Italy’s undisputed centre of fashion and finance, Milan has long drawn the crowds with its world-class luxury shopping. But it’s also a city steeped in design heritage, from the early 1900s when ornate arcades and boutiques were built, through to the industrial design boom of the mid-20th century when it became a hub for products carrying the made in Italy label. Today, visitors to Milan can delve into the city’s design legacy through a growing number of museums and public spaces which are attracting a new style crowd.
Opened in 2015 to celebrate the legendary Italian brand’s 40 years in fashion, everything about the Armani/Silos museum is underpinned by Giorgio Armani’s signature minimalistic interior design style. Converted from a 1950s granary (also known as a silo in English), the museum’s monumental concrete exterior and pared-back exhibition halls allow the brand’s story to shine. ‘I decided to call it Silos because this building used to store food, which is, of course, essential for life. For me, just as much as food, clothes are also a part of life,’ explains Armani, who has overseen the project and is its curator and director.
Inside, the permanent exhibition is divided thematically, with 400 outfits and 200 accessories on display, from showstopper gowns to Giorgio Armani’s famous 1980s power suits. Students and super-fans can book access to an extensive online archive in the hi-tech research area.
Fashion visionary Miuccia Prada has long been an active patron of contemporary arts, regularly collaborating with up-and-coming creatives, and the Fondazione Prada is the embodiment of that passion. The vast exhibition space combines an historic distillery with unabashedly stark, modern structures and sun-drenched courtyards. Since opening in 1993, it has hosted artists such as Sam Taylor-Wood, Steve McQueen and Carsten Höller.
Families will love the Accademia dei Bambini, an area for children where creative workshops are held. The gorgeous Bar Luce is another highlight. The café, which has been designed by film director Wes Anderson, has a retro surrealist look, including 1950s-style Formica furniture.
Fondazione Achille Castiglioni
A little-known gem, ‘studio-museum’ Fondazione Achille Castiglioni should be at the top of every design buff’s must-visit list. Book a tour of the studio where the late, great maestro of Italian industrial design Achille Castiglioni worked for 60 years: this space provides a fascinating insight into the man who brought us classics such as the Arco floor lamp. His daughter Giovanna takes visitors around the rooms, which are crammed with books, prototypes, drawings, doodles and his fabulously offbeat collection of found objects, from spectacles to wooden stools.
‘Objects are not there only to be seen: his daughter invites visitors to touch objects, to sit down and to live this space,’ explains Carlo Castiglioni, president of Fondazione Achille Castiglioni. ‘It’s a unique experience because, in this manner, visitors are instantly thrown into the work of Achille Castiglioni.’ Carlo’s favourite object is the humble VLM light switch: ‘It’s a symbol of maximum production at a low price – the idea behind every Castiglioni project.’
Museo del Design 1880-1980
The city’s newest design museum, Museo del Design 1880-1980, is dedicated to telling the story of Italian and international product design, from art nouveau to Italian new wave. Located in the buzzing Navigli district, this strikingly modern space is essential for budding designers wanting to swat up on the Italian masters such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass.
While not strictly a design space, Villa Necchi has become something of a cult destination for an in-the-know fashion crowd. A 1930s mansion set in lush gardens, the house has been preserved with its original art deco features intact and now provides an oasis of calm in the city. Movie buffs will know it as the setting for the impeccably chic film I Am Love. Its style credentials are further boosted by hosting regular fashion and design-themed exhibitions, as well as fashion week and Salone del Mobile events.
With fashion- and design-focused spaces of this calibre, it’s no wonder that stylish visitors from around the world are coming to Milan for more than just shopping.