Last year I introduced Tripadvisor’s audience to my dolce vita with a Guide to Black Owned Italy. But that was just scratching the surface. Immediately after I found out about more businesses and many of you sent me others. The response was exciting and inspiring.
Want to know one thing I wish people knew that I have learned while living in Italy? How diverse the country is.
In both its ancient history — the diverse Roman Empire — to recent history like Italian Somaliland to immigration now, Italy’s diverse population influences much of what it means to “be Italian.” Coffee from Ethiopia and Marco Polo’s China expeditions contributing to the origins of pasta are far too often ignored and unknown. Often, this history is “hiding” in plain site: William Shakespeare’s Othello, Blackamoor art, the stories of Alessandro de’Medici, the Black member of the famed Florentine Medicis. There was even a Black Roman emperor, Septimus Severus from 193 – 211.
To say “there are very few black women in Milan and Italy as a whole” as I saw one Black American blogger living in Italy do speaks to the erasure that Black Italians face on a whole, even from people that look like them. Designer Stella Jean and I had quite a conversation about that blog post.
Maybe you’ve made a commitment to support Black-owned businesses. Why not extend this pledge to how you travel and shop internationally? Italy-born citizens are made up of a variety of ethnicities from Sicily to the Austrian borders. Visiting businesses and exploring goods owned and created by these varied ethnicities can give you a deep dive and range of untold Italian stories. Here’s my guide to exploring Black Italy creatives, business owners and talent throughout a few Italian cities. Currently living here, my dolce vita is encountering more of these voices and sharing them with you.
As soon as the Tripadvisor article came out I discovered more Black-owned businesses in Bergamo and some of you sent me more. So in efforts to get this running list from my notes app to you, here’s my Black Italy Guide!
The one to know.
Tia Taylor – based in Milan
Published Author, Creator, Consultant living in Italy since coming to University here, Tia is for the culture and has been a Godsend to me here navigating cultural norms in Italy as a conscious Black American. Want to know the good, the bad, the bureaucracy of being a Black American woman living in Italy? Tia’s as real as it gets and beautifully bridges a lot of cultural gaps. Tia Taylor is an expat that has lived in Milan, Italy since her undergraduate studies. Follow Tia for tips on navigating Italian bureaucracy, navigating home ownership, and financial literacy. Tia takes her audience on a journey discussing everything from managing working papers, her first Italian job, handling racism, to recently, the process of purchasing a home in the country! She’s fast becoming a go-to in financial literacy for Italian young people with her IGTV, Una Donna Che Conta.
Fashion. Because what’s a visit with Italy without it?
Stella Jean – based in Rome
Haitian-Roman designer Stella Jean has made waves in the fashion industry since her launch almost a decade ago. Wildly recognized as Giorgio Armani’s protege Jean’s designs are sold all over the world and has been seen on the likes of celebrities like Rihanna, Beyoncé and Zendaya. Embracing both sides of her heritage you can see Italian tailoring and pop art as well as Ankara prints and Caribbean scenes in Jean’s pieces. From fangirling to meeting Stella and considering her a friend, I can say she’s truly extraordinary. In the last few years, if I’ve been wearing something eye-catching statement piece you’ve absolutely loved, chances are, it’s Stella Jean. Wearing a Stella Jean coat around NYC, the amount of compliments I get from everyone I truly feel like Stella’s designs are brightening people’s days in these wintry streets.
Definitely watch this space. Laurus is fast becoming a new name in Italian luxury… for those in the know. Want a fine leather bag but not so into logomania? The Laurus is that bag. It brings back the true essence of luxury with slow fashion. You may have seen them on Whitney Port, Tiffany Haddish and Saweetie. The name Laurus comes from the Greek and Latin words for triumph and this brand is definitely winning. Hopefully soon, you’ll see it on me! I have my eye on one or two styles.
Edward Buchanan & Sansovino 6 based in Milan
Designer, luxury consultant and educator, Edward Buchanan became design director of luxury fashion house Bottega Veneta shortly after graduating New York’s Parson’s School of Design in 1995. In 2009 he launched his luxury cashmere label Sansovino 6. Committed to furthering inclusivity in Italy’s fashion system, you may have noticed his political and eye catching scarves on the neck’s of international fashionistas with slogans like “Resist” and “We Are All Migrants.” During the fall of 2020, he partnered with the Italian Fashion Chamber, Stella Jean and Michelle Francine Ngonmo for a video highlighting 5 BIPOC Italian designers, We Are Made in Italy.
President of the Afro Fashion Association Michelle Francine Ngonmo was born in Cameroon and raised in Ferrara, Italy. After multicultural studies in France and Belgium she sought to create a platform for cross-cultural exchange through a non-profit, the Afro Fashion Association, fostering the creativity and potential of emerging designers of color. She empowers POC in fashion schools and communities throughout Italy, aiding them in careers in the notoriously tough fashion industry.
Amina Seck, model, based in Milan
I actually met Amina through her modeling for SCAGLIONE! Stunning Amina is killing the modeling game in Italy and runways throughout Europe. Shooting in Italy? Want to cast a stunning BIPOC model? There are a lot of them! You can start with Amina.
Tamu McPherson, based in Milan
Girl about town would be a short sell on internationally known Jamaican born, NY raised Tamu McPherson. Her partnerships with major global luxury fashion brands like Gucci and Zalando (her campaign with the German multi-brand retailer covered a wall of the Duomo last fall) have paved the way for Black content creators. Creator and publisher of All the Pretty Birds is Milan to the international fashion jet-set. Having lived in the city for over a decade after law school in NYC, her seemingly effortless integration into Milanese culture — which she often credits to her Italian mother-in-law — while keeping true to her Jamaica roots and New York City grit is every American’s dream for their own dolce vita.
Pizza and Pasta!
Ibrahim Songne & IBRIS pizzeria Via Camillo Cavour, 36, 38122 Trento
There are few foods I like more than pizza so I’m thrilled to add IBRIS pizzeria in Trento to the list. My friend Nina sent me this NPR article and I pretty much yelped with glee. Pizza is so inherently Italian and it’s not very often that you find a Black pizzaiolo. Check out the article; Songne details the honest truth about dealing with racism in such a traditional field as pizza making. IBRIS is definitely on my list when I head to Trento.
Dahlak Restaurant – Via Borgo Palazzo, 82/l, 24125 Bergamo
For a smaller city, the northern Italian city of Bergamo has quite a few Michelin star restaurants. It’s safe to say that the people of Bergamo know great food. Highly rated Ristorante Dahlak is a delicious family-run Eritrean restaurant in Bergamo’s lower city. With mouth-watering Eritrean specialties served on enjera bread, beautiful, authentic Eritrean decor, great conversation with Andom and Haitanot, the husband and wife owners and family photos, you will truly have the feeling that you’re in a family’s home.
Exau Olive Oil, made in Calabria
You may have seen this Calabrian olive oil on Oprah’s list of favorite things for 2020! Black American Skyler Mapes partnered with her husband Giuseppe who’s family has been producing premium extra virgin olive oil from their seaside family estate for almost 100 years. Tradition runs deep in Calabria and a Black American woman in the family business is a novel site! Delicious enough for Oprah, you can take a piece of Calabria and Black Italy home with you!
Kefa Koffee, Via Pignolo 10, Bergamo
Soon after submitting my story to Tripadvisor, I found what became one of my neighborhood gems, Kefa Koffee. I also love to show off Kefa to any friend’s visiting me in Bergamo, honestly even Michele! Owner, Hiwot is very cool and full of stories and the cafe (which also serves delicious food) attracts an interesting creative and international community in the neighborhood. On one of Bergamo’s oldest streets, Borgo Palazzo, Kefa Koffee is also a charming place to people watch on a nice day! Order a cappuccino, fresh squeeze orange juice or a delightfully aromatic infusion. Often, I schedule my errands to make sure I have time for a coffee and chat with Hiw!
*Corey’s Soul Chicken, featured in my original Tripadvisor article is unfortunately closed. However, while I was in one of my favorite places in Italy, Sicily, in Siracusa, I spied a Jamaican restaurant, Emberlee Jamaican Food. And from the photos, this place seems like the real deal with Chef Emberlee being from Jamaica! I see a lot of similarities with Jamaicans and Sicilians so I love this for Chef Emberlee and I can’t wait to try it when I’m back in Sicily!
*Another mention, Abi Pastificio Artigianale is no longer open as of January 2022, but with pasta so beautiful it’s almost a shame to eat, I’m definitely watching the space for future projects. It’s a perfect Italian marriage of beauty and food.
Italians have been doing it for centuries… The Art World
Mr. FLOWERheadZ / Hugh Findletar Murano, Italy
You may have seen Jamaican born Italy-based portraitist and artist Hugh Findletar’s or Mr. FLOWERheadZ’s Murano-glass vases — one of a kind three-dimensional portraits — in the chicest homes in the pages of high design magazines. They are breath-taking. His long career in photography is ever-evolving into different art forms in his Venice studio. Informed by his childhood in Jamaica and old Italian glass working techniques, his pieces are remarkable collector’s items.
Caterina Monda, based in Milan
A fellow New York of Jamaican-Italian background, Caterina Monda is an international PR consultant. She’s worked for top firms and major clients in the art world in both New York and Italy. Keep up with Monda and her clients’ work for a diverse range of art talent in Italy.
Dr. Tamara Pizzoli & The English Schoolhouse based in Rome
Founder of the award-winning boutique publishing house Dr. Tamara Polizzi is an author based in Rome. Her children’s book Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO is currently being adapted for screen by Gabrielle Union’s I’ll Have Another Productions. From Roman goddesses with luscious fros to learning the alphabet through city names like Djibouti, Polizzi takes kids throughout Italy and beyond.
Paola & Pamela Ameyibor
Want to hire a DJ for an event in Italy? Few can get the party started like twins Polly and Pammy.
Tommy Kuti based in Mantua
Signed with USA recording label Universal, AfroItalian rapper Tommy Kuti is an activist, rapper and major talent in the Italian music scene even drawing the attention of controversial Italian politician Matteo Salvini with his lyrics. Through his art and depictions of social realities for many AfroItalians, Tommy Kuti is reaching a wide audience and paving the way for Italians of color in the music industry.
Check out his EP #AfroItaliano
David Blank based in Milan, Italy
Son of a pastor, R&B & Nu-Soul musician David Blank grew up in the Italian seaside region of Marche. Having toured Europe as a background singer with famed Italian singer Laura Pausini, Italian-Nigerian Blank is a must-know on the Italian music scene. Singing about love, growing up, feeling lonely, as a Black, queer man in a small town in Italy, David Blank’s soulful music resonates with a wide audience.
Special mention? Nati at Texture Hair Salon comes highly recommended from Tia and I had a friend recently go to him during Milano Fashion Week.