|This article originally appeared in
|Dressed to Thrill
In contemporary Milan, la dolce vita means paying homage to the gods of fashion
By Eric J. Lyman
Unlike the rest of Italy, Milan is more about the future than the past.
Historical landmarks—the massive medieval Duomo, for example, or the
ancient convent housing Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper"—
are almost afterthoughts in Italy's most cosmopolitan city. Instead, Milan
flaunts its reputation for being on the cutting edge of design, finance and
media. And at the axis of these worlds is none other than the spectacular,
sexy, over-the-top fashion industry.
I've worked as a journalist down the road in Rome for five years and have
been to Milan dozens of times. Still, I was only peripherally aware of the
industry that by some counts represents one-fifth of Italian exports and
has given the world such names as Armani, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana,
Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, Valentino and Versace.
My education started—as many things in Italy do—at a coffee bar. As it
happened, this establishment was opened a couple years ago by
Giorgio Armani, the man that a recent survey pegged as the best-known
Italian in the world (a position that Luciano Pavarotti held for a decade).
The stylish Armani Caffé (via Manzoni 31; 02-72318680) offers a sparse
but striking interior and simple, comfortable outdoor seating beneath a big shady tree. It's the perfect
place to see and be seen while enjoying a flavorful espresso in the morning or a nice Campari or
Spumanti later in the day. This is where I found myself on a quiet summer afternoon, scouring notes
from friends in the fashion industry.
It quickly became apparent that when it comes to fashion, Milan suffers from an
almost obscene embarrassment of riches. Just steps from where I sat sipping java
is the Emporio Armani, which includes stores selling all of the Armani lines, plus a
sophisticated bookstore, a gift shop and an exclusive nightclub, Armani Privé.
[Tip for entry: Dine beforehand at the almost-as-exclusive Armani Nobu sushi
restaurant around the corner (via Pisoni 1; 02-72318645); once you've eaten, follow
the sound of the music, with its thumping beat, down to the dance floor.]
Even more exciting, I was right on the cusp of the legendary Golden Triangle, the
main fashion neighborhood whose heart is framed by via Manzoni, via della Speiga,
and the country's most famous shopping street, via Montenapoleone. It is here that
it all comes together: the flagship shops of the world's greatest designers, tiny
boutiques frequented by the city's fashion cognoscenti, relaxing spas, chic
restaurants and some of the trendiest bars in Europe.
Montenapoleone, I wanted to figure out the best way to get
an insider's look at Milan fashion. Everyone I spoke to
agreed that the most exclusive temporary address in Milan
is the new Bulgari Hotel (via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7B; 02-
8058051), a 52-room beauty that combines chic and
mystique. Located on a small side street just minutes from
the Piazza del Duomo and the Golden Triangle, the hotel's
marble and bronze interior is a prelude to what its owners
say is the perfect blend of high technology and up-to-the-
minute style. It's not cheap—even in the low season, rooms
start north of $500 a night—and there's a reason that the
year-old property's guest list has included the biggest stars
to pass through town. (If the hotel is out of your price range,
plan on at least stopping by for a drink in the botanical
gardens as a way to get into the right mindset).
If days around the Golden Triangle aren't enough to quench your thirst for all things fashionable,
bargains can be found at some of the fashion warehouses near Milan, where lucky shoppers can
sometimes pick up items at as much as a 90 percent discount from their prices on via Montenapoleone.
Two of the best are Spaccio Etro (via Spartaco 3; 02-798168), known for clothing and shoes, and
Spaccio Kookai (via Quintiliano 33; 02-58016368), which has bargain-priced items aimed at younger
shoppers. Both are about 25 minutes away by taxi.
You may want to consider taking a short road trip or two. The best-known fashion warehouse near Milan
is the Fashion District (Bagnolo San Vito in Mantua; 03-7625041). It's a mecca for bargain shoppers
with a wide collection of name brands. Trains run regularly to Mantua from Milan, but call the warehouse,
which sometimes organizes shuttle buses from Milan.
Also, anyone looking for shoes should consider taking a train to the nearby city of Vigevano, which
houses a shoe museum, The Civic Museum of Footwear (via Cesarea 16, Vigevano, 03-81690494)
and dozens of artisan shoe shops with high fashion shoes made on the spot by old-fashioned shoe
makers. Also, the city of Biella is the heart of the so-called cashmere valley and is a great place to pick
up stylish and unusual cashmere clothing. Both can be reached in less than an hour by regular train
service from the Milano Centrale station.
It's only a slight exaggeration to say that many Milanese look like they just stepped out of the pages of
Vogue-Italia. But there's more to it than that.
In Manhattan or Paris, the most fashion-conscious aspire to the I-just-woke-up-looking-this-good look.
In Milan, the style instead involves an amazing complexity that the wearers flaunt. You'll want to see it for
yourself, and the best way to do so is to wander south from the Bulgari Hotel and the nearby Armani
complex into the heart of the Golden Triangle—which is more of a square than a triangle (but nobody
ever mentions the fourth side, Corso Venezia).
through the streets and alleyways is the best way to
experience it. There are a few places you don't want to miss:
For men, a stop at the Dolce & Gabbana Spa (enter from the
D&G men's store at Corso Venezia 15; 02-76028485) is a
great way for a normally gruff guy like myself to feel and look
his best, with a steam, massage and professional shave. In
the back of the men's store is a secret bar good for a stiff
drink or strong coffee before heading out into the real world
2; same number) offers a breathtaking collection of vintage
fashion that shouldn't be missed. Plus, pampering relief for
della Spiga 11; 02-794864) includes a spa. The blissfully relaxed faces of women exiting the boutique
are a strong endorsement.
You'll pick up on the intoxicating leather scent from Moschino
(via Sant'Andrea 12; 02-76000832) just walking by the store.
Inside, feast your eyes on a stylish line of leather handbags,
shoes, accessories and Moschino's famous Cheap and Chic line.
If you find yourself ravenous from all the shopping, a simple lunch
will be more affordable than satiating your clothing cravings.
Stop by Bice (via Borgospesso 12; 02-76002572) for sublime
soups and risottos. Don't be surprised to see a table of runway
models and their agents nearby. The fish dishes at reasonably
priced Da Giacomo (via Sottocorno 6; 02-76023313) are legendary.
Be sure to call ahead for reservations, because it fills up quickly. And the most famous coffee shop in
the district is Cova (via Montenapoleone 8; 02-76000578).
But all this is just a warm-up for visiting what is arguably the cornerstone of the fashion world in Milan
during the last decade, just a 10–minute walk from the Golden Triangle: Corso Como 10 (named for its
address; 02-654831). Don't be put off by its simple exterior—this place is fashion central. The small
restaurant is as famous for its industry-celebrity patrons as for its cuisine. When I stopped by during one
of the slowest weeks of the year, I struck up conversations with a buyer from Gucci and a designer from
Prada. Corso Como 10 also houses a selective book and record store and a three-room bed and
breakfast that makes the Bulgari Hotel look like a bargain (rooms start at $1,200 per night). More
importantly, owner Carla Sozzani, the sister of Vogue-Italia editor Franco Sozzani, runs what may be the
trend-setting concept boutique in Milan. As one of the insiders told me, to the degree that Milan sets the
tone for the world, Corso Como 10 sets the tone for Milan. Don't miss it.
Daily non-stop flights to Milan on Alitalia from Washington Dulles International Airport.
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©2004 Washington Flyer Magazine
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