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June 2014

10 Corso Como

Before I had even arrived in Milan, I had read about 10 Corso Como and was dying to go there. Located near Porta Nuova at the address from which it takes its name, it's a stylish art gallery, bookshop, fashion store, cafe, terrace, and boutique hotel all rolled into one.

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It's founder, Carla Sozzani, spent the early part of her career working as an editor for various Italian fashion magazines (including Vogue Italia, where her sister Franca is currently Editor in Chief) and American Vogue. Over the years, she worked with famous photographers including Herb Ritts, Bruce Webber, Robert Mapplethorpe, Juergen Teller, and William Wegman, publishing several books and photography catalogs along the way.

But it was in 1990 that Sozzani used her years of editorial experience to create a "living magazine" in a former mechanic's workshop at 10 Corso Como. Beginning with the Galleria Carla Sozzani, the concept space eventually evolved into a multi-level shopping and dining complex selling art, fashion, music, contemporary design objects and more. 

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The indoor/outdoor cafe on the ground floor is in a quiet courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers:

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We sat outside and enjoyed a decadent lunch in between browsing the various floors.

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Also on the ground floor is a large retail space featuring an assortment of apparel, jewelry, and accessories from high-end designers:

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Heading upstairs, there is a bookstore with an extensive collection of fashion, design, art, photography, travel, and food titles:

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Turntables for the DJ:

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And 3 hotel suites overlooking the courtyard, each with it's own private entrance and all furnished in homage to mid-20th and 21st century designers so that visitors can live the 10 Corso Como experience.
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The top floor houses the original Galleria Carla Sozzani art gallery, which was exhibiting the winners of the 2014 World Press Photos contest, including this haunting image of blind Indian albino boys by Brent Stirton.
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Last, but not least, there is a beautiful rooftop terrace, full of brightly tiled furniture, metal and stone sculptures, lush plants, and great views.

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I just love everything about 10 Corso Como; it's a must-visit spot if you are ever in Milan.
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Foundazione Achille Castiglioni

We headed over to Piazza Castello to visit the studio of industrial designer Achille Castiglioni (1918-2002), considered one of the greatest designers of the 20th century. Image

He worked in this space for nearly 60 years, and the rooms remain exactly as he left them, packed floor-to-ceiling with all manner of knick-knacks, memorabilia, sketches, books, magazines, models and films.

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His heirs entered into an agreement with La Trienniale di Milano to create a foundation and keep the studio open for archiving and tours.
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We were lucky enough to have Achille's daughter, Giovanna, as our tour guide, and she shared wonderful stories about her father and what led him to design several of his most popular products.

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MoMA's permanent collection in NY hosts fourteen of his works, and many of his designs were produced by leading companies like Alessi, B&B Italia, Flos, and Kartell.
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What's interesting is that he was inspired by everyday things, and used a minimum amount of ordinairy materials to create forms with maximum effect.

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Most of his products are now considered design classics, and many are still in production.

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Giovanna spent about an hour walking us through the cluttered rooms and explaining the genesis of a variety of products: a collapsible tin cup, the Mezzandro portable stool borne out of a desire to sit while talking on the hall telephone, an ashtray inspired by a Slinky.

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A 1968 light switch designed for electrical component company VLM that is still in use today:

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His famous Arco floor lamp with the long, curved arm extending the light out from a heavy marble base (Giovanna's holding up his original sketches), now prominently featured in the Flos store window near our hotel:
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And this ingenious resin spoon for jars, perfectly designed to scoop out the last dollop of peanut butter, mayonaise, or jam. The red version is only available in the studio, and I bought two - one for me, and one for my Mom.

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This was another fantastic visit. I just love seeing the work spaces of these creative people. So inspiring.
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Castello Sforzesco

On the edge of Parco Sempione sits the massive Sforza Castle, originally built in the late 14th century, but transformed (and renamed) into a ducal residence in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. It is a massive, sprawling structure that is now used primarily as a museum and exhibit space. Image

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The day I visited there was an outdoor exhibit from Cracking Art Group, which specializes in innovative use of plastic materials to evoke a relationship between the natural and the artificial. This particular installation, "Nido di Rondini" (swallow's nest) consisted of huge plastic, multicolored birds throughout the courtyards. Image
On the street outside the castle, I browsed through a market with all sorts of food stalls (Italian cookies and candies, nuts and spices, cheeses, even a pig on a spit...) as well as jewelry, art, and crafts. Image
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As you can see, it is hard to go anywhere in Milan without getting exposed to some sort of art or design!


La Trienniale di Milano

After exploring the Porta Nuova district, we headed over to the Trienniale Design Museum, inside the Palace of Art building on the edge of Parco Sempione. It's dedicated to capturing the essence of Italian design, with a focus on the relationship between art and industry. The museum includes exhibits on architecture, urban design, media arts, music, and more.

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There, we enjoyed a curator-led tour of the exhibit, "Italian Design Beyond the Crisis," which featured different approaches to production during each of three decades: the 1930s, 1970s, and 2000s. 

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These three periods were chosen to illustrate that years of economic decline tend to stimulate design creativity. Image
It emphasized how design opens up multiple worlds to us, and how everyday items can be beautifully designed to deliver emotion as well as utility. I liked this chair because it reminded me of the Bowdoin sun:Image

And these are former detergent bottles, turned into vases/growing kits:
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The last room of the exhibit had floor-to-ceiling glass shelves housing all of the various design artifacts from these decades (with a mirrored ceiling; if you look closely you can see me capturing this photo from the ground below). Image
It became clear through the museum, as well as everything else we've seen on this trip, that even contemporary Italian artists are truly Renaissance people, moving freely between art, design, and storytelling in a variety of media. 


Porta Nuova

Porta Nuova ("New Gate") refers to one of the major wall gates in Milan, as well as the surrounding district. The actual gate, a triumphal arch made of sandstone, was built between 1810 and 1813.

The district has gone through a resurgence after a period of urban decay, and is now home to an eclectic mix of historic buildings and modern highrises, as well as contemporary retail shops and restaurants.

It is anchored by the enormous UniCredit Tower, a 758 foot skyscraper and the tallest building in Italy.
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Behind UniCredit is the Vertical Forest, or Bosco Verticale, a pair of residential towers that house over 900 trees on 96,000 square feet of terraces, in an effort to make city living greener. Image

Traveling down the pedestrian way Corso Como, past an array of shops and restaurants, you arrive at Porta Garibaldi, a Neoclassical arch that was built to commemorate the visit of Francis I of Austria in 1825, and later renamed for the ruling Garibaldi Family in 1860. In another mix of old and new (so common in Milan), you can see the shiny UniCredit Tower in the background:

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Nearby is Eataly, a 54,000-square-foot Italian food market established by businessman Oscar Farinetti and sponsored by the Slow Food movement. American chef Mario Batali is a part owner of Eataly's recently opened New York outpost.Image

Eataly Milan is located in the former Smeraldo Theater, which was built in 1942 and hosted artists from Ray Charles to Bob Dylan. To honor its history, Farinetti had a stage built on the second level overlooking the entrance where musicians perform. His goal was to "re-create the 18th-century popular theater, where people would eat, walk and talk as artists were on the stage." You can see it in the lower left part of this picture, as well as the three floors of gourmet food, wines, and restaurants/cafes:
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Between the architecture, shopping, and food in this area, I was in Heaven. It is also home to the fabulous retail/art/dining hybrid, 10 Corso Como, which I'll cover in a separate post.


L'Ultima Cena

Cenacolo Vinciano Santa Maria delle Grazie is a church and Dominican convent in central Milan, commissioned in the late 1400s by the dukes of the Sforza family.

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After visiting the Dolce & Gabbana concept store at Corso Venezia 7, I took the metro from San Babila to Cadorna in order to view Leonardo Da Vinci's famous mural, The Last Supper (or, L'Ultima Cena). Viewers are limited to 20 at a time, so it requires purchasing tickets in advance (which I had done from home, a few weeks ahead of my departure).
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The mural is 15' x 29' and covers the back wall of the convent’s dining hall. It depicts the last supper of Jesus and his disciples as told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. The work was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and completed between 1494 and 1498.

Due to its age, the materials used, and the fact that the monastery was bombed during WWII, leaving Da Vinci's work exposed to the elements for several years before repairs took place, the painting has badly deteriorated over the years despite numerous attempts at restoration. Viewers have to go through a series of humidity-controlled antichambers before entering the refectory, in order to protect it from air and light.

But when you walk into the dimly-lit room, it is just breathtaking. Everyone falls silent, gazing open-mouthed up at the back wall. There are a few benches for those who want to sit and ponder the work, but most people rush up to its edge, eager to see the masterpiece up close and read the historical placards below. No photos are allowed (yet George Clooney apparently caused an uproar when he not only took a picture of it, but used his flash) so I've included one from Wikipedia here:

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I was surprised to learn that in 1652 a doorway was cut through the lower portion of the painting, removing Jesus' feet which were said to have been in a position symbolizing his forthcoming crucifixion.

The opposite wall has a larger mural called The Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, completed at the same time (here, also from Wikipedia): Montorfano,_crocifissione,_1497,_con_interventi_di_leonardo_nei_ritratti_dei_duchi

This is a must-see for visitors to Milan. Such an amazing piece of art and history.

 


Boffi Cucine

Boffi Spa has designed high-end kitchens, bathrooms, and wardrobes since 1934, outfitting private residences and commercial spaces (like NYC's Soho House) alike.

We had the opportunity to visit Boffi headquarters outside of Manza, where they welcomed us with cookies and espresso (the latter a welcome treat after our wine-fueled lunch!) before taking us on a tour of the factory. It was a massive operation, with multiple assembly lines for the different products, staffed with workers manufacturing items both by hand and with machine assistence. It was amazing to see seemingly mass-produced items like this - such as a large slab of marble for a kitchen counter - being sanded by hand to ensure perfectly smooth edges.

The next day, we visited the Boffi showroom in the historic Brera quarter to see the finished products.  Image

It's a beautifully restored old building that now has large, loft-like rooms that have been exquisitely designed by minimalist architect and designer Piero Lissoni to show off Boffi's kitchens, baths and wardrobes.

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In keeping with the recurring theme of this trip, Boffi aims to transform living spaces into artistic expressions of function. And walking through their showroom does sort of feel like browsing a modern art gallery.
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Most of the pieces have clean, contemporary lines, but pair well with rustic/antique backdrops, like distressed wood and reclaimed objects, as Boffi had styled many of their vignettes.
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It's a beautiful space (the professional-grade kitchens with custom cabinets were to-die-for) and it's open to the public so check it out if you're ever in Milan.


Artemide

On Thursday we drove up to the town of Pregnana Milanese to visit a warehouse sale at Artemide, a world renowned lighting design company founded in the 1960s.

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We learned about their Human Light philosophy, a revolutionary concept that views illumination as a way to improve quality of life.
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Their process begins with understanding how to respond to individual needs in their different spaces and stages of life.
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According to Artemide, "The Human Light is a new way to conceive light to support people in their daily activities, complying with their moods, and promoting their wellbeing." Heady stuff!
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But in keeping with everything we've heard about Italian design: there is a desire here to create things that are both functional and beautiful.
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Over the years, Artemide (like Alessi) has collaborated with a bevy of famous designers, and their products are exhibited in most museums of modern art around the world.
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Too bad I'm not in the market for lighting (and the modern style doesn't match my decor), because everything was marked down 40%-80% at this warehouse sale.
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But even if you're not buying, strolling through their showrooms is like visiting an art gallery. Truly works of art.


Sapori & Sapere

My mom asked me why I haven't (yet) mentioned much about the food in Italy, and I told her that we simply saw and did so much that I haven't taken the time to post about the meals. Instead, I'll do one post later with the highlights. But this one deserves a post of its own.

On Wednesday afternoon we had lunch and a wine tasting at Sapori & Sapere, an edicola, libreria, and enoteca in Paderno Dugnano. In English, that translates to Flavors & Knowledge, a newspaper stand, library, and wine bar.

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It's in an unassuming building in a residential area, but when you go inside you are greeted with a wide assortment of the best Italian wines (including a yummy Sangiovese from Il Valentiano Campo di Marzo, Brunello di Montalcino), food products and pastries.

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They set up a long table for us, and proceeded to stuff us with an amazing assortment of meats (including some of the best prosciutto I've had), cheeses, olives, bread, handmade lasagna, and of course, wine. Needless to say, we were all a bit tipsy after lunch :) But it was great fun, with lots of stories and laughter.

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But my favorite thing about this place is their philosophy and mission. From their website:

It is a place to meet and exchange ideas, opinions, and experiences between people who share the pleasures of the table and reading."

And now you know why I love this place :)

Salute!
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Zagato Milano

After visiting the studio of Alessi designer Mario Trimarchi, we drove to Rho, Lombardy (northwest of Milan) to visit the headquarters and showroom of Zagato Milano, an independent coach building company that has been building some of the world's most beautiful and winning racing cars since 1919.Image

A representative of the company presented us with a slideshow explaining how founder Ugo Zagato used his background in aeronautics to design light-bodied, aerodynamic racing machines.
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Cars at the time were bulky, and Zagato wanted to apply the lightness and strength of aircraft to the automotive business. His focused turned to racecars in the 1920s when Alfa Romeo asked him to revamp their Romeo RL models. Bugatti, Maserati, Diatto, Ferrari, and Rolls Royce all became clients soon thereafter. And Zagato-bodied cars went on to win several of Italy's Mille Miglia races.

What's so interesting is how they modify these cars. Zagato is strictly a coach-builder; they don't modify the mechanics (engine, suspension, etc.), nor do they touch the original cockpit (which has undergone too many crash tests to risk change). The original manufacturer still designs the interior, which is why the cars still carry the badges of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, etc.

Zagato begins with a blueprint of the original car and takes care to ensure that the redesign still accommodates these basic structural elements. Then they design inclined windshields, more aerodynamic headlights, convex bootlids, and perforated disc wheels (to help brake cooling). With the introduction of Plexiglass in the 1940s, he created the "Panoramica" body, and his signature "double bubble" roof. Here you can see the evolution of one design:

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In the 1950s, Ugo's son Elio began racing cars in the new Gran Turismo category, which included cars designed for everyday use but sleek enough for weekend racing. 

Today, Zagato produces bespoke cars for racers and car afficionados alike. They collaborate with the customer and the original manufacturer to infuse more personality into mass-production vehicles, typically working on 2-door, 2-seat coupes from Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati, Diatto and Alpha Romeo. Here are before and after pictures of the car that was customized for the CEO of Bentley (note the curved back window and double bubble roof):   Image
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We then proceeded to the showroom to marvel at a selection of Zagato-body cars.Image

The full lineup:Image
Ferrari Testarossa:Image
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Ferrari

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Porsche:
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Alpha Romeo:

Alpha romeo

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Aston Martin:Image
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Lamborghini:Image

This one (sorry, I can't remember what it is!)

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And this little fellow (and yes, that sales woman behind me is smoking in the showroom! They smoke everywhere here...even in the restaurants):Image

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I don't know much about cars, but even I could appreciate the beauty and design of these. And of course the men in the group, who seemed only mildly interested in the Missoni visit yesterday, were in Heaven :)