Navigating the cobbled street corners into Quadrilatero della moda; the heart of Milan’s fashion district, our neatly coiffed tour guide Francesco exclaims, “Milano da bere” in a fiery Milanese tone. Literally translating to ‘Milan to drink’, this idiom derives from the city’s rise as an international hub for modern fashion and design in the 1980s.
Boutique fashion houses and jewellery stores line the ‘Piazzas’ and ‘Vias’. Shop panes are adorned with the latest chic attire and glazing trinkets, all considerately arranged in a minimalistic yet contemporary manner.
Crossing Via Monte Napoleone, regarded as one of the most famous streets in fashion, you can smell the Italian leather from stylish bags and genteel moccasins. The scent is occasionally disrupted by the warm aroma of coffee or the soft whiff of salmon hanging in the window of a high-end delicatessen. The arms of women are decorated with their purchases, in chic retail bags, as the mystery behind their sunglasses and the tap of their heels on the marble promenade garners the attention of sharply suited males.
Models marketing various brands nonchalantly stroll into the commotion of shoppers outside, trying to entice them into stores with their finely tinged Italian-American accents, “Bonjourno Sir, can I interest you in our finest silk dinner suit, si?” Manikins are ostentatiously dressed in the latest apparel, complemented with accessories. Milan is renowned for its ‘prêt-à-porter’ or ‘ready-to-wear’ garments. “Would you like to try sir?” Soon you are guided to the changing room; enclosed by wall mirrors and surrounded by various attractive individuals, sipping wine and immersed in the latest copy of Grazia. You emerge from the room in a luxury grey Italian dinner jacket, and a top hat, selected by the shop assistant to a chorus of “bellissimo”.
Beyond the glass-vaulted arcades of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan’s famous Duomo opens up in front of you. Here the ancient and modern Italian renaissances begin to meet; a modern materialist passion touches the extravagance of Italy’s historic architectural and artistic prowess. As Francesco prepares to leave us in the cathedral’s shadow, he yells emphatically “il dolce far niente”.
This translates to ‘pleasant idleness,’ and would seem a more fitting caption to the often stereotyped Mediterranean family picking olives from their groves, like in a Bertolli advert. Yet the Milanese sit-back as the quality of their creations sell themselves. Da Vinci famously lamented “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.” Milan, the home of his prominent painting, ‘The Last supper’-has manifested his ambitions.