Twice a year, Milan fills to bursting as the international fashion pack descends upon the city to view the latest women's-wear collections. While it's practically impossible to crash the shows — whose Milan-based star attractions include Prada, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana — there's nothing to stop you from following the fashionistas' trail to boutiques, bars, and beyond. Here, our own fall collection of the hippest haunts in town.
It can be hard to find a room during Milan's high holy days — the spring women's collections are shown in October; the fall season takes to the runways in February — so it's best to book six months to a year ahead.
- Set in a 15th-century monastery, the Four Seasons Hotel (8 Via Gesù; 39-02/77088; doubles from $417) attracts models, buyers, and magazine editors, who mingle in its elegant bar during fashion week.
- Ever since Missoni and Cerruti held their first shows at the Sheraton Diana Majestic in the seventies, this hotel (42 Viale Piave; 39-02/20581; doubles from $292) has been adored by the in-crowd. Don't miss aperitifs in the buzzing Deco bar or the enchanting hidden garden, where the fashionable set goes to be seen year-round.
- Best known as the hotel where Giuseppe Verdi ended his days, the sumptuous Grand Hotel et de Milan (29 Via Manzoni; 39-02/723-141; doubles from $346) fills up with journalists during the collections.
- Marcello Mastroianni (room 10) and Federico Fellini (room 11) loved the tiny Antica Locanda Solferino (2 Via Castelfidardo; 39-02/657-0129; doubles from $113), where breakfast is served in rooms overlooking the historic Brera district. Though some of the antiques-filled rooms need a makeover, it's still a hit with everyone from Calvin Klein to Valentino.
- VIP's and top models — from Sting to Naomi Campbell — stay at the gilded, opulent Principe di Savoia (17 Piazza della Repubblica; 39-02/62301; doubles from $550).
- The Hotel Spadari al Duomo (11 Via Spadari; 39-02/7200-2371; doubles from $173) is the nearest thing in Milan to a boutique hotel, with modern décor in cool shades of blue, furniture by designer Ugo La Pietra, and contemporary art. Ask for a room with views of the Duomo (from the fifth floor up).
Fashion isn't the only creative industry in Milan. Interior design took off in the 1950's; great talents like Ettore Sottsass, Achille Castiglioni, and the younger minimalist Antonio Citterio still work here.
- New pieces from the innovative furniture company Cappellini(12 Via Statuto; 39-02/2901-3353) include the Tate, a stackable chair by Jasper Morrison that has been driving design editors wild.
- Visitors to the out-of-the-way Kartell Museum(3 Via delle Industrie, Noviglio; 39-02/9001-2269) will need a car and a good map, but the groundbreaking plastic objects from the fifties to 2000 make the trip worthwhile.
- The gallery Meta(10 Via Ansperto; 39-02/8901-3728) sells small-batch productions by emerging designers (felt seedpod lamps from Israel's Ayala Sperling Serfaty, hand-dyed linens by Italy's Mos Design).
No wonder shopaholics love Milan. Top Italian fashion houses line the streets between Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga. Prices are often lower than in the States, so pack the plastic — and a big, big bag.
- The long-awaited Armaniflagship (at 31 Via Manzoni) opens this month. The minimalist mega-space has an outpost of New York's famed Nobu, a Mediterranean café, and endless racks of clothes. Check out the accessories and home collections for Armani-designed rugs, light fixtures, and linens sold nowhere else.
- Cult-status Tuscan designer Roberto Cavalli(Madonna's a fan) is launching his first Milan store this fall (42 Via della Spiga). Look for Hollywood-style wasp-waisted ball gowns, light silk shirts for men, and ankle-length crocodile coats.
- The boutique of cashmere specialist Malo(7 Via della Spiga; 39-02/7601-6109) was created by Florentine architect Claudio Nardi. Drop that chunky-knit sweater and take a moment to feel the walls: they're padded white leather.
- The hottest items at Missoni(2 Via Sant'Andrea; 39-02/7600-3555) are belts and necklaces with glittering Swarovski crystals.
- Sadly, the opening of the much-anticipated Prada flagship (8 Via Montenapoleone) has been delayed until 2001. But if you need a Miuccia fix, there are several stores throughout the city; the original (63—65 Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II; 39-02/876-979) has dark wood fittings that date from 1913.
Style-watchers pricked up their ears when Carla Sozzani (the woman who discovered candlelight and futons back in the 1970's) casually mentioned that she'd like to open a hotel. But Sozzani, the owner of Milan's hippest lifestyle shop, hasn't found a location yet. Meanwhile, fans of the eclectic, individualistic ex-editor of Italian Vogue and Elle will have to make do with a visit to 10 Corso Como (10 Corso Como; 39-02/653-531), a magical bazaar that sells clothing, household goods, books, and music in a rambling former coach-repair shop. The space also holds a gallery, plus a restaurant and courtyard café — candlelit, of course. While you're browsing, pick up Sozzani's latest creation: the 10 Corso Como perfume, whose crucial ingredient ("oud-wood" from Borneo) may spark a new fragrance trend. This might be the first time you've heard of — or smelled — it, but knowing Sozzani, it probably won't be the last.
Bargain-minded fashion folk love Milan's secondhand scene, where designer castoffs can be found at a steal.
- L'Armadio di Laura(25 Via Voghera; 39-02/836-0606) is where the city's aristocrats head when they need to make space in their wardrobes. Owner Laura Gentile has an eye for the offbeat, and great connections with Blumarine and Ferragamo, who sometimes send over their end-of-season returns.
- Savvy shoppers plunder the entertainment world's hand-me-downs at Tè con le Amiche(33 Via Visconti di Modrone; 39-02/7733-1506). But don't get your hopes up for a Prada bag: it already has a long waiting list.
- L'Officina delle Fate(5 Piazza Sant'Erasmo; 39-02/2906-0969) is a rare trove for exotic vintage pieces and carefully preserved wedding dresses. Owner Trishna Guazzo combs the closets of Italy's antiques dealers and seniors for finds from the early 1900's to the 70's.
- Buzz at the gate of Il Nuovo Guardaroba (5 Via Privata Asti; 39-02/4800-1678) for admission to racks of color-coded classics from signoras who lunch — all at under $145.
The former industrial zone near the canals around Via Savona, Via Tortona, and Via Bergognone has become the new hub of fashion, advertising, and design. Models first began drifting through what's been called the Via Savona area about 20 years ago, when the photography space Superstudio opened in an abandoned train depot. Its latest offshoot is Superstudio Più (27 Via Tortona; 39-02/422-501), whose 172,000 square feet will contain areas for design and runway shows, plus a TV studio. Across the road, London architect David Chipperfield is transforming the former Ansaldo auto-part factories into the City of Cultures Museum, due to open next year with 3,000 pieces of global art. The newest kid on the block is none other than Giorgio Armani, who, with Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is converting an old Nestlé factory into a fashion showroom and a theater for special events.
- Chopstick-wielding designers such as Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sample sushi at the neo-Japanese Kisho(12 Via Morosini; 39-02/5501-0058; dinner for two $72). It's run by Kazuteru and Shihoko Yonemura, former managers at the classic Grand Hotel Villa d'Este in Como. If you prefer your seafood cooked — as Giorgio Armani does — choose the grilled fish wrapped in banana leaves.
- The discreet, wood-paneled Bice(12 Via Borgospesso; 39-02/7600-2572; dinner for two à) is where Donatella Versace takes VIP guests after the shows. Founded in 1926, it has a traditional Tuscan-Milanese menu that's a favorite with the swank crowd.
- When Bice is booked, head for Ristorante Al Girarrosto da Cesarina(31 Corso Venezia; 39-02/7600-0481; dinner for two à), another Tuscan-Milanese establishment, run by the Michi family since 1943. Its standout dessert (but not for the models who sometimes make an appearance): a melting, hazelnut semifreddo with lashings of chocolate-hazelnut cream.
- Shambala(337 Via Ripamonti; 39-02/552-0194; dinner for two $72) serves Asian fusion in an Italian farmhouse with Balinese furniture, orange walls, and a statue of Buddha in the brick-walled garden. Though its hot Brazilian-Japanese chef recently left, advance bookings are still essential.
- Fed up with fashion?Take a table at L'Ape Piera (11 Via Lodovico il Moro; 39-02/8912-6060; dinner for two $77), a food-lover's paradise where chefs Nicola Grassi and Fabrizio Ferrara put a contemporary spin on traditional Italian cuisine in dishes such as tempura-fried zucchini flowers splashed with yogurt sauce and cucumber petals.
GIFT Last spring, the leather-and-canvas bowling bags given away by Prada to guests at the women's-wear collections became the hit of the season. Fashion insiders can't wait to see what will be all the rage next spring.
LUNCH Regulars at Jungle Juice (1 Via Dogana; 39-02/8699-6809) include the Versace, Armani, and Mila Schön office staffs; fresh vegetable soups, fruit salads, and smoothies are on the menu.
BOOK For the inside scoop on the murder of Maurizio Gucci — yes, that Gucci — get engrossed in The House of Gucci (William Morrow, $26) by Sara Gay Forden, the former Milan bureau chief of Fairchild's Women's Wear Daily. "A great read," says Tom Ford.
FLOWERS Florist Raimondo Bianchi (7 Via Montebello; 39-02/655-5108) helps Milan's fashion set say it with style, using single orchids, arum lilies, or tree branches.
DRY CLEANERS Red wine on your Prada frock?Don't panic — head for Alberti (40 Via Visconti di Modrone; 39-02/7600-0816), whose clients include Ferré and Dolce & Gabbana.
GYM Body- (and status-) conscious fashion mavens make for Palestra Industria (7 Via Gaspare Bugatti; 39-02/5818-6255), the new workout studio owned by La Scala ballerina Alessandra Ferri.
- The just-opened bar Ragoo(140 Viale Monza; 39-02/2600-5157) isn't a fashion hot spot yet. But its décor — a kitschy pastiche of furry seven-ties barstools and sixties amoeba-shaped lights — is already appreciated by designers and artsy types.
- Century-old Pasticceria Ricci(27 Piazza della Repubblica; 39-02/6698-2536) is a traditional bakery and café that turns into a gay bar after 8 p.m. Boy George and other air-kissing fashion darlings have been known to pop in.
- Dress to kill if you want to get past the doormen at Casablanca (14 Corso Como; 39-02/6269-0186), where the chic wine, dine, and boogie in a neo-Colonial bar and tented garden.
- Donatella Versace and Naomi Campbell book with celebrated coiffeur Mario Rosin (at Aldo Coppola, 110 Corso Garibaldi; 39-02/2900-5766) when their tresses need a trim.
- Spaghetti-straight blowouts are a no-no at Pier Giuseppe Moroni(26 Via San Pietro all'Orto; 39-02/7600-3419), whose natural styles are adored by Alberta Ferretti and Jil Sander.
- Barber Franco Bompieri has been providing warm shaves and old-fashioned cuts at Antica Barbieria Colla (3 Via Morone; 39-02/874-312) for more than 50 years. Clients include Gianfranco Ferré and Roberto Benigni (who likes his split ends burned with a candle). On display: soap and a shaving brush that belonged to Puccini, a customer when the shop opened in 1904.