The Fresh Face of Milan
The placid streets of Navigli are a haven for handcrafted fashion, far from the huge gallerias and Vogue cover shoots.
text: Lucia Magi | photos: Stefano Pedroni
Milan is always on the go. Just check out the frantic pace around the Duomo and the Borsa, home to famous haute couture shops and sidewalks lined with models. This is the Italian capital of business and catwalks, where twice a year the hottest names in the fashion world present their collections. Swarms of Asian tourists carry bags stuffed with Prada, Armani and Bulgari. Art directors, photographers and models prepare events that the world “exclusive” doesn’t begin to describe. At first glance, it might seem like the fashionable side of Milan exists entirely in the shadow of the Duomo and the Galleria Montenapoleone, on the four streets that the locals refer to as the “Quadrilatero della Moda.” But, fortunately, fashion in Milan doesn’t end there.
This Italian metropolis has more to offer those willing to venture beyond the habitual haunts. Welcome to a neighborhood where time seems to move at a slower pace. There are no rushing crowds, flashing cameras or sets for magazine covers. A 25-minute walk from the Duomo, the neighborhood of Navigli takes its name from a series of navigable artificial canals. Here, you’ll find a picturesque display of styles that are more alternative, exclusive and handmade. It’s a cradle of Italian genius, where creative souls work silently and diligently in small studios, crafting shoes, bags, clothing, design objects and, of course, culinary delights.
To get in the swing of the neighborhood, head to Ennji for a novel and colorful selection of accessories, including shoes, bags, shiny hairclips, lace collars, decorated tiaras and rings made from melted plastic. You’ll find the same eclectic taste at Merry Go Round, across the street. Originally from Sardinia, 30-year-old Cristina Doneddu selects enchanting women’s clothing “I imagine dressing an elegant woman who will cause a sensation, with everyone asking, ‘And this? Where did you get it?’” she says, gesturing at the store’s selections, carefully divided by color.
From here on out, the streets bear the names of places around Milan. You’ll feel like you’re on a scaled-down tour of the textile factories of Como – a few miles to the north – thanks to the inventiveness of Carlo Galli. “I worked at Fendi for years, designing swimsuits and underwear. I went to London to specialize and started to sell my own creations at local fairs. It went well, and after building some confidence, I came back to challenge the competition,” says this 36-year-old entrepreneur and dreamer, who knew that Navigli would be the perfect neighborhood. “The shop windows of Galleria Montenapoleone can already be found in Tokyo, New York and Paris. The things you find in Navigli are unique. This is where the heart of this city of fashion truly beats,” he says, smiling beneath a large plant that lends a cheery air to his store Individuals (Via Vigevano 9).
Less tropical, but equally magical – like something out of a fairy tale – is Garden K (Via Vigevano 35). More than a store, it resembles a small, highly tasteful gallery of coveted designer shoes, unique garments and ties and handmade jewelry crafted from brass and stones.
But there’s more to life than fashion. Especially when you’re in Italy, you have to make time to eat. Get ready for a feast!
In Navigli, fashion designer Antonio Marras has his headquarters (both pictures), a cross between a store and a museum.
You won’t need to venture far. Taglio (Via Vigevano 10) is open all day. With a style that recalls Brooklyn – complete with exposed brick, mirrored bar, open kitchen and indie soundtrack – it’s the perfect place to satisfy your appetite during a busy day of shopping. In addition, Via Naviglio Grande is lined with places where you can lounge on a terrace with coffee or an aperitif. After 7:30 p.m., the locals flock to the cafés for drinks and free snacks. When it’s time for dinner, treat yourself to a meal at Pont de Ferr, where Uruguayan chef Matías Perdomo creates dishes that blend tradition and innovation. Next door, Perdomo and Pont de Ferr owner Maida Mercuri have opened Rebeblot, which serves faster fare, tapas and cocktails.
Your route into the fashionable heart of Milan continues along the streets of Tortona and Savona. Via Tortona is narrow and winding but celebrated among local aficionados for its stimulating selection of leather and textile workshops, restaurants and bars, indoor patios and modeling agencies. One essential stop is Bottegatre (Via Tortona 12), where Valeria Terni and her two partners design shoes for all seasons. “We use only Italian materials in our creations. We also sell a small, highly select collection of footwear from other houses,” she says, pointing towards a row of colorful flats. “Styles that are chic and unique, but comfortable and appropriate for everyday wear. They’re the perfect shoes for this neighborhood.” Via Savona continues this fashionable vein, with more of an eye towards lunchtime cuisine than design. The buildings’ modernist façades alone make the trip worth your while.
The Hidden Heart
To discover the true heart of authentic fashion in Navigli, there are two altars to aesthetics that the experts rank among their favorites: Spazio Rossana Orlandi (Via Matteo Bandello 14) and Nonostante Marras (Via Cola di Rienzo 8). Both shops are hidden from prying eyes in interior patios, invisible from the street.
Spazio Rossana Orlandi is housed in a former tie factory, now the site of two floors filled with housewares and furniture designed by emerging artists. The pieces on display change in accordance with the impeccable talent-finding instincts of the owner. It may not seem like it, but everything really is for sale.
Nonostante Marras is a concept store/museum housed in the transformed first floor of an early-20th-century mechanics’ shop where Sardinian fashion designerarti Antonio Marras has his headquarters. The enormous windows let in a warm light filtered through the dense vegetation on the patio, lending the place a surreal, magical quality, like a secret garden tucked away from the traffic and commitments of the city. “There’s furniture found at fairs and antique shops, jewelry designed by respected artists, collectible clothing and books on fashion, design and architecture. It’s a treasure trove where Marras combines and stores his obsessions,” observes Anna, who sits behind the cash register. Unlike Versace, Fendi or Prada, Marras decided to keep these wonders tucked away in a part of the city hidden from the spotlight and the whims of snobby shoppers. In Navigli, fashion challenges itself, in its own time, in pace with the street and its own heartbeat. in
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Via Vigevano, 10
Pont de Ferr
Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 55
Via Legnone, 19
Corso Cristoforo Colombo, 7
Merry Go Round
Corso Cristoforo Colombo, 4
Via Vigevano, 11
Via Vigevano, 35
Calle de Tortona 12
Spazio Rossana Orlandi
Matteo Bandello, 14