c.2015 New York Times News Service
c.2015 New York Times News Service
MILAN — Twice a year (four times for the durable souls who cover both men’s and women’s collections), fashion professionals in pack formation wend their way to Milan, the home of the Italian fashion industry.
For many of these visitors, it is a trip accepted with the grim resignation that typically accompanies dental visits. Complaints, never absent from the industry even at its most celebratory, rise to a peak. The cause of consternation: gray, unbeautiful, unwelcoming Milan.
“It is an international sport,” said Tiziana Cardini, the fashion director of La Rinascente, the Italian department store. “It’s so hip to hate Milan.”
Compared with the other stations of the fashion cross — thumping New York, cosmopolitan London, elegant Paris — Milan seems unwilling or unable to trumpet its glories, and the fashion industry, in recent years, disinclined to find them.
In general, residents say, the Milanese are uninterested in showy displays on their own behalf (despite the presence of the much-touted 2015 Expo here later this year). It is up to a few outliers to broadcast the city’s charms to a skeptical crowd of regulars, who mostly see the city from the back seats of sedans.
The city’s self-appointed booster-in-chief is J.J. Martin, a U.S.-born journalist who has lived here 14 years. She is the founder and editor of a new website, La Double J, with a dual purpose: one, to sell clothing and jewelry; and two, to sell Milan.
“I’ve got my pompoms out and I’m ready to do a back flip,” she said. “I’m totally cheerleading.”
Martin’s path to the city was circuitous. Born in Los Angeles to a family that had “never even heard of Prada,” she said, she worked in advertising and marketing in San Francisco and then New York. At a party there, she met the man who would become her husband, Andrea Ciccoli. She moved to Italy to be with him in 2001.
“I fell into a deep funk,” she said of her early years here. “I felt like I couldn’t accomplish anything because the country was not cooperating. I feel like that’s the way most New Yorkers approach Milan when they come to fashion week: ‘Where is my coffee to go? Why do they not have nonfat milk? Why when I ask for a latte do they bring milk?'”
She paused, then deadpanned: “Because the word ‘latte’ means ‘milk.'”
She fell into journalism more or less by accident, covering Milan for Harper’s Bazaar, The International Herald Tribune and Wallpaper, for which she is now editor at large.
On the hunt for articles, she began to meet the Italians who would people La Double J’s pages, visited in their homes and enviable closets.
They include stately doyennes (sciure in local parlance, meaning, more or less, grande dames) like Nina Yashar of the design gallery Nilufar and Rossella Jardini, the former creative director of Moschino, and up-and-comers, like the Blazé girls, three stylists who design bespoke blazers.
“It now irritates me when my American friends say they don’t want to come to Milan,” Martin said. “I just want to show people what the city is all about, because it’s not obvious at all.”
Milan’s discreet charm — its lavish beauty, hidden by stony facades — is a common chorus among its supporters.
“Milanese people are not very spoiled by a certain grandeur that is typical of other cities,” said Marco Zanini, a native Milanese and the former designer of Rochas, who lived here even during a stint at Schiaparelli in Paris. “I always like to promote Milan to people that I speak to, because I think it’s a pity that it’s so underappreciated.”
It is especially difficult to appreciate from the vantage point of most fashion editors, who are accustomed to frequenting the same small handful of hotels and restaurants. Locals favor long-established restaurants or cozy neighborhood haunts.
Yet lively happenings do crop up off the beaten track, like Bar Basso, where a klatch of creative types, including architect Luca Cipelletti and curator Paola Clerico, host Thursday-night Negroni parties.
Rarer, although much more traditional, is to be invited to private homes, one reason that young designer Arthur Arbesser’s early presentations were such a welcome novelty when he held them at the home of his friend Cipelletti.
Arbesser, an Austrian, studied at Central Saint Martins and came to Milan upon graduation to work for Armani. “All the English students at Saint Martins would tell me, ‘Oh, you poor guy, going to Milan,'” he said. “Milan was considered very uncool.”
Yet, Arbesser stayed in Milan to start his own line in 2013, although Milan is notoriously difficult for emerging designers. “Support is very rare,” he said. “Here in Milan, you are fighting your own war.” It is not, however, without its rewards: Last week, he was announced as a candidate for the 2015 LVMH Prize, the only designer of 26 shortlisted labels to show in Milan.
Not everyone is as dedicated to winning over doubters.
“If they love to hate it, how can I convince them?” Cardini said with a sigh. With a self-sustained contentment perhaps typically Milanese, she said, “I am convinced.”
For the rest of the world, there are the cheerleaders, led by Martin, pompoms in hand.