If money is no object – or you just want to press your nose up against the windows of designer heaven, Milan is the place to be. But where should you start looking?
Milan is one of the world’s four fashion capitals (along with Paris, London and New York) and La Moda is big business... and big bucks. Everyone who is anyone is represented here. If you have money to spend, the shopping is superb and there are plenty of people to help you spend it. Many of the major hotels have the top designer houses on direct dial, with personal shoppers and chauffeur-driven limousines at the ready to help strip you of your money and redress you in the latest style.
If you have ambitions to be a fashionista, the starting place has to be the Quadrilatero d'Oro (Golden Quadrilateral) and the Via della Spiga, Via Montenapoleone and Via Sant’Andrea in particular. Many of the smaller streets in the area are pedestrianised and perfect for browsing, with wall-to-wall designer boutiques. The windows alone are worth it, often works of art, while the price tags are as breathtaking as the clothes they adorn. On Via Montenapoleone you’ll find street-chic Miss Sixty, Dior, Emilio Pucci, Fratelli Rossetti, Armani and Gucci while Via della Spiga is home to Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli. Via Sant’Andrea boasts Chanel, Fendi, Hermès, Jimmy Choo and Versace. There are many, many more.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which is the main street through the middle of the Quadrilatero d'Oro, linking the Piazza San Babila and Piazza Duomo also has its fair share of top names, alongside big money brands such as Disney. This is also where you find some of the stock houses that sell design at a discount.
Stand out shops – fashion
There are huge numbers of easily obtained free shopping maps in Milan so I haven’t included the boutiques of name designers in this list, but a handful of the more interesting local stores you may like to dip into while there – it is by no means definitive.
The city does have a number of department stores, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest. La Rinascente (Piazza Duomo 10; 02 8852; www.rinascente.it) was founded as a tailor’s shop in 1865. It has grown and grown and is now a cornucopia of luscious delights, from designer dresses and cosmetics to jewellery, while the top floor is given over to a foodie heaven – a combination delicatessen and food hall, with a range of small specialist cafés and Maio, an outdoor terrace cocktail bar and restaurant with some of the best views in the city.
Some shops worth a visit:
Alfonso Garlando (Via Madonnina 1; 02 874 665; www.alfonsogarlando.com) - the ultimate Italian shoe store, with huge choice and even more temptation.
Borsalino (Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II; 02 8901 5436; www.borsalino.it) - Italy’s finest hatters.
Brooksfield (Corso Venezia 12; 02 7600 6242; www.brooksfield.com) - an Italian brand in spite of its name.
Cithera (Via Brera 23; 02 7200 4400; www.cithera.it/brera) - perfumery with a fragrance bar where customers can sniff test up to 200 different essences before buying.
Gemelli (Corso Vercelli 16, Magenta; 02 4800 0057; www.gemelli.it) - famous for cashmere knitwear in particular since 1927, with sections for men and women and adjacent shops for children and sportswear.
Diego Dalla Palma (Via Madonnina 15, Brera; 02 876 818; www.diegodellapalma.it) - celebrity make-up studio with wonderful products and accessories.
Madina (Via Meravigli, cnr Corso Magenta; 02 8691 5438; www.madina.it) - a cornucopia of make-up and hour-long make-up classes daily in English, check ahead for times.
Nove25 (Via Ravizza 3; 02 9153 4918; www.nove25.net) - silver jewellery based on graphic design and street culture.
Occhiali Privati (Via George Washington 11; 02 284 6368; www.occhialiprivati.it) - unique specs crafted to your own design. Elton John, eat your heart out.
Rocca 1794 (Piazza Duomo 25; 02 805 7447; www.rocca1794.com) - master jewellers and watchmakers since 1794, also stocking a wide range of luxury brands.
Every city has its own sales gimmick and in 10 Corso Como (Corso Como 10, 20154 Milan ; 02 654831; www.10corsocomo.com), Milan came up with the concept store. In the courtyard of an old palazzo, it is a combination shop, bookstore, café, restaurant and even has three hotel rooms. It is designed for slow shopping, to allow browsing, socialising, philosophising, and entertainment as one seamless way of spending time and money. With its phenomenal success, everyone else jumped in on the action, with all the top designers from D&G to Hilfiger, Diesel, MaxMara and Hugo Boss opening their own branded concept stores in Milan, all offering a mix of shopping, eating and drinking, but there are still some more eclectic addresses that stand out from the crowd:
Spazio Rossana Orlandi (Via Matteo Bandello 14/16; 02 467 4471; www.rossanaorlandi.com) is a former tie factory dedicated to unique and limited edition furniture, aimed at promoting young designers from around the world.
The TAD ConceptStore (Via Statuto 12; 02 6550 6731) is high concept furniture and furnishings, and beauty, with a restaurant and cultural events.
Wait and See (Via Santa Marta, 20123 Milan; 02 72 08 02 95; www.waitandsee.it), created by Uberta Zambeletti in a former-18th-century convent, stocks goods with prices from one to 1,000 euros; there's a range of books and stationery, clothing (vintage and new), accessories and art from as far afield as Peru and Finland.
The Belgian sports designer has probably gone to the ultimate extreme with flagship concept store, Dirk Bikkembergs (Via Manzoni 47; www.bikkembergs.com) - billed as the the world's first "Reality Shop". With one floor kitted out like the apartment of a Premier League footballer, they actually persuaded Italian footballer Andrea Vasa to move in. Talk about The Truman Show!
For the lads, brand-specific concept stores worth sniffing out include Ferrari (Piazza Liberty 9; 02 7601 7385; http://store.ferrari.com), and Milan (Milan A.C.) Megastore (Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II-Galleria San Carlo; 02 8976 5408; www.acmilan.com) – the official store of one of Milan’s two premier football clubs.
Stand-out shops – non-clothing
Again, this is a tiny handful amidst a vast sea of superb shops. There are many others worth exploring and everyone will have their personal favourites. Please feel free to add your recommendations.
Peck (Via Spadari 9; 02 802 3161; www.peck.it) is one of the world’s great delicatessens, complete with Michelin-starred restaurant attached.
Alessi (Corso G. Matteotti 9; 02 795 726; www.alessi.com) – a local firm producing kitchen and bathroom ware guaranteed to put a smile on your face. If you have a car, you may do well to visit the factory shop near Lake Orta.
Uroburo (via Thaon de Revel 19; 02 6682 3658; www.uroburo.it) - gold workshop and experimental centre for jewellery designers.
Da Driade (Via A. Manzoni 30; 02 7602 3098; www.driade.com) is housed in a wonderful 18th-century palazzo with frescoes filled with cutting edge design from around the world in furniture, objets d’art and accessories.
Skitsch (Via Monte di Pietà 11; 02 3663 3065; www.skitsch.it) - innovative and experimental furniture design.
Venini (Via Montenapoleone 9; 02 7600 0539; www.venini.com) - glass, glorious glass, all made in Italy from designer sculptures to Murano candelabra.
Visit my overview on Shopping in Milan or read my other guide: Shopping in Milan: the cheap(er) side of the street.
Where to stay
For a full list of my recommendations on where to stay in Milan, see Milan Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Milan.