Cult Shop: for socks fit for a pope
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Tailor Shop for Ecclesiastics, since 1798 reads the header on the homepage of Ditta Annibale Gammarelli, the Roman house that has supplied liturgical vestments to priests, cardinals, bishops and every pope bar one since the beginning of the 20th century. If the website looks like a holdover from another era, so too does Gammarelli’s bricks-and-mortar location, hidden away in the Piazza di Santa Chiara just behind the Pantheon, where it has traded out of the same unassuming shopfront since 1874.
Of all the ecclesiastical sartorialists in the Eternal City – many of which line the streets surrounding Santa Chiara, rendering the area a kind of Mayfair of high-church vestments – Gammarelli is probably the best-known; certainly it’s been the most popular with the Office of the Holy Father. (The lone outlier, Pius XII, “only had his first three vestments made by us”, notes co-owner Massimiliano Gammarelli. “He already had a personal tailor he liked very much – so, you know.”) Along with only a handful of others, it has also achieved a degree of popularity with the secular tastemakers of the world. Ever since Giovanni Antonio Gammarelli founded the shop at the end of the 18th century, six generations have continued the tradition. Today, Massimiliano, along with cousins Stefano Paolo and Lorenzo, oversees the production of cassocks and cloaks, albs and scapulars, mozzettas and surplices and mitres (most of the garments are hand-tailored). “We have a clientele that comes from all over,” notes Massimiliano.
Inside, along two walls, floor-to-ceiling shelves house bolts of fabrics – cottons and silks in rich red and purple, and ornate brocades shot through with metallic threads, almost all still produced in Italy. Rolls of fringe and braiding are neatly arranged alongside. Throughout the two small rooms of the shop, portraits of past Pontiffs hang or are propped on tables and cabinets. Full-length black priest’s cassocks, their collars and buttons (33 of them, one for each year of Christ’s life) covered in plush velvet, hang on hooks; glass cases hold crucifixes and bishop’s rings studded with amethysts and topaz, along with an array of ornately inlaid gemelli, or cufflinks (from €18.33), many of them associated with Ecumenical and Equestrian Orders: Saint Gregory, Saint Lazarus, the Knights of Malta. There are one or two pairs of accidentally fabulous buckled calfskin loafers (from €150).
And socks. Socks are key because they are the Gammarelli crossover superstar, having long ago burst out of the sacristy and into the wardrobes of dandies and style enthusiasts. Their more famous fans range from former French prime minister Edouard Balladur to Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia, who sent them down his couture runway last summer. Knee-length socks are produced in cotton lisle, merino wool or pure silk (from €11), and the traditional colourway – red for cardinals, black for priests, purple for bishops, and white for His Holiness – was some years ago augmented with various fashion shades: navy, yellow, turquoise and a burgundy. “After Balladur started wearing them, they became quite popular among the French,” says Massimiliano. “Then it just slowly grew, until they were a little famous around the world.”
For such a sought-after bit of haberdashery, they get fairly subtle play in the shop, with just a single shelf allocated to their display. But the real surprise is a vignette of tiny Gammarelli anklets, in red and purple, for babies aged three months, six months and one year. A concession to the exigencies of commercialism or a nod to the transcendent power of the absurdly adorable? Does it matter? They are – no other word for it – divine.