LA MODA VITA
by Stuart Haggas
While the rest of Italy is living La Dolce
Vita, Milan prefers La Moda Vita, taking its role as the
countrys fashion, design, and finance capital rather
seriously. This studiousness has paid dividends; while
Milan may not be Italys prettiest or most popular
city, it is the richest, with a sense of style thats
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
Although the magnificent Duomo, the
worlds third largest church, and the magical allure
of Leonardo da Vincis 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 Milans economy. Its
during these fairs that hotels are full and room rates
are at their highest. Theyre 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 scenea
transformation spurred by the fact that headquarters
of several major fashion houses, including Giorgio Armani
and Diesel, have recently relocated there.
For those whove 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 SantAndrea, Via della
Spiga, and Borgospesso. Known as Quadrilatero doro,
this golden rectangle is as legendary as the Bermuda
Triangle, except the main thing thatll vanish
here is the contents of your bank account.
This area has been described as the
Las Vegas of fashion, and once youve explored
this pretty cobblestoned neighborhood, youll 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
The Dolce & Gabbana flagship menswear
store occupies a gorgeous 18th Century palazzo on Corso
Venezia, and beyond the store, within the palazzos
citrus tree filled courtyard, Dominico Dolce and Stefano
Gabbana have created their own miniature fashion universe.
Here youll 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, theres 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, its as outrageous as one
of Roberto Cavallis dress designs.
On nearby Via Manzoni, Giorgio Armanis
monumental fashion multiplex occupies an entire block,
and carries mainline mens 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 theres
Emporio Armani Caffe, or for more upscale dining try
a signature dish like black cod in miso sauce at Armani/Nobu.
Within the basement, theres 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 werent 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. Its 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 worlds 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; its a Milanese tradition to
turn three times on your heel over the bulls genitals
to wish for better luck than poor Giuseppe!
Its 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 worlds most coveted
fashion empires, overseen since 1978 by its founders
youngest granddaughter, Miuccia Prada. Alongside exquisite
Prada bags and accessories youll find, in the
basement, a display of precious objects from the Prada
family archive that date back to the 1900s.
The floors above Prada host the exclusive
new Town House Galleria hotel, with 26 butler-serviced
suites, a chauffeur-driven Bentley, and other opulent
Modern Milan has evolved into a place
where you can do more than shop for your favorite designer
brandsyou can eat, drink, dance, and sleep with
For lunch with a logo, Gucci provides
a chic pavement café. Within Milans 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.