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Fashion Capital
MILAN
by Stuart Haggas


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By the very definition of the word, fashion is something that's either in or out. It follows the same lifecycle that we do: just as we're born, grow up, and grow old, fashion starts out edgy, goes mainstream, then becomes old-fashioned. Its only saving grace is the fact that, unlike us, some things come back in fashion and begin the whole cycle again.

Based in Austin, Texas, The Global Language Monitor is a media analytics company that follows, documents, and analyzes language trends throughout the world. By monitoring broadcast, print, and electronic media, as well as websites, Tweets, and blogs, it tracks the frequency and contextual usage of words and phrases to paint a picture of what's hot and what's not in fashion, entertainment, and politics. In its 2009 global survey of Top Fashion Capitals, New York was ousted by Milan after five years at the top. By 2010, New York was top of the heap again, with Milan plummeting below Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Los Angeles to sixth place, a drastic shift in fortune blamed on a lackluster season at Milan Fashion Week.

I covered Milan for Passport magazine in 2007, dining at the precious Dolce & Gabbana concept restaurant Gold, hearing rumors of an Armani hotel, and being slightly underwhelmed by a gay scene in transition. It's not yet known where Milan will chart in 2011's Fashion Capitals hotlist, but one thing I know is that Milan's fashion lifecycle never stops spinning. Which explains why Armani's hotel is nearing completion, the gay scene is hip and happening, and you can now eat, sleep, and party with even more of your favorite designers including Marc Jacobs, Moschino, and Roberto Cavalli.

Milan is master of the game when it comes to fashion evolving into bars, restaurants, nightclubs, spas, hotels, even museums. It nevertheless requires a special project to get the fashion fraternity more excited about concrete and glass than heels and hemlines. One such project is Giorgio Armani's latest hotel. Although Armani opened his first hotel in April 2010 in Dubai's towering Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper, it's his sophomore effort back home in Milan that's causing a stir.

Armani's fashion empire already occupies an entire block of prime Milan real estate on Via Manzoni, comprising flagship stores of Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans, and Armani Casa, as well as the renowned Armani/Nobu Japanese fusion restaurant, chic and casual Emporio Armani Caffé, and exclusive Armani Privé nightclub. You can also buy designer dragées, pralines, and alcohol-steeped chocolate creams from Armani/Dolci, minimalist floral bouquets from Armani/Fiori, and books from Armani/Libri in what's practically an Armani mini-mall! It seems, though, that for Giorgio Armani the only way is up, which is why this large and austere building dating from 1937 is being dramatically overhauled and upwardly extended. Once completed later this year, floors two to eight will be the refined Armani Hotel Milano, altogether providing guests the opportunity to experience a complete 24/7 Armani lifestyle, and where everything you touch, taste, see, hear, smell, and buy will supposedly have been approved by Signor Armani himself.

Armani isn't the only designer to foray beyond the boundaries of fashion. Indeed, this won't even be Milan's first fashion hotel. Cult multi-brand boutique 10 Corso Como, luxury jewelers Bulgari, and quirky designer brand Moschino have already made the transition from fashion favorites to Milanese hoteliers.

A former editor at Vogue Italia and Elle Italia, there's no denying the fashion pedigree of Carla Sozzani. In 1991 she founded 10 Corso Como, a multifunctional concept store that's like a glossy magazine brought to life. Part fashion and design boutique, part gallery space, and part café, it's housed in a lovely old industrial building in the courtyard of a Milanese palazzo amid the bars and clubs of buzzing Corso Como.

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Despite being outside of Quadrilatero d'Oro, the famed "golden rectangle" bordered by Corso Venezia, Via Montenapoleone, Via Borgospesso, and Via della Spiga delineating Milan's premiere shopping district, the cult of 10 Corso Como soon spread across Milan and then the world. You might spot designer doyennes Miuccia Prada or Donatella Versace perusing the curios and collectables, or fashion heiresses Margherita and Jennifer Missoni browsing the CDs and art books. Today, there are also branches in Tokyo and Seoul.

As well as carrying key pieces from Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Ann Demeulemeester, Maison Martin Margiela, and Philip Treacy, 10 Corso Como collaborates with other companies to produce exclusive, co-branding products. Currently topping my must-have list are classic Timberland boat shoes, color blocked in shades of green, lilac, and grey for €175, and Paul Smith "Mini on Location" holdalls (printed with his signature striped Mini Cooper parked in 10 Corso Como's courtyard) for €315. The best buys, however, are canvas tote bags printed with the store's dotty logo in collaboration with Gap, a steal at €12.

In 2003, a boutique bed and breakfast opened onsite. Comprising just three suites furnished in vintage classics by the likes of Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen, and Charles and Ray Eames, 3Rooms is the ultimate hipster hideaway, but demand is high, so book well in advance.

Part of luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, historic Italian jeweler Bulgari was the first big brand to take on Milan's hotel scene. A joint venture with Ritz-Carlton, the Bulgari Hotel opened in 2004 behind the façade of a grand 18th-century Milanese palazzo. With an interior by acclaimed Milan-based furniture and industrial designer Antonio Citterio, it's a precious jewel box of creamy travertine and matte-black Zimbabwe marble, crisp alabaster sofas, sculptural granite bathtubs, and a spa with a gold and emerald mosaic tiled pool.

The jewel in Bulgari Hotel's crown is its 4,000-square-meter private garden, which itself backs onto Milan's historic Botanical Garden. This tranquil urban oasis is as groomed as a Brazilian supermodel and attracts a flock of exotic migrating creatures during Milan Fashion Week, here to peck, preen, and tweet as they sip Prosecco. This impressive hotel strives for perfection, so if your backpack of threadbare jeans and tees isn't worthy of its packing and unpacking service… you'd better make an appointment to see their personal shopper fast!

Also beating Armani to the finishing line is Moschino, which opened the unique Maison Moschino during Milan Fashion Week in March 2010, with a runway show for Moschino's Cheap & Chic line taking place on the hotel driveway. It's been a chic (but not cheap) spot ever since. Of all Milan's fashion hotels, this one speaks strongest of the designer who inspired it.

Having worked as a sketcher for Gianni Versace in the 1970s, Franco Moschino founded his eponymous label in 1983 and proceeded to mock the excess of fashion by producing iconic and often surreal garments. Notable (and now highly collectable) pieces include a man's white shirt with elongated straitjacket-style sleeves that bore the phrase "For Fashion Victims Only," a Chanel-style jacket embroidered with "Waist of Money" where the gilt chain belt would have been, and a tailored dinner jacket embellished with gold knives, forks, and spoons instead of braiding.

Franco Moschino, though, wasn't merely a fashion anarchist; he was an activist who used his clothes and runway shows to campaign against drug abuse, violence, cruelty to animals, and environmental destruction. In October 1993, Moschino celebrated its tenth anniversary with a retrospective collection that ended with a parade of men, women, and children dressed in white and wearing AIDS ribbons. Ironically, this was to be Franco Moschino's last show—he died within a year at age 44 from AIDS related complications.

Today, under the direction of his long time friend and collaborator Rossella Jardini, the label goes from strength to strength, and, at Franco Moschino's bequest, a proportion of the company's profits help support HIV/AIDS charities.

Part of Italy's luxury Hotelphilosophy group, Maison Moschino is their latest ambitious venture. Occupying a grand neoclassical building that was Milan's first railway station, it has a more novel fashion narrative than its rivals. Stepping through its door is akin to entering a fantastical fashion dreamworld, where lampshades resemble lacy white dresses, where wine is presented in a handbag rather than an ice bucket, and where breakfast is served bento-style in a shoebox. It's what Wonderland might have looked like had Alice fallen asleep reading Vogue.

The rooms resemble pages of a sketchbook, each bearing a surreal doodle. There are 16 different styles, and, depending on your fantasy, you may choose to sleep beside an upholstery wolf with glass eyes, a leather nose, and porcelain teeth in the Little Red Riding Hood room, or in a four-poster bed of petrified trees with a cute little owl as a bedside lamp in The Forest. Candy-craving fashionistas are guaranteed sweet dreams in the Sweet Room, with giant cushions shaped like strawberry tarts and cupcakes, and a chandelier bedecked with cookies. Or, you can embrace your inner drag queen and Sleep in a Ballgown, enveloped in the voluminous skirt of a giant satin dress that's suspended above on an oversize coat hanger. Don't worry if you're indecisive, because general manager Barbara Ugolini tells me that some guests ask to try a different room every night.

The concept of visual fantasy versus reality is something that two-star Michelin chef Moreno Cedroni plays with in the hotel's Clandestino.Milano restaurant. Described as "susci," the food is fish-focused and reminiscent of sushi, but in an Italian, not Japanese, way. Dishes, for example, use pesto instead of wasabi, and carnaroli rice. Highlights include turbot with palm heart and kombu seaweed, and beef chop cubes marinated in honey with vegetable giardiniera.

Despite the trend for fashion hotels, many editors and designers favor traditional luxury hotels like the Four Seasons, which is considered Milan's best hotel; it's almost impossible to get a room here during Fashion Week. Occupying a former 15th-century convent, many of the rooms overlook a cloistered courtyard. The choice rooms are the three Fashion Suites, boasting private terrace or balcony, walk-in closet, kingsize bed with Frette linens, and classic furniture in pear and sycamore wood.

Another traditional choice is Hotel Principe di Savoia. Dating to 1927, this grand old hotel is today part of the Dorchester Collection. The Principe Bar, recently reinvigorated by interior designer Thierry Despont, is an ideal spot to slip out of your Moreschi car shoes and curl up with a glass of grappa after a day of high fashion drama.

Continued
 
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