Italy’s financial hub may not have the historical flourishes of cities like Rome, Venice and Florence, but scratch its famously stylish surface and you’ll find a wealth of world-class art, architecture and design
Author Clodagh Kinsella Photography Susan wright
DAY THREE | You wake on soft cotton sheets in your handsome suite, pad over to the spacious walk-in closet and pluck today’s outfit from impressively heavy oak hangers. Suitably attired, you head to the Armani Hotel’s Bamboo Bar, with its louvered windows looking over the city’s rooftops and women in crisp white shirts downing espressos. Milan may be fashion-obsessed, but food still counts: You kick off your day with slices of robust Culatello di Zibello, the king of Italian cured hams, alongside artisanal rolls and a brut prosecco.
You have more style-watching in store today, much of it overseen by personal shopper Melanie Payge, whose clients have included the royal family of Monaco. You start your journey on chic Via Manzoni, passing a lady in precipitous heels walking four dogs. In two seconds flat, your guide identifies the brand of your sweater (Jil Sander) and then deconstructs a man sporting the classic Milanese look of navy blazer, beige pants and loafers: “Larusmiani,” she says, referring to the oldest luxury tailor on the luxe Via Montenapoleone. “That’s where they all go.”
You enter Gianluca Saitto’s Brera boutique to a flurry of baci. “He’s the new Armani,” whispers Melanie as you explore an array of medieval-style tunics and rock ’n’ roll jackets. Roberto Musso’s hand-painted Como-silk dresses and Massimo Izzo’s baroque aquatic jewelry are just as exclusive. Izzo, a brooding Sicilian, fits a weighty, double-finger seahorse ring onto your hand, and it feels like long-lost treasure dredged from the ocean floor.
Federico Sangalli’s Piazza San Babila atelier transports you to the age of haute couture. Here, rows of elderly seamstresses work on pedal-operated machines, using 1950s techniques to create handcrafted clothing for Milanese society ladies. “When I took over the family business, we had perfect technique but an old language,” says Sangalli. Then he cuts the lights to demonstrate his latest sartorial innovation: a fiber-optic, glow-in-the-dark silk gown. “When I saw the fabric,” he recalls dreamily, “I said, ‘I must create a dress.’”
Your next stop is Melanie’s favorite lunch spot, Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone, which occupies the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum’s neo-Renaissance courtyard. Gilded youths swap gossip over homemade pasta—for which the restaurant and delicatessen justifiably are famed—while the owner smokes a fat cigar on the sidelines. Transfixed, you consume a generous plate of spinach and ricotta tortellini with butter and sage. Like the venue’s supermodel clientele, it’s beautifully sleek and light.
You continue your immersion in the good life at Villa Necchi Campiglio, a 1930s residence designed by Piero Portaluppi that now serves as a shrine to the decorative arts. You wander through a series of sublime rooms bedecked in walnut parquet, rosewood and lapis lazuli, their progressive Art Deco lines softened by 19th-century interiors. There is something dreamlike about the place, and you drift around blissfully unaware that you’re running short on time for your last stop of the night.
It seems fitting that you’d end your stay in Milan at the iconic Teatro alla Scala—La Scala—the spiritual home of opera, Italy’s defining art. The exquisite neoclassical theater opened in 1778 with a performance by Antonio Salieri. Tonight, you’ll be seeing “Così fan tutte” by Mozart, the composer who drove Salieri into a downward spiral of pathological jealousy.
There’s little time for dinner before the show, but the Italians have elevated the aperitivo into a compelling substitute—not least at the Bulgari. You sip the hotel’s gin- and Aperol-laced namesake cocktail at a secluded garden table, while demolishing a tray of salty focaccia, rich almonds, golfball-size mozzarella bocconcini and prosciutto piadine. That’s the body taken care of—now for the soul.
Upon entering La Scala, Stendhal is said to have succumbed to the syndrome named for him—the lavish gilt-and-crimson décor overwhelming his emotions so thoroughly he had a breakdown. While you don’t swoon with appreciation at the sight of the theater, it is impressive, more so when the music swirls around the room. Soon, though, you find your attention flitting between the lovers on stage and the mise-en-scène of Milanese socialites at play, unsure which is the more compelling.
Keyed up by the opera and the sudden roar of scooters radiating from La Scala’s steps, you walk a hundred yards to the still-lit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You’re intending to make a final sweep of its elegant naves (and maybe satisfy your newfound Campari itch) but instead stop at the entrance, distracted by two workmen buffing its façade. The curtain has fallen at La Scala, but Milan is already prepping for tomorrow’s show.
Antwerp-based writer Clodagh Kinsella has decided to rethink her wardrobe since returning from Milan.