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A tale of two cities


Milan and Rome are Italy’s fashion hot-spots, yet both offer a unique retail experience, as Michael Day discovers

Michael Day ,

Milan is, and always has been, the capital of Italian fashion. The city’s fashion week is one of the biggest and most influential in the world, while its streets are lined with every luxury designer imaginable. Rome, however, has its own powerful allure. Not only does the Eternal City offer some of the best shopping in Europe, alongside culture, design and architecture, it has also emerged as a major style centre in its own right, fuelled by a clutch of fresh-thinking young designers that have set the fashion industry buzzing.

While Milan and Rome sit together at the pinnacle of Italian fashion, make no mistake: the two cities are very different. People-watching reveals the sartorial contrast. In Milan, for instance, men are currently wearing tight-legged jeans with jackets a size and a half too small, as the latest styles dictate. Milanese women, too, are distinguishable from their Roman counterparts, opting for pointier shoes with lower heels.

The major labels are well aware of the differing tastes of the two cities, say experts such as Beppe Angiolini, president of Italy’s Fashion Buyers’ Council. And in an economic downturn even luxury marques need to ensure they tailor their shelves and shop windows as best they can to local preferences. In Rome, for instance, retailers are more likely to target women who opt for romantic, often figure-hugging clothes, instead of experimental styles that have just landed on fashion runways.

For the coming spring/summer season, this means D&G, for example, will offer sensuously styled dresses, which are expected to go down a storm in Rome. On the other hand, some of the simpler Prada dresses you might see in the elegant shop windows of Milan’s Via Montenapoleone might be harder to find on Rome’s celebrated Via dei Condotti.

The preference for modernity in Milan was underlined this winter season when simple, innovative and, in some cases, asymmetric takes on the classic peacoat from Armani, Versace and Iceberg were very well received. In contrast, high-octane, high-collared, fur-trimmed winter wonderwear from the likes of Cavalli and Fendi was popular in Rome.

While Milan may be considered the home of the Italian fashion industry, Rome is equally important. The city continues to make sartorial strides, and the Roman sense of style is becoming increasingly important in women’s fashion design across Italy, leading to a proliferation of designs that are more opulent, intricate, flamboyant and feminine.

Milan is certainly a luxury paradise, but in recent years Rome has become a launch pad for up-and-coming talent. A number of emerging designers are carrying the flag for the Eternal City. These include Rome-born Caterina Gatta, ‘one of Italy's rising stars’ according to Italian Vogue. Gatta, who presented a review of her 2010 spring/summer collection in New York, says her very feminine designs take elements from vintage clothes, which are combined with her own innovations to provide fresh designs for today’s generation.

Although historically more famous for its cultural heritage than its contribution to the fashion industry, there are indications that the capital is now ready to join Milan on the main stage. Land between the airport and city centre is being developed, and fashion industry bible Women’s Wear Daily suggests that this could prove enticing to fashion’s big names seeking new catwalk venues. Furthermore, certain key Italian brands have even talked to government officials about finding a way to capitalise on Rome’s status as a key transportation hub and burgeoning cultural capital, helped by events including its successful film festival.

Milan, however, will not be completely supplanted any time soon. The original haunt of fashion aristocrats Armani, Prada and Valentino, it remains one of the world’s most important fashion capitals, crammed with myriad showrooms, fashion-show venues and designer shops. Milan’s ‘Golden Rectangle’ shopping district, bordered by Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni and Corso Venezia, is reputed to have the greatest concentration of designer shops in the world. As Angiolini notes, Milan’s prêt-à-porter business is ‘a point of reference in the international fashion industry’.

While Rome may not have achieved Milan’s international cachet just yet, it offers an alternative, and equally exciting, fashion experience. If current projects and industry hype are anything to go by, before long Rome will be one of the world’s most essential fashion destinations. The city is already a shopper’s delight; the picturesque area surrounding the Spanish Steps, comprising Via dei Condotti, Via Borgognona, Via del Babuino and Via Sistina is particularly tempting.

If you can’t decide between the two cities – and who’d blame you? – why not sample both? The arrival of a superb high-speed rail link between Milan and Rome means eager shoppers can now flit between the two in perfect comfort, in just three hours. They might want a change of outfits, though.

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