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Watering hole for aristocrats

To land in Milan during Fashion week and truffle season is a double whammy. My fourth visit to Italy, the land where high food and high design converge, and I am a little overwhelmed. Where to start? A coffee and a tiramisu at the upscale patisserie Caffe Cova in the heart of Via Monte Napoleone, Milan’s peerless high-end retail style mile is as good a place as any.

Founded in 1817, the delicatessen serves as a watering hole to Milan’s aristocratic ladies who lunch, though the odd tourist like myself is not unusual. The ambience at Cova reeks of understated luxury, and I am surrounded by women carrying handbags that must have cost a minor fortune and are wearing watches that could pay off the debts of small nations. Indeed, it occupies a larger than life spot in the lives of the Milanese. “A wedding cake from Cova is not only considered prestigious and auspicious but almost mandatory in the upper echelons of Milanese Society,” a local resident informs me.

Orchids and Leather
From the Cova to a front row seat at the Fendi Spring Summer 2015 show, in the presence of Karl Lagerfeld, Silvia Fendi, and various members of the European glitterati and the international fashion press is a heady experience.

Silvia Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld
Silvia Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld

Inspired by the architecture of the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana in Rome, which is now Fendi’s headquarters, the collection opens with supermodel Cara Delevingne showing off the orchid motif from the Fendi autumn winter collection on a vivid blue mini, emblazoned with a print of the flower, a striking leather orchid headpiece swooning from her neck.

Fendi Spring Summer 2015 show
Fendi Spring Summer 2015 show

The detailing of this new collection, which features leather-cut orchid motifs fringed by suede and inlays of fur and embroidery, bestow the clothes with a layered yet light appearance, a feat almost impossible to carry off but magnificently achieved by the master that is Lagerfeld.

Above all, for all its subliminal nods to the orchid, its sophisticated sleight of hand artistry and its subtle internationalism, this is a very wearable collection.

What’s best of all, is that unlike the tamasha that is India Fashion Week, here it’s all business and post show, the crowd streams out in to the bright afternoon, to catch a bite, and then on to the next show and the next. Over the next few days Versace, Etro and Gucci will all show their new lines to varying degrees of ecstasy and agony.

Tuscan internationalism
“You have to dine at Bice,” says my all-knowing local friend, “It’s where celebs like Kate Moss and Catherine Deneuve have been spotted often together.” The flag bearer and foundation of the international network of Bice restaurants, founded by an Italian housewife Beatrice Ruggeri (Bice to her friends), the restaurant is 90 years old and a bit of a legend in these parts. It would have been Milan’s best-kept secret if it hadn’t been for the fact that in the Seventies, the city emerged as the fashion capital of the world and an international celebrity clientele discovered and embraced the restaurant.

Truffle pasta at Bice
Truffle pasta at Bice

Over truffle pasta, beef escalope with porcini mushrooms and a robust Tuscan wine, I scan the room for promised celebs but even though the women in their six-inch heels and their oversized glares look vaguely familiar, I recognised no one.

Ah well, the food’s superstar enough here, I console myself digging into another spoonful of the restaurant’s famous Tiramisu.

An iconic woman and her creations
Another dyed in the Merino Milanese institution is 10 Corso Como, the gallery, bar lounge restaurant and boutique hotel launched by the legendary Fashionista Carla Sozzani.

Sozzani who had been American Vogue’s editor-at-large for Italy has to her credit many achievements, not least of which are introducing a slew of creative talent to mainstream fashion coverage.

Carla Sozzani’s 10 Corso Como
Carla Sozzani’s 10 Corso Como

In 1990, she created a universe that could reflect all her interests in design, lifestyle, fashion and food, called 10 Corso Como.

I go there for Sunday brunch and was so moved by the beauty of her vision that I almost swooned with delight. A tropical dream forest like ambience where, seated al fresco, I order eggs and orange juice, rubbing shoulders with some extremely stylish neighbours; a boutique that looks like an altar to quirky individualistic style (exquisite jewellery is showcased on packets of Basmati Rice for instance), a book shop and a discreet boutique hotel called ‘3 rooms’ upstairs.

Some women are known for their beauty, some for their talent, but a woman who is known for the discovery and creation of an area is a rare one indeed.

Over coffee, I pay silent tribute to the genius of Carla Sozzani.

Cathedrals for the modern traveller
On my last morning in Milan, I visit the iconic Duomo, known simply as the church of Milan, the fourth most important cathedral of Europe, after St. Peter’s, St. Paul and the cathedral of Seville.

I go there to pray of course, but ever the hedonist, know that in Milan there are other churches where I have bowed my head: the churches of luxury, food, wine, fashion and design, for these are the modern traveller’s abiding cathedrals.

Tomorrow it’s back to Mumbai and Mumbai’s graces!

Eating in Eataly
A hop, skip and jump away from the rugged individualism and quirky boutique ambience of Corso Como, is Eataly. Founded by Oscar Farinetti, it is a novel concept of high-end grocery retail, restaurants, wine shops, coffee bars and a proscenium for music that melds together all the needs of a connoisseur of good living.

Oscar Farinetti’s Eataly
Oscar Farinetti’s Eataly

Like Steve Jobs, whose success was said to have been the anticipation of a customer’s needs even before he had realised them himself, Farinetti too appears to have realised that people want to shop, eat, taste and enjoy each other’s company in a stylish environment and his chain of unique grazing spots has become the Starbucks of the new generation.

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