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Cherchez La Femme at Femme Sistina, Roma

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.

That 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 Spanish Steps.

Lisette Lenzi, irrepressible founder and manager of Femme Sistina. - click to enlarge
 Lisette Lenzi, irrepressible founder and manager of Femme Sistina.

Femme 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.

From 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 United States.

A fitting before a fashion show – Elisabetta on the left Loredana on the right. - click to enlarge
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.

But 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.

Femme Sistina
Via Sistina, 75
Rome, Italy

Phone: 06 6780260
Web:  http://

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. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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