Milan is a true metropolis; strong and fearless but welcoming too. Little by little, I came to realise that I could become someone here. The more successful I become, the more I want to remain like me, with my defects and insecurities.
- Giorgio Armani
A city that wears its incredible Italian culture on its sleeve proudly, Milan is a melting pot of incredible design, fascinating fashion and delectable food. A little over a year spent there and it was a whole new experience, a dazzling one - one of those that leaves you feeling brand new, stripping off old layers.
From coffee, to gelato, to incredible vintage fashion - I found an abundant array of my favourite things here. Or maybe it was the romanticism detached from reality, like another time. Milan has been a cornerstone for me in many ways of re-discovering myself.
Having been there during the much awaited Milan fashion week, and Salone del Mobile (Milan design week that takes place in September), I experienced the flutter, frenzy and enthusiasm on the streets.
During the MFW, the city becomes a true fashion show where models parade the streets and the city is filled with eager citizens, curious minds and a few intellectual snobs (or experts). Salone del Mobile, which a simpleton would call a furniture fair, is much more than that. It is an ode to design, a gathering of ingenious, creative minds.
Walking in the city at this time in particular is a true delight. Eye-catching installations throughout the city, zestful events in stores, a bustle of activity with excited students looking for inspiration, walking from one event to the other, taking it all in. Being a student myself, everywhere I looked I felt heightened emotion. There was an underlying, spirited homage to this country’s history. The attention to detail, whether it is cars, furniture, food, leather or fashion, makes ‘Made in Italy’ the most sought after label in the world.
When I think about it, Italian excellence really comes down to passion and a vibrant life energy. Not just that, the reverence for beauty is evident in the enchanting frescoes, beguiling gothic architecture and renaissance art. Beauty was considered to bring one close to God. The smallest local boutique will have it. The simplest home cooked meal will have it. And you can tell in the first bite. With the Italians, it is either going all in or not at all.
The Italians are notorious for being very expressive. It is no wonder then that their form of expression in design is so demonstrative. There is a charisma to the heritage that they so proudly carry forward. It is not just an age old story or history that they continue to hold onto, it's a legacy everyday, and in everything they do. Every region has a story to tell - a craft, a fabric, an invention, a distinct flavour. From the silks of Como, to the fine jewellery and leather of Florence, to the fine glassware of Venice, there is seduction everywhere.
Even if you’ve never been to Italy, you know what I’m talking about.
But coming back to fashion, did you know that fashion in Italy existed at a local level until Giovanni Battista Giorgini, an Italian aristocrat from Florence, assembled popular designers from Italy (Emilio Pucci, Fontana Sisters, Missoni) to hold shows? First at his residence and then at Palazzo Pitti, Florence. He was hugely inspired by Eleanor Lambert's success in New York. And not surprisingly, these shows turned out to be an immediate success with buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. It was such a success that Florence started having a traffic issue and so in 1975, the show was moved to Milan!
There was a new found prominence of Italian fashion, especially in film, with the Fontana sisters dressing celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, and most famously the dress in the Fontana di Trevi scene from the groundbreaking film La Dolce Vita. The film established the status of the little black dress, and voluptuous Italian style - setting a glamorous precedent.
The immense attraction to Italian design and talent is in the innovative textiles and manufacturing which brought Italian designers to the fore and became home for many designers. In the 70s and 80s, Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace became hugely popular and established Milan as a sartorial capital. On one hand there is the manufacturing capability, the family owned businesses and artisans, and their unique craftsmanship. And on the other, their eye for bold creative design, the penchant for drawing from within one's individuality, and expressing it in an iconic form. Milan is a unique city indeed- structured, sharp and striking.
Home to some of the most iconic design houses like Prada, Gucci, Armani, Versace, Moschino, and Missoni, Italy has been a turning point for the world of fashion. Staying true to its roots but drawing a parallel from pop culture, baroque aesthetics or exaggerated glitz, the design houses pay tribute to this multifaceted city with every show.
Apart from fashion and design, the charm of the city itself draws people from all over the world.
From the breathtaking Duomo that one can stand and stare at for hours in solitude, to the vivacious atmosphere at an aperitivo, there is much to fuel one’s ingenuity.
The city's soul keeps beckoning.