In the overall hierarchy of Italian cities, Milan often gets lowly marks. Tourists tend to skip it. Visitors misunderstand it. Locals love to flee it every weekend for the emerald waters or snow-capped mountains that are less than two hours away by car. When I first moved to this city 15 years ago, my judgment of it was not unlike the impression it gives first time visitors: grey, flat and not particularly stimulating.
But through my job as fashion and design journalist for Wallpaper* and The Wall Street Journal, I was lucky enough to penetrate Milan’s invisible fortification, hopping inside buzzing architectural and design studios, famous fashion ateliers, rinky-dink workshops, dusty vintage shops and grand fashion designers’ homes. I began to notice that all of that grey was actually fascinating Fascist architecture. I discovered that Milan’s epithet as ‘industrial’ was wildly misguided: it’s not filled with smoke stacks and warehouses; it’s the country’s most cosmopolitan city and the sophisticated cradle of Italy’s fashion, furniture and finance industries. I now take pleasure in peeling back the cold layers of this misunderstood city, and shining a light on the intriguing creative men and women who operate quietly under its slick surface.
As for the rest, visitors to the city will be happy to discover that Milan has a heart-thumping core, and that this vitality is getting easier to access. The Expo, which opened in early May, helped shake local businesses into putting on a long-overdue song and dance for the city. In the past year alone, the number of new bars, restaurants and shops has been startling – particularly in Zona Tortona and along the Naviglio Grande, Milan’s canal, which is newly cleaned up and offers a lot more than just five star accommodation for the city’s (summertime) mosquito population. Coupled with the huge development of the Porta Nuova district, which has literally carpeted the entire northern section of the city with grassy parks, new shops and over 20 shiny skyscrapers (all sustainably certified), the city has alighted with creative energy and genuine construction.
LaDoubleJ.com’s Viviana Volpicella and J.J. Martin battle out a ‘misunderstood’ vintage skirt
The most emblematic symbol of this seismic shift is the recent opening of the Prada Foundation, a world-class contemporary art institution housed within a spectacular, sprawling campus designed by Rem Koolhaas. It’s now as big a draw to Milan as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Quite suddenly, the museum scene is sizzling: Giorgio Armani just opened a museum dedicated to his 40-year fashion career in Zona Tortona, right around the corner from MUDEC, a new cultural museum designed by David Chipperfield. The Triennale, the city’s design museum, continues to put on excellent shows such as Arts & Food, on until 1 November. And the city’s annual furniture fair, Il Salone del Mobile, is a not-to-miss event in April that ignites Milan with a creative, social and cultural boom.
Of course, the luxury fashion scene remains as vibrant as ever. Prada alone has five boutiques in less than a one kilometre radius, including its historical landmark shop in the soaring 19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. While there, take a coffee standing at the mosaic-lined bar at Zucca and pop inside the Duomo, or walk up to its roof for spectacular views across the city. For smaller shops and galleries, walk along Via Brera, Corso Garibaldi and Via Solferino in the Brera district.
Even the Milanese, who are notorious for complaining about their hometown, concede that Milan is having a moment. In fact, I notice that many more of them are actually choosing to stay in town over the weekend – and guess what? They are enjoying it!
J.J. Martin, Guest Editor, Destination MO, The Condé Nast Publications
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