MILAN — As Italy's fashion capital, Milan is packed with top designers, including Fendi, Krizia, Gianni Versace, Valentino, Armani and Mila Schon. All have their headquarters or, at least, important boutiques here.
But Milan also offers unusual opportunities for the style-conscious shopper on a restricted budget. Most of the designers sell the previous season's clothing to local discount houses.
They're called blocchisti , and they are unique to Milan. For foreign shoppers, the trick is to find them.
By agreement with the designers, the stores don't advertise and don't display signs. Many are located in small buildings on narrow, alley-like streets or in obscure courtyards. Most are located in industrial or residential areas, far from the beaten tourist trail.
Labels are removed but garments are usually of the same quality as those sold for 40% to 60% more in pricey boutiques. Since stock is erratic, it's not possible to predict which discounter will feature which designer on any given day. But the big designer styles appear on a regular basis.
There are no stylists on hand to offer fashion advice. Many places do not have English-speaking clerks. And most only accept cash.
It is best to browse the blocchisti as regularly as possible. Try to shop in the morning when it's less crowded and the choices are best. Unless otherwise specified, stores are open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., although hours may vary.
Here are some good bets:
Il Salvagente (126 Via Fratelli Bronzetti) is Milan's most famous discounter. The shop is not elegant and lacks amenities, and merchandise is disorganized. Walk through a gateway, down a driveway, through a courtyard and enter the shop. Often, the best clothes are located in the last room.
There are excellent buys to be had. Gianfranco Ferre sweaters sell for about $100, Valentino blouses are about $130 and Versace shoes sell for about $40 and up. Krizia, Moschino, Biagiotti, Trussardi and other designers are discounted about 50%.
Unlike other blocchisti , Il Salvagente sometimes leaves labels in garments, but the clothes are not well-organized by designer, size or style. Dressing rooms are tiny, but they do offer a little privacy, although waiting in line to use them is common.
In the men's department upstairs, a Gianfranco Ferre suit that retails for about $1,500 elsewhere sells for about $400.
Additional savings are offered just before the store closes for vacation each August, when a huge sale slashes prices an unbelievable 75% off discounts already in effect. Closed Monday mornings.
Centro della Seta (Via Leopardi 26) is the discount center for prestigious Mantero factory silks. The shop offers beautiful silk scarves, ties, shawls, bolts of silk fabric and some ready-to-wear with the Mantero label for about 40% off retail.
Gucci Liquidazioni (Via Corridoni 13) is where Gucci items of all sorts cost at least half what they retail for in Italy, which is about 15% less than U.S. prices. Stock usually includes silk scarves, belts, small leather goods and gift items on the first floor. On the second floor are men's and women's sportswear, shoes and boots that are overproduction and end-of-season close-outs, but not defective merchandise.
Vesti Stock Uno and Due (Viale Romagna 19 and Via Ramazzini 11, respectively) stock last season's merchandise and overruns of men's, women's and children's fashions by Montana, Moschino, Versace, Kansai and Les Copains, to mention a few. Stock is uneven, with some garments available in one size only, but new merchandise is added daily and discounts range from 30% to 60%.
Falzone (Via de Amicis 51) has terrific prices on cashmere goods, with women's sweaters selling for about $80. There is also some clothing for men. The shop is closed in the morning.
Fratelli Recchia (Via della Forze Armate 11) is another good source for cashmere, woolens and casual wear. Women's Angora sweaters cost about $40 and up. The shop is closed Monday mornings.
Leuce (Via B. Panizza 6) discounts men's and women's designer clothing, ranging in styles from casual to dressy. A lovely suede A-line skirt (without a label) sells for about $175. The shop is closed mornings.
Although Modastock (Viale Permuda 2) sells a range of men's and women's clothes, best buys include pure cotton, tailored designer shirts and blouses, priced from about $55. The shop is closed Monday mornings.
Monitor (Viale Monte Nero 78) sells women's clothing only. Silk is the specialty, with blouses priced from about $32 to $45 and dresses from about $150 and up. The shop is closed Monday mornings.