Our House kept its original residence since birth and never swayed from its mission statement, a credo of classical elegance.
While all the connaisseurs were to pay a visit and tribute to Battistoni’s talent in perfecting a suits’ cut and shirts collars (the inimitable reverse-stitched rim), quite a few artists, writers and actors unconsciously, by the frequency of their visits, became “adopted” by Battistoni. So much so that Guglielmo yesterday – and Gianni and Simonetta today – undersigned ‘certificates of friendship’, with well targeted generosity. They consist of a sort of chivalric order, with no emblems or decorations, but behind which only talent and personal qualities count. It is so that when Mr. and Mrs. Chaplin chose their neckties and shirts, they would just add onto their tab at the shop; when Steinbeck was to take notes for his ‘East of Eden’, he would do so at his favourite Battistoni desk, wearing his famed Battistoni check shirt.
Humphrey Bogart kept a bottle of his preferred whiskey in a cabinet at the shop, as if he had joined a club, while Gentilini and his circle of friends would keep long tabs, indirectly having the House of Battistoni sponsoring their trips and their art. Roman style pouring down from Trinita’ dei Monti and the Spanish steps, to the heart of the city, like a river touching Piazza di Spagna and streaming down Via Condotti, the Caffe’ Greco, the silversmiths’ shops, and in front of Palazzo Torlonia, designed by Bernini, by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, by the old Alinari shop, dwelling of Roman iconography. Arrived so far, facing the seraphine in the limpid courtyard’s fountain, and near the unique works of art adorning the Battistoni atelier, here they come. Princes and queens, tycoons, aristocrats, the actor of the moment, the writer, the celebrity, the poet and the entire Beau Monde! One after the other, the most charming (possibly Kirk Douglas) along with the shyest (almost certainly Ben Kingsley), all equally treated by Guglielmo Battistoni, with that spontaneity and disenchantment that makes the true Roman perfectly at ease in front of a head of state or a peasant.
The list would be endless: Luchino Visconti and John Ford, Gianni Agnelli and Rockefeller, Moravia, Malaparte and Jean Cocteau, Tyrone Power and De Sica, Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn, Josephine Baker and Anna Magnani, Hermes and Lagerfeld, Dado Ruspoli, Prince Torlonia, Prince Orsini, and the list carries on. Today these stories, at times narrated by old clerks or Mr. Battistoni, are silently reflected into the walls and mirrors, and they charmingly permeate Battistoni’s Rome store with their subliminal tales.
From the very beginnings, several painters cooperated spontaneously to decorate the show and fitting rooms of the historic boutique in Via Condotti, with their pictures, drawings, engravings and ceramics. Afro, Gentilini, Savelli, Fougeron, Del Fabretto, Scordia, Quaglia, Cagli, Leoncillo, Leonor Fini, Stan Lepri, Picasso, Modigliani, Capogrossi, Beppe Guzzi, Cocteau, Matta and many other artists belonging to world celebrity, were all friends to Battistoni and are now well represented in the shop by their typical works. This passion is confirmed by the Guglielmo Battistoni Foundation, created by Gianni and his sister Simonetta, to support young artists chosen by an international jury; a link with the founder who designed shirts to pay his way through Rome’s school of Fine Arts. Guglielmo would eventually prefer his ‘side’ activity and concentrated on being a fashion designer rather than pursuing his artistic vocation: how sound was this decision, time has well told.
In the distant year of 1946, only a handful of people knew of 61A, Via Condotti. It was at this address, tucked away from the sight of passers-by, that Guglielmo Battistoni started out as a shirt maker. He was first and foremost a dreamer. A creator at heart, whose passion for details and style mingled his form of art, with many other fields. His atelier was, and still is, the mirror image of its owner.
Battistoni never believed in following trends. Instead he believed that “to try to set the trends and dictate the norms, albeit for one single season, in something as fickle and fanciful as fashion, is like forcing a swallow to fly in a straight line instead of letting it follow its arabesques.” Perhaps hidden in these words we can find hints of the creativity that fueled Guglielmo Battistoni and his friends to infuse into Via Condotti an alternative way of being. They are credited with transforming this stretch of land into the destination for its infamous habitués.
It was a gradual and natural procession for this street to be transformed into a place to be, and the Battistoni store became a much sought-after club-house scene. A haven for monarchs past and present, for magnates of industry and finance, for aristocrats, artists, writers, actors, and directors. But, with all due respect to Federico Fellini, it should immediately be said, that Via Condotti never wanted the fame of the Via Veneto of “La Dolce Vita”. They were two different streets with two different ethos. Via Condotti’s public was quite different and far from the impulsive crowds of Via Veneto. Battistoni’s acolytes were focused on turning their (Battistoni clad) backs on the exhibitionism and advertising found on Via Veneto. Because of this, the daily salons of Via Condotti became the natural home for the hard core of Café society and the workshop at No. 61A kept a record of all its illustrious customers, jealously protected, of course.