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by Stuart Haggas

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While the rest of Italy is living La Dolce Vita, Milan prefers La Moda Vita, taking its role as the country’s fashion, design, and finance capital rather seriously. This studiousness has paid dividends; while Milan may not be Italy’s prettiest or most popular city, it is the richest, with a sense of style that’s beyond reproach. Determined not to upset this equilibrium, the well-heeled Milanese have neither the time nor the inclination to dance exuberantly in fountains, Fellini-style, especially as such frivolity would ruin their $400 Cesare Paciotti sandals!

Although the magnificent Duomo, the world’s third largest church, and the magical allure of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, attract scores of tourists, trade fairs like Milan Fashion Week and designer furniture show Salone Internazionale del Mobile are more crucial to Milan’s economy. It’s during these fairs that hotels are full and room rates are at their highest. They’re at their lowest in August, when much of the city closes as the Milanese head for the beach, so despite the bargain rates, you should avoid August too.

Due to the influence of fashion and design, run-down neighborhoods are showing signs of rejuvenation. For example Zona Tortona, once characterized by graffiti and abandoned factories, now boasts the cutting-edge Nhow Hotel and a happening arts scene—a transformation spurred by the fact that headquarters of several major fashion houses, including Giorgio Armani and Diesel, have recently relocated there.

For those who’ve chosen to visit Milan over and above gems like Rome, Florence, or Venice, their priority list is likely to put shopping before sightseeing. In Milan, brands like Prada, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana are primary tourist attractions; the most popular souvenir to take home is probably an impeccably crafted designer bag.

Those eager to shop will find the major designers are represented within an area delineated by Via Montenapoleone, Via Sant’Andrea, Via della Spiga, and Borgospesso. Known as Quadrilatero d’oro, this golden rectangle is as legendary as the Bermuda Triangle, except the main thing that’ll vanish here is the contents of your bank account.

This area has been described as the Las Vegas of fashion, and once you’ve explored this pretty cobblestoned neighborhood, you’ll appreciate what this means. For in the same way that each new casino on the Las Vegas strip is bigger, bolder, and better than its predecessors, here every luxury designer store strives to outdo its rivals with sheer grandeur and audacity.

The Dolce & Gabbana flagship menswear store occupies a gorgeous 18th Century palazzo on Corso Venezia, and beyond the store, within the palazzo’s citrus tree filled courtyard, Dominico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have created their own miniature fashion universe. Here you’ll discover Barbiere, a traditional barbershop where hot towels, fragrant oils, and straight razors transform hirsute Latin males into smooth-jawed supermodels; Beauty Farm, a white marble oasis offering a full range of treatments to buff and beautify you; and Martini Bar, a sexy black bolthole with leather banquettes, lacquered surfaces, and a dramatic dragon mosaic blazing a trail across the floor.

For visitors who enjoy champagne while they shop, there’s another bar within the Just Cavalli store on Via della Spiga. Accessible via an elevator upholstered with faux white leather and mink and surrounded by a gigantic 7,000-liter seawater aquarium full of tropical fish, it’s as outrageous as one of Roberto Cavalli’s dress designs.

On nearby Via Manzoni, Giorgio Armani’s monumental fashion multiplex occupies an entire block, and carries mainline men’s and ladieswear, diffusion lines Emporio Armani and Armani Jeans, minimalist Armani Casa furniture, flowers from Armani Fiori, chocolates from Armani Dolci, and glossy coffee table books from Armani Libri. For a quick espresso fix there’s Emporio Armani Caffe, or for more upscale dining try a signature dish like black cod in miso sauce at Armani/Nobu. Within the basement, there’s even an exclusive nightclub, Armani Privé.



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Alongside all of this showmanship, the elegant neoclassical store of quirky Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf would appear to be remarkably restrained, if it weren’t for the fact that everything is upside down! Here, antique chairs are attached to the oak parquet-covered ceiling, while chandeliers spring from the floor like geysers. It’s like shopping with Alice in Wonderland.

While making your fashion pilgrimage in Milan, make sure to visit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This regal belle époque arcade, built in 1865, was one of the world’s first shopping centers. Tragically, its architect Giuseppe Mengoni fell to his death while inspecting the ornate iron and glass dome just days before King Vittorio Emanuele led the inauguration. Arranged in the shape of a Latin cross, its floor is adorned with exquisite mosaics representing Rome, Florence, Turin, and Milan. Taurus the Bull, representing Turin, is the most famous; it’s a Milanese tradition to turn three times on your heel over the bulls genitals to wish for better luck than poor Giuseppe!

It’s also here, in 1913, that two brothers opened a fine leather goods emporium named Fratelli Prada. The checkered marble floor and mahogany display cabinets are the original fixtures. Today, Fratelli Prada is part of one of the world’s most coveted fashion empires, overseen since 1978 by its founder’s youngest granddaughter, Miuccia Prada. Alongside exquisite Prada bags and accessories you’ll find, in the basement, a display of precious objects from the Prada family archive that date back to the 1900’s.

The floors above Prada host the exclusive new Town House Galleria hotel, with 26 butler-serviced suites, a chauffeur-driven Bentley, and other opulent amenities.

Modern Milan has evolved into a place where you can do more than shop for your favorite designer brands—you can eat, drink, dance, and sleep with them too!

For lunch with a logo, Gucci provides a chic pavement café. Within Milan’s multi-brand fashion and lifestyle boutique, 10 Corso Como, is a stylish courtyard café, restaurant, and three-room hotel decorated with iconic 20th Century furniture.

Meanwhile, luxury jewelry and leather goods brand Bulgari collaborated with Ritz Carlton in 2004 to open the five-star Bulgari Hotel, and there are rumors that an Armani hotel will join this retail, dining, and nightclub empire on Via Manzoni.

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