Join Dolce and Gabbana, one of the
world's hottest design teams, as they share their secrets of
shopping their hometown of Milan.
If you're the type to race off the plane with a "to get" instead of a "to do" list, if your idea of local culture is a sale sign in a boutique window, if you plan your itineraries around what shops to hit, then you probably already know that Milan is arguably, in terms of quality, quantity, and the high concentration of shops, the best shopping city on the planet for both men and women. A focused shopping day in Milan can stock your closets - and your home and office - for years to come.
But a mere credit card can't buy you admittance into the inner sanctum of the Milan supershopper. For that, you need a guide. And who better than red-hot designers Domenico Dolce, 43, and his partner Stefano Gabbana, 38, known the world over as Dolce and Gabbana or, more simply, D&G.
The Milan-based duo has dressed Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Johnny Depp, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Whitney Houston, Demi Moore, Susan Sarandon, and a multitude of other stars and everyday style mongers for more than 15 years. With annual sales of close to $300 million, they live in an antiques- and art-laden 19th-century villa in the center of the city. They have intimate knowledge of the streets where they live, work, and, most importantly, shop in the retail heart of Milan, which is currently in the throes of a retail renaissance.
"Milan is undergoing a vast retail boom," the International Herald Tribune recently announced. "Not only are high-end designer stores popping up left, right, and center, but mainstream brands are rushing to open new stores, or giving their existing ones a major makeover ."
So break out that strong dollar and follow Dolce and Gabbana's guide to the planet's most mercantile-minded city. With retail prices presently lower than in the States, you'll have money left over for dinner, drinks, and everything else associated with la dolce vita.
In Italy's capital of commercialism, the designers, retailers, and assorted fashionistas are moving fast, always looking to next season, which is already in the shop windows and on the backs of the Milanese. Up at 9, you're about to join them. From your room at the Four Seasons Milan or the Grand Hotel et de Milan - chosen for their proximity to the fashion district - you gulp that espresso in order to be the first through the doors when the stores open at 10.
DOLCE: "I like to go to Sant' Ambroeus, one of the oldest and most established pastry and coffee shops in Milan. I particularly like it because the quality of their pastries and breads is superb and the environment is very chic. They make the best espresso in town and they also have great brioche in the morning. I love to sit there and people-watch, because all of the well-dressed ladies in Milan stop in. It is a ritual for them to go there every Saturday morning."
Forsaking the city's treasures - La Scala, the filigreed Duomo, Da Vinci's recently renovated Last Supper - you race straight to Montenapo, local slang for the Via Monte Napoleone. This main street dates back to the Napoleonic era and now runs through the heart of a shopping district that boasts perhaps the highest concentration of designer shops on earth.
DOLCE: "There are great apparel stores on Via della Spiga, Via Sant' Andrea, and Via Monte Napoleone. These streets are all in the center of Milan. It would be boring for us to name clothing stores because that would be too obvious."
Indeed, every name in Italian design - and infinite other nationalities - stands sign-to-sign on the streets of Montenapo. There are four Prada stores, four Armani stores, one Gucci superstore that packs in all 11 different lines, and two Valentino stores at the same address, with a third for younger fashions called Oliver (named after the designer's dog). There are flagship boutiques by Ferragamo, Pratesi, Missoni, Bulgari, Etro, and dozens of other noted Italian designers. A few lesser-known-outside-Milan names include the locals' favorite Fiorucci Department Store, which has just about everything. There's La Perla for lingerie, Fornasetti for housewares, Fratelli Rossetti for its famous flexible shoe, and Tod's, the Diego Della Valle shoes that cleave to the hooves of stars like Sharon Stone. But to detail each of these would be, as Gabbana so aptly puts it, "obvious" and "boring" - the two most dreaded words in fashion.
DOLCE: "There are very unique stores in Milan where I love to shop, that offer merchandise exclusive to them. One of my favorites is Mirabello. This store is well known for its handmade linens. They offer a great selection of linen curtains and bathroom accessories. Another of my favorites is Lorenzi (above), a kitchenware store on Via Monte Napoleone. They have the best selection of scissors and knives of impeccable quality with exquisite details, including handcrafted knives, combs, and razors with ivory and tortoiseshell handles."
Don't miss this Dolce and Gabbana fave, Montenapo's version of a hardware store. The multifloor shop stocks more than 18,000 different items, ranging from kitchen utensils to eclectic items such as wooden polenta knives, stainless-steel spears, and utilitarian wood saws. Nobody needs 20 different kinds of scissors, but Lorenzi has them.
From Lorenzi, turn the corner and walk to the main Dolce & Gabbana store on Via della Spiga, an ultra-hip emporium of high design. You'll love Via della Spiga, the almost hidden, stone alleyway that houses many of the most vaulted designer names. The D&G store is where the boys always begin their Saturday shopping expeditions.
"Every Saturday, they're shopping," says a Dolce & Gabbana front-desk manager. "Chanel for their mothers, Alessi for the home, Scavia, Cartier, or Bulgari for the jewelry." And Vetrerie di Empoli for the glassware.
GABBANA: "My favorite store in Milan is Vetrerie di Empoli. It is a very small business offering a selection of both antique and modern handblown glass pieces. They have an amazing collection of Venetian glasses and chandeliers dating back to the 1400s. This boutique is special because their antique collection is always in excellent shape. They work with some of the most interesting modern artists to create glass designs and chandeliers. This is a great store, and I go there whenever I have to buy a gift or when I just want to add to my own collection."
The moment you step onto its ancient wooden floors and walk through the rainbow of glass, you'll instantly know where Dolce and Gabbana get the inspiration for their incredibly vivid lines. The glasses mirror Dolce & Gabbana clothing: bright scarlets, deep purples, glorious golds nothing subtle, and nothing cheap. Glasses can soar into the 95,000-lira range for a single stem. Dolce and Gabbana buy them by the dozen.
Reluctantly, you leave Montenapo and cab through the hip and artsy Brera district - "one of the most famous areas of Milan, and home to the best museums and galleries," says Dolce. It is the site of the Academia di Brera, "which houses one of the most extensive collections of medieval and baroque art," he continues. There are masterworks by Titian, Rembrandt, and Van Dyck. Brera's treasures for the shopper include Luisa Beccaria, classy party duds for children; Diego Dalla Palma for makeup; and a tiny shop called Merù, where the Mereu brothers craft precious jewelry.
But Brera's star is 10 Corso Como. If there is a mecca for the Milanese shopper, this is it, the hippest department store on earth, headquarters for the eternally browsing. It's sort of a collection of open-air souks, laid out like a caravansary, perhaps best described as what your richest, hippest friends might do if they decided to sell everything they owned at an elegant garage sale.
DOLCE: "I like to have lunch at 10 Corso Como Cafe. It's the latest addition to Ms. Carla Sozzani's world-famous 10 Corso Como store and gallery. She has one of the most exquisite stores and galleries in Milan, with a very interesting concept based on her extraordinary taste. She has combined Moroccan and Asian influences to create a modern ambience. The restaurant offers a selection of natural foods and drinks: fruit juices, smoothies, Asian salads, hummus, couscous, and a great selection of teas."
After lunch, take a walk through the Corso Como's racks and displays, which include the world's best bookstore dedicated exclusively to art and fashion, housewares, clothing, accessories, a mini art gallery, and much, much more. You could linger for days in the Brera district, dropping into antiques shops and staying until dinnertime, when charming restaurants fill and the fortunetellers set up their tables on the candlelit street. When you depart Corso Como, say at around 3, you're probably almost sated with shopping. But there's one more supermall you have to hit.
Ahead looms the shopper's mother lode: the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Galleria, known locally as Il Salotto di Milano (Milan's parlor), serving its citizenry for more than a century. This four-story, glass-domed atrium is the world's first shopping mall, often imitated but never challenged. There are sidewalk cafes, bookstores, restaurants, and, of course, shops, perhaps most notably Prada. Not just any Prada, but the original suitcase and leather shop where the current global empire began.
The landmark Prada store sits just beyond the Galleria center, where stepping on the testicles of Taurus on the zodiac floor mosaic is supposed to bring the passerby good luck. In addition to clothing for both men and women is the still-stellar line of Prada luggage, which runs the gamut, from steamer trunks to computer cases.
And your shopping day by joining the locals at either the bar of the Grand Hotel et de Milan or the lobby of the Four Seasons Milan in the heart of Montenapo. By 5, the latter's lobby swells with famous designers and their customers, and the floor is strewn with shopping bags.
For dinner, Dolce and Gabbana have two suggestions:
DOLCE: "When I am away, I miss Italian food a lot. So I tend to want to eat at a typical Milanese restaurant upon my return home. One of my favorites is Da Giacomo, one of the best seafood restaurants in Milan. He also offers great pasta dishes and risotto."
GABBANA: "Trattoria Giapponese has a great environment and delicious sushi. For me it's the perfect meal before going out for the night. It's very tasty and light at the same time."
Afterward, return to the Navigli district, Gabbana's favorite, where, he says, "There is nothing more romantic than taking a walk at night."
milan has mastered the art of the municipal market, affording every zone of the city, aside from the center, its own specific open-air market on a particular day: monday is the artsy brera district, the market specializing in shoes; tuesday's for bargain hunting in the market at via benedetto marcello, leading up to saturday, with designer clothing at discount prices in the navigli district's mercato di viale papiniano, and an even bigger sale at fiera di senigallia. any concierge in the city can advise you on the markets.
the biggest blowout of all is dolce's choice, the mercatone dell'antiquariato, held on the last sunday of each month on the banks of the naviglio grande. hundreds of stalls line the river for which the market is named, offering antique furniture, glass, and other items. get there early, as the best wares go fast.
aside from the markets, most milanese shops are closed on sundays, as well as monday mornings. -