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 Armani flagship (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.