars and in the festive season a group of huge Christmas trees. The Café is naturally expensive with notable highlights including €7.50 for a hot chocolate with cream but in such regal surroundings it doesn’t feel strange at all to be paying nearly 40 Euros for a party of four. You pay for the atmosphere as much as the – admittedly delicious – hot chocolate.
The rest of the ground floor is surrounded by shops – Gucci, Bulgari and Versace to name a few – with cabinets at every column laying out the Spring/Summer 19 works of Valentino, Burberry and Saint Laurent. The classic red carpet which carries you around Europe’s fashion elite serves to add a touch of panache to any shopping trip.
After a spin of the ground floor shops, including the original water entrance with stunning views out to the Grand Canal below, the upper floors beckon. The choice between the escalator and the stairs await. Speaking of details, another nice little feature are the heated stair bannisters, a refreshing touch in the winter months – that tend to get chilly even down here. The escalators complete the experience, their vibrant red tone matching that of the colour scheme running throughout the building, lending a palatial touch to your shopping experience. The slow ride up allows you a better view of what the buildings architects, OMA, call the “urban campo” effect where the internal courtyard is an extension of the city square outside. The top floors are where the delights of European ‘haute couture’ shine.
The three main retail floors cover both men’s and women’s fashion and jewellery. An exploration of these three floors is truly a delight especially considering OMA has paid every care to preserve the building’s original layout throughout its turbulent history. The retail space covers the outside of the entire building clinging to the edge of the courtyard thereby making all the shops long and thin, a walk therefore can (and should) be completed around the circumference of all of them. The floor on men’s fashion houses a large room entirely dedicated to trainers housing the latest products from Dior, Gucci, Balenciaga and Nike.
The watch department – obviously a personal favourite – is the crown jewel in this building full of treasures and a must see for any horologist. The Fondaco has large displays of the finest watches money can buy. A notable (and indeed very rare) attraction is the Omega Seamaster Edizione Venezia, more of a dress watch than others in the Seamaster range this exclusive piece is only available from Omega boutiques in Venice – of which there are a grand total of two – making this a must-have for collectors seeking a homage to truly one of the world’s greatest cities.
OMA’s genius runs further with the building’s pièce de résistance. Labelling this as one of the best views in Venice is not a term to be used lightly, the wooden pavilion however fits the criteria aptly. Created by the renovation of a pre-existing 19th century pavilion it gives stunning views either way down the Grand Canal looming over the marble Rialto Bridge. Its popularity is such that it has to be booked in advance although this is hardly surprising for a view and building of this calibre.
Il Fondaco del Tedeschi is very much Venice’s new cultural and retail attraction. It breathes some much-needed life into a city that was fast in danger of becoming a theme park. A place to see and be seen the Fondaco is very much a symbol of Venice’s revival and truly it cannot be recommended enough.