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From my city to yours: exploring Roman style in the Monti neighbourhood with fashion designer Tina Sondergaard

Danish-born designer and tailor Tina Sondergaard has lived in the fashionable district of Monti for the past two decades. Here, she reveals what Roman style means to her.

Shoppers browse the boutiques on Via Condotti in the district of Monti.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci
Published 24 Oct 2021, 06:00 BST

Roman style is very different from, say, Milan. Sure, in a Prada or Gucci store, they’d look at you oddly if you were wearing something from last year, but Rome in general isn’t like that; you’re free to wear what you want. There’s definitely much more colour worn here; there’s a lot more black in Milan — a bit like Denmark.

I’d say my style is a cross between Danish minimalism and Italian baroque. I use lots of colours as I want a good mood. This area is full of artists, creatives and designers. It feels very international, but very Roman at the same time. In Monti, we’re a bit rebellious: if red is the ‘in’ colour this season, for example, then you won’t find red here. 

Monti’s style is mostly what you’d wear to have an aperitivo. People mix things up — they like to be creative, but they’re not intimidating or in your face about it. It’s more artistic: you might wear a nice evening-style dress, but you’ll pair it with trainers and a leather jacket. It’s a very human approach to fashion.

Visitors who come to Monti have done their research. They don’t want Prada or Gucci or anything they can get at home. Nowadays, you can walk down a high street and you could be in Budapest, Stockholm or Madrid — they’re full of the same brands. When I was younger, we’d buy something on holiday, knowing nobody else would have it at home. Now that’s disappeared, but people know that Monti offers something different. 

Danish-born designer and tailor Tina Sondergaard has lived in the fashionable district of Monti for the past two decades.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

Interestingly, I wasn’t always going to be a designer. I first visited Rome in 1982 and then, in 1988, dropped out of law school in Denmark to come here. I started off in Borgo Pio, near the Vatican, doing alterations, and I used to have priests come in to have their robes shortened. My Borgo Pio shop took off, and I then moved to Monti in 2003 [where she opened her eponymous boutique]. I thought the area had a great atmosphere — and everything starts with an atmosphere, including your outfits. At the time, it was just me and one other lady across the street, so I’ve seen the area really grow. 

Italian customers can be a very tough crowd. They’ve usually had a seamstress in the family, and they have a real tailoring tradition. They know about fabrics, cut and length and they know what they’re talking about. The younger generations tend to know a little bit less; they’re losing that tradition of made-to-measure. But then again, lots of young people are going back to it. Either way, I won’t let anyone out of the shop if I’m not happy with how they’re looking. The body has to wear the clothes, not the other way round. 

I think people want quality in a post-pandemic world. They’re more aware of what they’re wearing and who made it. On the day I reopened after the first lockdown in May 2020, I had a customer who came in and said, ‘The first thing I wanted to do was to buy myself a colourful dress.’ tinasondergaard.com

Published in the November 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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