Milan is synonymous with fashion and for a good reason. Twice a year this northern Italian city is home to one of the few world famous fashion weeks. This one week of fashion shows and photo shoots dictates the new trends everyone will be wearing the next season whether they’re a self-proclaimed “fashionista” or not.
Even when Milan is not hosting Fashion Week, Fashion Night Out or some other clothing and style related event, this city never ceases to eat, sleep and breathe fashion. At all times of the year, there are designers, models and of course some wannabes strutting their stuff up and down the streets. The sidewalks are one huge runway, and the spotlight is theirs for the taking. With all this in mind, I knew I had big shoes to fill when I decided to try my hand at shopping in Milan, and those shoes were big, thousand-dollar, brand name stilettos to be exact.
My Milanese shopping experience began on Via Torino. This main road takes its pedestrians past some of Milan’s historical sites like the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, but what draws in hoards of people to Via Torino are the many affordably priced stores. The street is filled with stores selling everything from fine Italian leather goods to home décor. There were some stores I recognized like Levi’s and H&M along with smaller non-franchised stores and other brands that can’t be found in the U.S. I breathed a sigh of relief with the realization that not every store in Milan would be out of my small price range.
Then I reached the Galleria and quickly realized I had stepped out of my league. Walking down Via Torino will eventually lead you to two of Milan’s most famous tourist attractions: the Duomo, a cathedral that took nearly six centuries to build and is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the oldest shopping malls in the word. Opened in 1867, the Galleria is a far cry from the typical malls of today. It’s main entrance, which can be found just a few steps away from the Duomo, greets its patron with a grand four-story arch that stays true to the beauty of 19th-century style architecture that can be found in Milan. The arch leads visitors to two wide hallways with glass ceilings, floors paved with mosaic tiles and rows of classy cafes and high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and Prada.
If just the sound of those brand names is starting to burn a hole in your wallet, you can make a quick escape to the stores on the streets directly surrounding the Galleria that are more suitable for those of us with a smaller budget. Don’t make a run for it, however, before taking a moment to admire the beautiful architecture of the Galleria and participate in the legend of the lucky bull. Near the center of the Galleria, you can find a group of mosaic tiles that form the image of a bull. Legend says that if you put your right heel on the bull’s genitals and spin around three times that it will bring you good luck. After so many years of people trying to get some luck, all that’s left of the poor bull’s private parts is a perfectly round crevice that marks exactly where tourists continue to put their heels and spin everyday.
The last stop on my Milanese shopping adventure was the epitome of what defines Milan as a mecca of the fashion world: the Quadrilatero d’Oro (‘rectangle of gold’). The ‘Rectangle of Gold’ is Milan’s fashion district and is framed by the streets Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Montenapoleone. Within these four streets are stores for some of the world’s most famous and most expensive brands like Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Fendi. Lesser-known but just as prestigious brands can also be found in the Quadrilatero d’Oro. Or, as I joked with my Italian friend/tour guide, maybe they are well known brands, and I am simply not rich enough to have even known of their existence.
Whether you can afford to indulge in the luxuries offered by the Quadrilatero d’Oro or not, a trip to the fashion district is worth your while just for the great opportunities to people watch, window shop and admire the impressive storefront window displays these shops often have. If you’re lucky you might even get to rub elbows with one of the many celebrities that shop in the area.
I didn’t get a chance to experience everything that Milan has to offer for its shoppers because there is just so much to see. I did, however, get a fairly good idea of the shopping scene in this city, and I also learned a very valuable lesson: NEVER travel to one of the world’s fashion capitals with a completely full suitcase. I made that fatal error and so my suitcase with no room to spare turned my Milanese shopping adventure into my Milanese window-shopping adventure.