Milan is a unique city. Unlike most major European centers, it is not built around a major river or coastline (at least anymore anyway…many of Milan’s canals have been paved over). It is situated dead center between the Mediterranean, Baltic, and the Alps.
It also has no significant topographic boundaries, so it grows out in a perfectly concentric fashion. The inner city is arranged this way too, with an older historic center, surrounded by ring roads. Imagine how a pastry chef cuts a wedding cake: the center circle first, then pieces to eat from each surrounding ring (rather than each piece coming to a point in the center). The neighborhoods of Milan are separated in this way.
Furthermore, unlike Tampa and most of what I am used to, Milan does not have a single desirable area and corresponding not-so-great area. The Vias, Viales, Corsos, and Piazzas vary much more subtly, block by block, area by area.
For instance: I live on Navigli Pavese (one of the few remaining uncovered canals), which is a 10 minute walk from school. Generally a middle class area with families and older residents. Not chic, but not a slum. It is actually known as the area for nightlife for the “bridge and tunnel” set, who come in on the weekends to party.
The block across from mine is notably downtrodden, with lots of graffiti, balcony clotheslines and crumbly facades. Walk a couple blocks over, though, and you can find Antonioli and INNER, two edgy newfangled boutiques selling the likes of Stone Island, Rick Owens, and Givenchy.
The best way to see the city is by surface-level tram. These operate all over the city (literally criss-crossing on seemingly redundant routes), and are an efficient way to reach the center from the outer neighborhoods. The underground metro is faster, but less accessible unless you live along one of its four lines. For its size, Milan is quite easy to traverse in 30 minutes or less.
The center is as any city center…busy, full of tourists, and flashy. The majestic milky-white Duomo is the point from which all flows in Milan.
Areas like Porta Venezia (Northeast) and Corso XXII Maggio (due East) are secondary retail centers, but with little real charm. Thus far, my favorite area is Zona Tortona. It is a second ring residential neighborhood, clockwise northwest from Navigli and Porta Genova. Its streets are quite narrow, with quaint restaurants and bars, full of young people, punctuated by Parco Solari, which is big enough to run around a couple times and get a good workout.
Long before I arrived, I bought and began perusing a city guide of Milan, published by Louis Vuitton as part of their global city guide series. The book is surprisingly authentic and comprehensive, with notes from a native Milanese, Giovanni Gastel. It has been a sophisticated starting point, with a range of options and suggestions, from across the city.
Not so chic: since I arrived I cannot stop sweating. I think it’s a combination of the high-humidity weather (though not particularly hot), nervousness, feeling a relative lack of control, and a longing for all of the beautiful fashion and products one can buy in Milan (and feeling unworthy of even browsing).
Since my orientation with any city is done in part through shopping, Milan has been an especially fascinating experience. It is like New York in that it is very much a shopping city. The options for something like a suit are nearly limitless. The same for home goods, shoes, etc.
And then, as a newcomer, you unwrap layers of the onion. Antonioli has a global cult following, thanks to a robust online store, so only the dedicated visitors make the trek to its obscure location. Excelsior is in the center, and plays the role of alt-department store, with many of the same labels you can find elsewhere.
Further from the center, in quiet courtyards, you find places like Italia Independent and British Box, which both specialize in quality (sunglasses/denim and body products, respectively), run by industry insiders and known by only a handful.
The Milanese speak another fashion language entirely, and this is becoming rapidly clear to me. Instead of Hugo Boss, Ferragamo, Coach, and Tiffany, you will more readily find experts in Boglioli suits, Church’s English Shoes, Valextra leather, and Vhernier fine jewelry.
I have been considering a suit for school functions, and today a friend tipped me off to COS. It’s the higher-end offshoot of H&M, with knits, tees, coats, trousers, and dress shirts made mostly in Romania, Turkey, and Portugal. The quality is quite good, and the color palette seems to fit perfectly with Milan—almost entirely black, navy, and gray.
Still, I need to find some sort of suit. I’m leaning toward Suitsupply, as they are well known in the U.S. and have extremely attractive prices (300 euro). Otherwise, a higher-end blazer may work to put over trousers, in varied combinations, for a more versatile use of money…
Milan Spots Map on Google