La Diva Della Via

Want to look like an Urbinata? Try shopping at the Saturday market.

On Thursday nights in Urbino, the Piazza della Repubblica is the place to be. Students party at the square’s disco, “La Dolce Vita,” and at its bars, spilling out into the piazza itself. Mara Dell’Erario, a fashion design student at the University of Urbino joined the late-night action in a fluorescent-green, A-line dress. A-line dresses are seen a lot in the piazza, but Mara’s choice of color made her stand out. You can buy this dress at Cilli’s booth at the Saturday market for only 25 euros. (styling by Azia Toussaint; photo by Allison Butler)

“Vintage, unique, one-of-a-kind clothing. And you can only get it here!”

His salt-and-pepper hair goes well with his wrinkly face, and he wears a striped sun-kissed shirt with shorts to match. Captain of a clothes booth at Urbino’s Saturday market, he uses his words as bait to reel customers in; I am one of them.

Ciao bella. What do you need?”

“I’m shopping for clothes to look like I fit in here.” I tell him about the floral patterns and lace tops that a local friend recommends, and the comfortable harem pants that everyone here seems to wear. He responds by tossing a white beaded blouse straight at my chest. Matching pants, floral dresses, and sequined tops follow.

My job at the market is done; my journey complete.

My journey began the moment I first set foot in the Piazza Repubblica, Urbino’s main square. Everything about the location was right: The sun was setting while the sky turned a burnt orange, and I could taste the beer and warm pastries in the air. But something was wrong. Wearing a pair of boyfriend jeans and a lime-green crop top, I looked completely American. No wonder everyone stared. Everyone around me was covered up, and, compared to American fashion, their style was conservative.

Turning to my left, I noticed a pale man with dreadlocks wearing an oversized graphic T-shirt, loose fitting jeans shorts, and black sneakers. A dog walked by his side, leash-less. To my right was a middle-aged woman wearing a dress of colorful patterns complemented by a bright floral scarf and three-inch heels. But by the piazza’s fountain, which was directly in front of me, there was a group of young women all dressed differently. One had on pants in a floral print, another had on a tank top covered by a lace shirt, and the others wore what looked like genie’s pants, with a dramatically lower crotch. They all managed to dress comfortably and still look stylish.

He uses his words as bait to reel customers in; I am one of them.
Intrigued by the town’s fashions, I decided to quiz my new Italian friends about their tastes. One of the very important “do’s” came from Luca Ambrogiani, a student who says he loves women: “Be comfortable and be yourself, confidence is key. Urbino is a blend of Italians from all over Italy so there is not just one particular style of fashion. Just have fun.” One of the most important “don’ts” came from Helen Sorchiotti, a student and a six-inch-heel walker herself: “If you are not a pro in heels do not pack them. The cobblestone does not permit, unless you’re really good.” They also told me things like strappy sandals are a must-have. Serena Alessi pointed out the slashed T-shirts with tank tops beneath. Silvia Verducci said this year all the young women are buying any type of clothing with a flag on it. Mara Dell’Erario told me her favorite shop is the Piazza Srl at 71 Via Giuseppe Mazzini. I was finally ready to shop.

This morning, Saturday, I got up at half past 8, eager to start my shopping mission. With only 50 euros, I set off to find unique, stylish, native Urbino clothing at the Saturday market. As I reached the top of the hill on Via Raffaello, a whiff of peaches, roses, and beef snaked under my nose. I had arrived!

Walking slowly, I made sure to look at everything. To my right, a man negotiated prices on underwear; to my left a young girl examined a pink dress for flaws; an elderly woman directly in front of me sniffed a cantaloupe to make sure she had picked a ripe one.

I began to shop from vendor to vendor until I began to hear a loud cocky voice. I pictured a man who was six feet tall, mid-thirties, and muscular. I followed the voice until it was in my face. That’s when I saw the captain with salt-and-pepper hair.

Want a great view of Urbino? Check out the vista from the Fortezza dell’Albornoz near the Raffaello statue. Mara enjoys the Fortezza in a pair of dark jeans and a white sheer shirt. Mara’s shirt is embroidered with flowers along the neck line and is complemented with an everyday scarf—a fashion necessity here in Urbino. You can buy the shirt and scarf at the market for 5 euros. (styling by Azia Toussaint; photo by Allison Butler)

A blouse lands on my head. “Mi chiamo Tommaso,” says the captain—“my name is Tommaso.” He tosses over a red tie-dye dress with an embroidered neckline, a white sheer top and scarf, a gold pencil skirt, and a plain black top. Suddenly other shoppers begin to flock to my pile. “Grazie!” I say, gathering the clothes together to protect them from the other women.

At the cash register, Tommaso introduces me to his son, Cilli. Cilli explains that he took the business over from his father 20 years ago, selling mostly vintage clothing. As he hands back my change he says, “Vintage was a luxury thing twenty years ago because you could not find it in the stores or in the central streets of Milan and Rome, and for this reason it was very expensive at that time. Vintage was something really unique.” With the economic crisis, he says, second- hand clothing has become a necessity and, now, the majority of his sales are second-hand.

He puts my new clothes into a bag and hands it to me. “Enjoy,” he says in English.

But I’m not ready to leave yet.

“Can I use your dressing room?”

He nods his head, and I rush to put on the gold pencil skirt and black tank top I just bought. I step out of the dressing room and into the crowd.

No one stares at me like I’m an American.

Urbino’s street market takes place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the intersection of Via Raffaello and Viale Bruno Buozzi.

This article is from Urbino Now magazine’s Urbino Centro section, which offers an in-depth look at the daily life of Urbino. Please view more magazine articles or order a complete printed copy of Urbino Now.

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About Azia Toussaint

My experience in Urbino has been a life changing growth process for me. Growing up in the city I never imagined falling in love with a country side room, where everyone knows everyone and the town is so personal. Not to mention hands on training and learning one on one with professions has helped improve my writing and has given me the confidence I needed to start my novel. I appreciate this program and everything that came a long with it.