While I was in Milan last month, I made some time to go view an exhibition at the Triennale di Milano. It is a contemporary art museum located in Parco Sempione very close to the Cadorna train station. The show was titled ” The New Vocabulary of Italian Fashion”.
A few weeks ago I had posted about a visit to the shop Nonostante Marras in Milan, Italy. Along with the many things they sell in their boutique, they regularly feature local artists. Back in February I was introduced to artist/photographer Paolo Ventura. Boy, was I smitten.
This Italian born photographer creates scenes that are rich, dreamy and sometimes surreal. He does this by creating miniature sets into which he then places realistic dolls and props ~ then he photographs them. The result is part fantasy, part realism. They are captivating images that take you right into his nostalgic world.
His painstaking attention to detail is what makes them so charming. Ventura creates every detail from start to finish. He chooses the costumes (sometimes designing them himself), makes or sources the props and paints the dioramas. He also becomes part of the picture, putting himself in costumes and posing in front of the camera.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, away from the city center, away from the Brera, the Duomo, and the hustle and bustle of a typical downtown corridor lies a magical and wondrous place. Antonio Marras has created a place full of old world charm and whimsy. It is called Nonostante Marras. Translated as “despite Marras”, this shop is where Antonio showcases his RTW clothing line. But the experience is so much more than shopping a typical designer boutique.
Its humble entry leads you to an open courtyard filled with plants and if you wander for a little bit you will see Snow White and the seven dwarfs standing guard. Glance past the old factory windows, and you get excited at the thought to see what lies inside.
I just recently returned from my bi-yearly buying trip to Milan. I stay in what I like to think is a non-Milan neighborhood called the Navigli. When most people think of Milan, they think of chic shopping on Via Monte Napoleone, gazing the glass tiles of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II or touring the majestic and iconic Duomo. Don’t get me wrong, I like to do these things too. But I am most at home in the Navigli district. And though it’s mostly known for its late night activities. I like to experience it in the late afternoons and early evenings before the crowds of twenty-somethings take over the neighborhood bars.
Being a small business owner myself, I like to support small local businesses, whether I am Seattle or in another city. The Navigli is a neighborhood of hard working small establishments that are offering independent goods and experiences. Here is a very small guide on what to see, drink and eat while visiting this burrow of Milan.The easiest way to get there is to take Milan’s “Metropolitana” subway. Take the green line towards Abbiategrasso/Assago and get off at Porta Genova.
Start off your visit with a late lunch or an afternoon coffee at one of the many cafes along the Naviglio Grande. I particularly like to have lunch at L’Altro Luca e Andrea. A small cafe with delicious homemade pasta. Weather permitting, sit outside where you can watch the locals sipping their espressos or taking afternoon strolls.
When you finish lunch, walk along the Naviglio Grande. Ripa di Porta Ticinese and Alzaia Naviglio Grande are the two main roads in the Navigli. Pop into the bookstores, vintage furniture and clothing shops that flank both sides of the canal.
If you happen to be there during the flea market, you have hit the jackpot! Both sides of the canal are filled with over 400 vendors selling their antique and vintage collections. A must see occurrence that happens every last Sunday of the month.
The adjoining streets to the Naviglio Grande have some fun little independent designer shops and boutiques too. Along Via Corsico, a new discovery for me was a small little gallery shop called Brandstorming. This little shop features local artists who use found objects and recycled materials to create unique jewelry and gifts.
If you have room in your suitcase, check out and do not miss La Vineria on Via Casale. A wine distillery that makes and bottles there own wine blends. They also bottle olive oil which is my favorite thing to bring home. No room in your suitcases? You can still buy a bottle of wine and drink it in front of the shop. Feel like having a little treat? The Gelateria Orso Bianco up and across the street has wonderful organic frozen treats.
This Monday I am musing about my recent trip to Milan. I stay in an area called the Navigli at a little B&B that I have been fortunate to call home when in the city. I attend a trade show to buy shoes for our shop. I know, rough life.
First a brief history of this charming neighborhood. The Navigli (meaning “fleet”, most likely derived from the Latinnavigium, which means “to navigate”) was a canal system originally built for irrigation and to transport goods into the city. In fact the marble used to build the Duomo in the 14th century was transported along the canal system from Candoglia (near the Swiss border) to the city center. Leonardo di Vinci engineered the first lock system using these canals at the end of the 15th century.
Though today, most of this canal system ceases to exist, the Navigli neighborhood has remained intact and is a romantic area to stroll, shop and eat. Artists’ studios, small shops, romantic bars, flea markets, and summer concerts make it a unique contrast to the rest of the city’s larger scale architecture.
I was lucky enough to be there for the last Sunday of the month to witness the antique flea market. It’s a flea market that changes its venues every month, going to different neighborhoods in Milan. Imagine my surprise to walk out in the morning to find the street filled with vendors! These are snapshots I took with my Iphone on my way to and from work during my stay.
Thank you as always for stopping by our little blog. Have a great week! xo ~ Maggie
Another season, another trip to Milan (sigh). Wait, that doesn’t sound right. I promise that it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. Sure, I go to Italy usually twice a year to work with vendors and factories. But it’s really hard work. It’s a long travel day, endless walking, there’s jet lag and other side effects and I’m really only there for 4 nights. I get up early and start working, so I never really get fully adjusted before it’s time to turn around and go back to Seattle.
But even if my internal clock is backwards and my feet feel like little loaves of bread, I do take time to visit the city of Milan. I take in some sights, find some new places and check in on the old favorites. I have mixed feelings about this last trip to the city, so I am calling this post “the Good, the Sad and the Ugly”.
On this trip, I hit all my appointments and got all the work done and then I had my whole last day free to roam the city. So I spent the day shopping the windows of Milan, wandering the streets high and low. I battled the crowds and I meandered on the side streets, I’m getting good at knowing the ins and outs of Milan and I’m a pro at the subway (metro).
Starting with the good: Milan has so much classic architecture! I can walk through the Galleria time after time and still amazed. The Duomo is stunning, it bursts high into the sky making me feel minuscule in comparison. I never tire of walking around in this area. The perfect melting pot of neoclassical architecture with new and modern shops makes for very pleasant window shopping, despite the congestion of locals and tourists.
I have a new favorite fashion store, it’s called “& Other Stories” and they have everything you could want! Jewelry, accessories, clothing and make-up. It’s like I walked into a fashionable person’s closet, color coordinated and curated by a professional stylist and it’s all very reasonably priced. I am regretting that I passed a little black dress and next time I will have to save my pennies so I can be impulsive.
I live for the boutique windows. The italians are very creative and I can always count on the shops to have interesting (and sometimes funny) windows full of inspiring ideas. I loved the simple yet attractive neon window in a Brera showroom and of course the murdered gnome in the Navigli actually made me laugh out load.
Moving on to the sad, which is led by Chinese imports and an infiltration of big box chain stores. I was in Porta Ticinese, across the street from from Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio. This street has always attracted me for it’s historic neighborhood feel and a healthy mix of independent retail. This time, I was looking at an American Apparel shop and it was disconcerting to say the least. The indie retailers on this street used to inspire me and now I feel like it’s become homogenized, taken over by the corporations. I had a similar feeling while staring in the windows of my favorite Milan shoe retailers. The shops that once sold fine Italian footwear are now full of fast fashion items made in China. There are stores that I once aspired to emulate, and now they are full of brands that you would recognize from department stores in the US.
Seeing all this saddens me but it also makes me feel grateful too. I feel really blessed that our shop can still offer beautiful handmade shoes and unique goods, because stores like ours are few and far between not only in our country but in Italy as well. Thank you to our customers for shopping with us and demanding quality goods, it’s our passion and we love to bring you all the things we hold dear and love.
Okay, now on to the ugly. Graffitti, it’s everywhere and seriously out of control! Historic monuments tend to be sacred and yet, anything remotely public domain is covered with paint. Most of it is senseless tagging and there are a few attempts at something artistic but there is so much that I am desensitized and it’s all ugly. I passed by a shop owner painting over his tagged store front and I thought, “Wow, that’s really great, he is handling the problem head on” and later I realized that the store front was a paint shop. Well, I guess he was obliged, I just hope his paint job will last longer than a week.
To end on a good note, my favorite thing about the city of Milan is its neighborhoods. Navigli, Centro Storico, Corso Como, Porta Ticinese and the Brera each have their own character and charm. The piazzas, parks and gardens paired with the architecture of the buildings make it a pleasure to stroll and enjoy. Every time I visit, I try to discover a new area but I’m always frequenting my favorites. Milan is a busy metropolitan area and it may not be the first choice destination for travelers but what I have learned over the years of visiting, if you take the time to get to know the city, Milan has all the excitement and charm of other famed Italian cities, just in a different way.