Milan Today! Haute Culture: Milano Milieu! Haute Culture

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Robertaebasta. Via Fiori Chiari, Brera District. Although Milan is not a conventional "tourist" destination, Italy's financial and fashion capital is expecting more than 20 million visitors during the May to October Expo Milano 2015 showcase for more than 140 countries.

However alluring Italy’s hill towns, picturesque postcards of Medieval and Quattrocento treasures suspended in time, Milan’s multi-century dynamic is a stimulating cultural aesthetic where Medieval asceticism and Beaux-Arts opulence coexist with Midcentury Modern austerity and Post-Modern panache. Inspired rather than confined by the Renaissance spirit, Italy’s wealthiest most progressive city settles for nothing less than the best in the world accented by its inherent Italian charisma that sets it apart from London, Paris, and New York. Having  lost as much as 60 percent of its historic buildings during World War II, today’s Milan is a global destination, home to the world’s most renowned furniture fair as well as da Vinci and ValentinoLa Scala and Armani.

Evidently, this cosmopolitan mix of chic, class, couture, cuisine, and culture has eluded America’s leading authority on European travel, PBS’s Rick Steves, a self-anointed Baedeker.  On his website, Steves pans Milan, declaring As if to make up for its shaggy parks, blocky fascist architecture, and bombed-out post-WW II feeling, its people are works of art.”  Apparently, Milan’s incomparable cultural offerings and architectural gems have eluded Steves.  Because the city offers a unique ensemble of contemporary architecture, I am putting together a two-part feature on Italian Modernism: From Art Nouveau to Porta Nuova  with one segment focused on Milan’s influential architect-designers Gió Ponti and Piero Portaluppi. I spent one morning with Ponti’s grandson Salvatore Licitra at the Ponti-designed Via Dezza archives; another day, I perused the Portaluppi archives before visiting the architect’s Villa Necchi, Villa Boschi di Stefano, and Casa degli Atellani.

Here are some of my recent moments in Milan.

Old and New Milan’s contrasting visual dialogue showcases an incomparable aesthetic paradigm lacking in so many contextual Italian cities. Above right, architect Enrico Terzaghi’s Neo-Renaissance Chiesa di San Gioachimo; left, Gio Ponti’s Pirelli Tower skyscraper hovering over the church’s bell tower.
The largest exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings ever assembled is being shown at the Palazzo Reale.
Also at the Palazzo Reale, a significant exhibition of Arte Lombarda’s Golden Age during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Via Montenapoleone, a runway for the world’s most accomplished fashion designers and discerning shoppers from Chicago, Shanghai, and Doha.
Palazzo Litta, Corso Magenta, 24. While many 18th-century buildings were lost during the war, Milan’s streets are still embellished with elegant touches.
Museo Archeologico, Corso Magenta, 15. Ancient relics are housed in a former convent complete with Medieval frescos.
Situated between Ponti’s Pirelli Tower and the Central Station, the Albergo Gallia survived the intense Allied bombing during the 1940s.
Corso Monforte is lined with superb buildings from another era.
Via Barozzi, 8 at Via Mozart. A landmark turn-of-the-century corner building.
Bagni Misteriosi, 1973. Giorgio De Chirico. Parco Sempione. The fountain is undergoing a major restoration and is covered by a tent.
Milan’s Arch of Peace (1807, architect Luigi Cagnola), in the Parco Sempione survived the carpet bombing that leveled most of Corso Sempione on the other side of the arch. I spent one morning photographing many of the exemplary Midcentury Modern buildings that replaced Corso Sempione’s historic fabric as well as Casa Rustici (1933-1936, architect Guiseppe Terragni) that survived the devastation .
At Villa Necchi, a recent exhibition of Fashion in Society featured 150 images from a private Italian collection depicting the changes of style and costume in Italian aristocrats and bourgeoisie from 1900 to 1959.

Spazio Rossana Orlandi
Via Matteo Bandoli, 14

Opened more than a decade ago in a converted tie factory, Spazio Rossana Orlandi is still regarded as Milan’s leading showcase for global avant-garde design.

Rossana Orlandi.
Three years since my last visit, Rossana Orlandi continues to attract the world’s most innovative designers as well as a crop of pink roses and yellow tulips.
An op dining ensemble.
Panel screen, detail.
L to R.: Master Chair Gold, plastic. Philippe Starck, designer.; Foreground, Bloom Chair. Wonman Park, designer.
Orlandi’s gallery offers an array of objet d’art.
Left, Secretario desk. Nika Zupanc, designer.
Cabinet. Left, lower shelves feature Delft blue tattooed arms, porcelain. Marcel Wanders, designer.
A 21st-century ensemble.
A decorative work.
Light fixtures.

Brera District

Located near the fashion quad, the Brera District was once known as Milan’s Old Town. Today it is an impeccable maze of smart cafes, design boutiques, and one-of-a-kind objet d’art.

Via dell Orso at Via Broletto, the edge of the Brera District.
Manee. Via Madonnina, 10. Op shoes or sneakers, 170 €.
Via Formentini. Rosso’s Antica Trattoria.
Piazza del Carmine. Left, Marc Jacobs + Café Marc Jacobs; right, the 15th century Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine.
Borsa, Marc by Marc Jacobs.
Borsa, Marc by Marc Jacobs.
Dedar. Via Fiori Chiari.
Robertaebasta. Via Fiori Chiari.
Robertaebasta. Via Fiori Chiari.
Gucci. Via Brera, 21.
Palazzo Brera contains the 18th century astronomical observatory, Milan’s oldest scientific research center.

Via della Spiga

Parallel with the more bustling Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga is a pedestrian thoroughfare.

Via della Spiga at Corso Venezia.
Dolce & Gabbana.
Dolce & Gabbana.
Buccellati, 2 Via della Spiga.
Via della Spiga.
Tory Burch, Via della Spiga, 9.

Via Santo Spirito

Zadig & Voltaire.
A Via Santo Spirito boutique.

Via Montenapoleone

Ferrari, Ferragamo and Valentino.
Sandals, Valentino. 270 €.
Valentino, design detail.
Valentino, borsa design detail.
The universe of Giorgio Armani.
Via Montenapoleone.
Via Montenapoleone at Via Pietro Verri. A shopper falls; four policemen secure the site. The ambulance arrives. Four medics attend the injured shopper. A stretcher is brought out. “No camera, no camera, shouts the medic.”

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Known as one of the world’s oldest shopping centers, this late 19th century wonder remains a stylish 21st century destination.
Prada has replaced the McDonalds, adding to the Gallerias voguish allure.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, detail. While applying finishing touches in 1877 for the first showing of the completed four-story glass-vaulted intersecting arcades to the king, the architect Guiseppe Mengoni was said to have fallen to his death from one of the building’s upper ledges.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
l to R.: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The couple (Beijing? Shanghai?) arrived with their own photographer and two assistants.; Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Stefanel.

Teatro alla Scala

La Scala, 2015 schedule.

La Rinascente Department Store
Piazza Duomo

LV boutique.
La Rinascente, fashionable chocolates.
La Rinascente, fashionable chocolates.
Duomo di Milano. The city’s magnificent Gothic cathedral is the largest church in Italy, fifth largest in the world.
Duomo, detail. An ongoing €25 million fundraising campaign features an “Adopt a Spire” program where donors can link their names or corporations to one of the cathedral’s 135 spires or pinnacles.
Whether the Via Montenapoleone, Galleria Vittore Emanuele II, or savoring a moment at a smart Brera café, just when you think … out pops a selfie-stick with an extendable boom arm. Banned on the Cannes red carpet!

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Lost in Wonderland – Reflections on Palm Beach.

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