It's ironic that Milan, a businesslike and somewhat grimy industrial city, should be the capital of ultra-chic and trendy Italian style.
Consider that historic Rome (with its architecture and monuments) and romantic Florence (laden with artistic treasures) are more interesting as tourist destinations. Nevertheless, when it comes to trend-setting shopping, Milan draws the accolades . . . and the crowds.
Milan boasts the flagship boutiques of Armani, Versace, Krizia, Missoni, Biagiotti, Ferre and other alta moda designers that determine silhouette shapes, hem lengths, fabrics and colors for trendy dressers worldwide.
These designer shops, offering the very latest styles and more complete collections than in U.S. boutiques or department stores, are easy to find in the city's well-known and pricey Via Montenapoleone district ("Montenapo," to those in the know).
However, some of Milan's trendiest clothing and most distinctive personal and home accessories are displayed in some very unusual boutiques across town in the southwestern Porta Ticinese section.
This old working-class neighborhood was recently gentrified and is now a modish gathering place for Milan's upcoming designers and crafts people.
In addition to the interesting merchandise, the area has a distinctive ambiance and neighborhood charm.
Weathered but attractive buildings line several canals linked by little footbridges. Among them are an appealing array of inviting cafes and lively wine bars. It's fun to kick back in Porta Ticinese and it's a great place to shop.
The kind of unusual merchandise the area displays is at The Kooky Shop (Corso di Porta Ticinese 16). This youth-oriented showcase of Italian ultra-chic punk features a lot of leather, mostly sleek and form-revealing. There are miniskirts (about $50 U.S.) with high-tech zippers and halter tops (about $48) to match. Also a lot of clinging, silk, jersey leggings and tops (about $40 each) in wild tiger, leopard and other animal skin patterns.
Popular Cotton Fabrics
Naj Oleari (No. 58), the chain of faddish fabric, accessories and clothing stores, was one of the first retailers to move into the Porta Ticinese area and was a key factor in the district's gentrification.
Like the other Naj Oleari outlets throughout Italy, this shop sells book bags ($50), deck chairs ($125), umbrellas ($60), sneakers ($60), eyeglasses cases ($20), place mats ($50 per set of four), lamp shades ($60 and up), quilts ($500 and up), picture frames ($18 and up) and notebooks ($15 and up), all made from the company's popular 100% cotton fabrics.
Naj Oleari is a bit like the Italian edition of Laura Ashley, Pierre Deux or Marimekko, except that this company's cheerful patterns are all hand-drawn by artists rather than stamped with blocks, and aren't floral or geometric designs so much as naive-style airplanes, clouds, palm trees and eyeglasses, all on very colorful backgrounds.
The shop also sells a limited selection of adult and children's clothing, plus uncut chintz and quilted and plastic laminated fabrics. Not all of the company's 700 fabric patterns are available at this shop.
Lo Gnomo (No. 70) shows and sells a wide variety of handbags, carryalls and other personal accessories, made (mostly on the premises) of untanned leather and canvas by young artisans. The bags are big, bold and beautifully colored with bright, fashion-coordinated dyes.
The unusual multipocketed knapsacks are especially popular with school kids. Prices begin at about $40. There are also wide belts with well-done clasps ($40 and up) and stylish sandals ($70 and up).
Prem Legnodipinto (No. 76) is a young artist who makes and sells her own charming and amusing hand-painted wooden jewelry and accessories. Most unusual and whimsical are tiny earrings ($35 and up) shaped like flowers, airplanes, sea horses, birds, ice cream cones, polka-dot bows, dancing dolls and an assortment of other items.
Each pair of these decorative accessories is carefully painted with bright, colorful details. Also popular are Prem's hand-painted wooden belt buckles attached to broad elasticized waistbands ($50). There are also nonwearables, including piggy banks, picture frames and clocks.
High Tech (No. 77), as the name states, has ultra-modern accessories and furnishings for home and office. One of the two distinct sections is stocked with household goods, with an emphasis on kitchenwares selected for excellence by professional chefs.
Included are Alessi's handsome stainless steel pots, Richard-Ginori's wonderful porcelains, copper pots and pans from France, plus an assortment of espresso makers and cutlery. The other section features gadgets, some of museum-quality design.
There are clocks, razors, desk sets and pens, plus some electronic equipment and furniture, mostly of Italian design and manufacture. The striking display against sleek black walls emphasizes the design quality of these items, many of which have been exported to the United States.
Shoes and Accessories