Divine Taste in Socks

For a mere $15, you too can sport a bit of papal

WORDS Boyd Farrow
July 2019
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There is much to tempt souvenir hunters in Rome, where Colosseum fridge magnets, plastic gladiator helmets and Sistine Chapel ceiling jigsaw puzzles vie for luggage space. Those seeking a more elevated memento of the Eternal City, though, can head to Via di Santa Chiara, a cobbled street behind the Pantheon, where they will find the premises of Ditta Annibale Gammarelli, the Pope’s official tailor since 1798.

On a recent day, the window display—barely changed since the shop opened here in 1874—includes a gold and purple silk chasuble, a sort of fancy vestment for priests; a miter, the tall white bishop’s hat; and the outfitter’s coveted ecclesiastical socks (black for priests, purple for bishops and red for cardinals). White ones, favored by popes, are inside the shop.

Gammarelli’s socks, available in silk or cotton, have become a cult keepsake, adored by CEOs and politicians. “In the summer and at Christmas we sell many, many pairs to tourists,” says Lorenzo Gammarelli, who, with his cousins Massimiliano and Stefano Paolo, are the sixth generation to run the family shop. “It may be because they are so easy to pack.”

At the beginning of the decade the Gammarellis expanded the business online when a French customer persuaded them to let him sell their garments on his Paris-based website Mes Chaussettes Rouges (My Red Socks). “Now there are orders from all over the world,” says Lorenzo.

Still, there is nothing like a pilgrimage to the original shop. When I visit, a young jeans-wearing American couple survey the dark wood shelves of shimmering silks and examine ancient glass cabinets of blingworthy crucifixes and rings. Eventually, they buy three pairs of cardinal-red mid-calf cotton socks, which cost about $15 each.

Much of Gammarelli’s stock is surprisingly versatile. According to Lorenzo, silks and other fine materials used for making vestments are increasingly popular in home furnishings or as book covers.

The big question remains: Does Pope Francis ever pop in to replenish his sock drawer? Gammarelli chooses his words carefully. “Well, the current pope wears both black and white socks so there’s a good chance that they are ours,” he says. “But he has someone do his shopping so we would never know for sure.”

Boyd Farrow

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