If ever there was a city that was made for me it’s Milan, What’s not to like? A fashion capital, in a country where they are connoisseurs of coffee, creators of prosecco and masters of food.
Our trip in March was somewhat a last minute affair and to be completely honest only came about when I heard that Manolo Blahnik was holding an exhibition there. I managed to convince my husband that this was just something I had to go to being that he is my favourite shoe designer of all time.
The exhibition, held in Palazzo Morando, certainly didn’t disappoint. Manolo is an absolute genius. His design drawings are works of art in their own right and the shoes are just stunning. His imagination is infinite and he takes inspiration from people, nature, travel, artists and architecture. Born in 1942 in the Canary Islands to a Spanish mother and Czech father, his journey into shoe design happened by accident. He went to art school in Paris, before moving to London in the late 1960’s. The feet of Greek sculptures had always fascinated him and then in 1971 he met the editor in chief of American Vogue and as she perused his portfolio, she was taken by his shoe drawings and she told him to ‘Stick to extremities and make shoes’. He then learnt his trade through observations of factories in England and Italy and actually received no formal training in shoe making. He did some collaborative work before opening his first store in London in 1973. Since then his career has gone from strength to strength and he has won numerous awards and received a CBE from the Queen.
I first fell in love with his designs following my obsession with Sex and the City, where the main character, Carrie has an addiction to his footwear. I was married in the same blue satin Manolo’s as Carrie married Big in and they remain one of my most treasured possessions.
The collection on display takes you on a journey through Manolo’s imagination with over 80 original drawings and 52 shoes. Each shoe is crafted with such attention to detail and he sees them like characters in a story, giving each a proper name. Some of the embellishments are absolutely stunning as are the range of different materials utilised by Manolo.
Following the visit to the exhibition it was time for a cappuccino and a flick through the trusted Lonely Planet guidebook.
We then took the opportunity to get some exercise and explore a pretty local park, giardini pubblici, before admiring the fantastically alluring designer shop window displays in the Quadrilatero d’Oro or golden quarter. There was time for a quick espresso stop at a very glam espresso bar, Sant’Ambroeus that has an impressive chandelier and given the time of year some beautifully wrapped Easter Eggs.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat before joining our tour party at the Castello Sforzesco. This 15th century fortress was the home of the Sforza dynasty that ruled Milan during the Renaissance. Following a long walk around with what felt like an intense history lesson, we finally got to see what we had booked the tour for – Leonardo Da Vinci the Last Supper painting. It is an amazing sight and it is hard to believe it was painted in the 15th century. We refuelled with a delicious Italian icecream before jumping on one of their vintage trams.
The second day we walked around the awe inspiring Domino, a gothic cathedral of elaborate marble construction with no less than 135 spires. The nearby shopping arcade, Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II is worth a look whilst you are in the vicinity. More than just a shopping arcade, the neoclassical building is constructed of iron and glass and shaped like a cross. Even if you hate shopping it is well worth popping inside to admire the incredible architecture. It was then time for a refreshing cosmopolitan on the roof terrace of Aperol, overlooking the magnificent cathedral. The bar is an ode to the 1970’s drink with a huge sculpted orange bar. I then had to nip back to the hotel to put on jeans in order to go and look inside the cathedral, which is just a magnificent inside as out.
My cultural brain suitably enriched, my shopping urges were once again calling so we took the opportunity to browse a couple of vintage shops before regrouping with a latte.
That evening we visited the Nottingham Forest cocktail bar. You have to get there prior to opening and queue as it is so small, but it was so worth the wait. The cocktails are just so varied and imaginative. Some even use liquid nitrogen and come smoking. I of course had to order the Sex and the City. The glass of cosmopolitan was brought to me in a plastic stiletto and there was a surprise flavoured free gift from Samantha – I’ll let you guess what that might have been!
The final day we booked a classic Fiat 500 tour of the city. A car so iconic to Italy was the only choice for me. The sun shone brightly and our enthusiastic guide and driver showed us all the key sights of the city in just over an hour and a half. It is strange as I ended up owning a Fiat 500 by chance but I now love them almost as much as I love VW Beetles – I only said almost!
We then ventured down to Navigli, the canal district where I had a delicious pizza and even got my husband to sample one as they offer a cheese free pizza. Of course there was an ulterior motive for me visiting this area. Mentioned in the guidebook was a shoe shop called Mauro Leone – for fashionistas on a budget. I bought a gorgeous pair of red patent leather ballet pumps and I can honestly say they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever bought.
At the airport on the way home, I bought another souvenir of my trip – a Pandora charm shaped as a stiletto.
It was a truly amazing trip and I remain ever grateful to my long-suffering husband for agreeing to go just for a shoe exhibition. I absolutely loved Milan and suggest it is a right of passage for any fashionista.