Cherchez La Femme at Femme Sistina,
# # #
|It was surprisingly mild for a winter
day in Rome when we headed down Via Sistina en route to the Spanish
Steps and passed a row of arched storefront windows. Each was topped
with a canopy reading “Femme Sistina” and revealed a bright and
bustling boutique on the other side. Intrigued, we crossed the
threshold into what can best be described as a fashion emporium
overflowing with products for “la femme.” Racks and alcoves held
garments from the casual to the formal, shoes and bags were artfully
arranged on little tables beside small couches, a collection of
cosmetics, perfume bottles, whimsical accessories, scarves and hats
vied for space on a multitude of shelves and countertops. And all of
this, we soon discovered, was but the upper level of this singular
shop. A lower level held a full-service hair salon and spa.
day, we never made it to the Spanish Steps. Instead we spent the better
part of it getting to know Lisette Lenzi, Femme Sistina’s founder and
manager -- although Myrna could not resist rummaging through the
extravaganza of fashion that surrounded her. Needless to say, by the
time we were on our way, she had acquired a couple of things. At the
same time, both of us had acquired a new friend.
The daughter of a French mother and Italian
father, Lisette was born in Beirut and raised in Cairo but moved
to Rome in the 1950s where she’s remained ever since. During the
heyday of the “Cleopatra Look,” already envisioning a career
that would combine hairdressing, cosmetology, and fashion
design, the young woman would call upon memories of the flair
and colors of Egypt for inspiration which, she believes, played
a major role in her being selected to apply Ava Gardner’s makeup
during the shooting of “The Sun Also Rises.”
She went on to work at the famous Eve of Rome
salon on Via Veneto dreaming all the while of owning her own
place. It was a dream that was realized in 1959 on nearby Via
Sistina, the same street where Hans Christian Andersen once
lived, adjacent to the Hotel de La Ville and at the top of the
Lenzi, irrepressible founder and manager of Femme Sistina.
Sistina entered Rome’s fashion market as a bazaar of sorts offering
basic salon services of hair coloring and styling, facials, makeovers
and massages, on the one hand, and a selection of fashionable items:
shoes, bags, accessories, and beautiful clothes of the finest fabrics --
many designed by Lisette herself – on the other. In a city that is
defined by the concept of “classical,” Femme Sistina became, in short
order, a classic, a designated historical site: “Bottega Storica” by the
Municipality of Rome.
the start, a warm, welcoming and expert staff has been part of the Femme
Sistina operation, Lisette’s daughters: Elisabetta and Margherita among
them. Elisabetta is an internationally-known make-up artist as well who
is frequently sought after by models and movie stars in town while her
mother works with some of Europe’s great couturiers, often using her own
make-up and skin products under the Femme Sistina brand, accessories and
ornaments which are exported to department stores in Switzerland and the
A fitting before a fashion show –
Elisabetta on the left Loredana on the right.
Articles about Femme Sistina in The New York
Times, Vogue, Harper’s and Elle has lent the shop an
international aura. Clients over the years have included such
notable figures as Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullman, Audrey Hepburn,
Nicole Kidman, Jane Fonda, Nicoletta Pavarotti, Beatrice Bulgari,
Queen Anne-Marie of Greece, and Joan Sutherland.
For us, ever since we first passed the canopied
windows about a decade ago, each trip to the Eternal City has
included a stop at the shop on Via Sistina 75 where Myrna gets a
facial and has her hair high-lighted and styled. Then she checks
out the ever varied and tantalizing collection of sportswear,
daytime ensembles, and evening gowns which invariably results in
a highly sought-after pręte ŕ porter dress for a major event
being plucked right off the rack and, if need be, adjusted and
custom-tailored by Femme Sistina’s gentle and talented
co-manager Loredana Bramante to assure a perfect fit.
more important for both of us is the time we get to spend with Lisette.
Through the years, we feel we’ve truly gotten to know her, to appreciate
her judgment -- in fashion, of course, but in other ways that go beyond
fashion as well. There is a certain kind of woman: European -- yet
possessed of an international air, ageless, sophisticated, confident,
fearless. Marlene Dietrich comes to mind. So does Lisette Lenzi.
Via Sistina, 75
Phone: 06 6780260
Photographs by Harvey Frommer
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights
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