Milan

To Milan

Milan, traditionally a center of finance, is reinventing itself as the epicenter of a burgeoning fashion, design and art scene. The Venturini twins, creative entrepreneurs with a big vision, guide us around a city that offers the infrastructure perfect for evolving their ideas.

03/01/2019 Text: Nadine Kaminski Photos: Lukas Wassmann
Reading Time: 11 min

Fuel consumption combined *: 7.6-4.7 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 173-123 g/km

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

Camilla and Giulia Venturini with friends in an Audi Q2

“Milan has everything we need. Established structures, professionalism, reliability—but also space and creative discourse. This mixture makes it a fertile breeding ground for new beginnings.”

 – Camilla Venturini, fashion entrepreneur

 

 

 

It’s afternoon in Milan. Two of today’s hottest young designers wait with a dog in the drizzling rain. Short hair, no makeup, hoodies—far removed from blow-dry hairstyles and stiletto heels, the 30-year-old twins personify a fashion metropolis that is reinventing itself. Giulia and Camilla Venturini are going to show us their Milan. The Milan of the future. After making us feel welcome and apologizing for the weather, they give the driver an address. Together, we thread our way through multiple lanes of traffic past the Piazza Duca d’Aosta.

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

As models and media professionals, the Venturini sisters have long been a force to be reckoned with on the fashion scene. The past year saw the sisters shift the focus of their lives from Paris and New York to Milan to set up their own business. The handbag label is already available in concept stores from London to Los Angeles, and fashion magazines have singled out their Prima debut model as “the new It bag.”

 

The city seen through the car window: imposing apartment blocks with open entrance gates that allow a brief glimpse of beautiful lush green courtyards within. This is the epitome of understated real estate. Everything is in motion, we’re not held up for long anywhere, the traffic is dynamic but also “polite”—even during rush hour. All the while, Giulia explains the logistics of her social circle in Milan. “Some of my friends are moving to Milan from other parts of Italy just because they are young and yearn for a big city with European flair. Then there are the part-time expats.”

Countless international firms are currently setting up offices in Milan. Many of the pair’s friends and business partners don’t reside here but visit the city up to three times a month on business. Over the past few months, several new but already very successful fashion labels have opted to maintain a presence here. People who decide what is in vogue in Tokyo, London or L.A. spend a large portion of their everyday lives in Milan. “Lately, I keep bumping into people on the street whom I actually know from New York,” says Camilla. She mentions a close friend who works for ultra-hip New York streetwear label Supreme, but who still has time to meet up regularly for an aperitivo. Milan is to fashion what Silicon Valley is to digitalization: The major flagship opening events, launch parties and advertising campaigns are—as yet—concentrated in other locations, but whoever wants to be someone in the industry and meet the right people needs to be here now. At least on a part-time basis. And where does one go to meet the right people? “To the Bar Basso,” respond the twins almost in unison. “It is world-famous—in certain circles. People from the world of fashion, design and art will find their way here no matter which major city they come from.” 

Camilla and Giulia Venturini in front of the Feltrinelli Foundation building
Camilla and Giulia Venturini are back in the city of their youth to put their fashion label on a firm footing. They know every hidden corner of Milan—and are thrilled to discover how things have changed during their absence. The Feltrinelli Foundation’s building opened in 2016.

We were expecting a mix of planted walls, concrete, purist cocktail glasses and light installations—and could not have been more wrong. In Milan, it seems that even the very hippest places also trade on their heritage. On the fact that style-conscious business travelers from Copenhagen or Venice Beach can come here to savor the timeless opulence that they’ve come to expect of Italy. The Bar Basso has been in existence since the 1940s and its signature drink is the Negroni. Some even say the drink was invented here. This iconic aperitif with its bitter taste and warm orange glow is served in a huge snifter that is best raised with both hands. The color palette of the decor is pastel. The golden hue of the well-worn wooden furniture also seems to emit a gentle glow. Waiters wear starched shirts. There are no tank tops, no tattoos. The coolest venue in Milan is an ode to elegance. “I believe that the cultural mindset of young decision makers, influencers, start-up entrepreneurs and artists around the world is currently undergoing an interesting change,” says Giulia into her Negroni glass. “Excess and rawness are no longer seen as a guarantee of inspiration. People—especially creative types—want to surround themselves with classic elegance, seamless functionality and good food.” Destructiveness may well be exciting, she adds, but is no longer in tune with the times when it comes to really creating something of substance. “Sure, Milan is not as fast-forward as New York or Berlin,” concedes Camilla. “But it is also much less stressful.”

 

The fact that stress could actually exist anywhere is easily forgotten inside the Bar Basso. “Here, you can rub shoulders with the architect of the Fondazione Prada or the creative director of Louis Vuitton. There are also the many young people from every corner of the globe who are making something of their lives,” says Giulia. For ambitious young professionals from Italy and further afield, she adds, Milan combines the best of both worlds. That sense of enjoying life, so often absent from the cities of northern Europe and the U.S., paired with an appreciation of quality and efficiency. This firmly paves the way for new ideas to emerge and grow. “Too much chaos is not good for beginnings you want to look back on with pride later,” says Camilla, concluding the discussion and the cocktail hour.

 

The sight of the Velasca Tower transports us from the 1940s to the 1950s. The twins want us to see it because they feel it’s the perfect embodiment of Milan. “The tower is a one-off. I have never seen anything like it in any other city,” says Giulia with an almost apologetic shrug of her shoulders. “It appears both old and modern, and its situation is extremely unusual. Whose idea was it to plant such an angular, almost brutalist high-rise right in the heart of a low-rise Italian city?” Yet still the contrast works: The 106-meter mini-skyscraper is fully woven into the web of its neighborhood. The relatively slender base, which contrasts with the rest of the building, is surrounded by nothing more than a narrow street, beyond which the construction of low-rise buildings continued unabated. In Milan, the new emerges from but does not replace the old. For a country like Italy, where many city administrations struggle with the burden of their history and where some have collapsed politically under the weight of responsibility, this has a role-model function whose importance cannot be overstated. 

The Audi Q2 from above in a multi-storey car park

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

Camilla and Giulia Venturini with a dog

Perched on high-legged chairs at the window facade in the café on the ground floor of the tower, the two peer closely at all the handbags that pass them by. Has Milan’s chic shaped their own style? And that of their label? Giulia takes her time before responding. “To be honest, we are usually inspired to create new designs on our travels. But Milan provides us with the focus, composure and infrastructure to bring our ideas to fruition.” The business founders currently find themselves in an extremely complex creative phase. Their first collection is finished and was well received, but buyers are now waiting with a stern gaze for the next highlight that will decide the future. “The evolution of our brand is riding on it. Can we continue to develop while staying true to our DNA?” The pair enjoy being able to escape the pressures of work in Milan in a different way than in New York or Paris. “There, everyone is always trying to find out what you have in the pipeline, whether there is money to be made from it, and how new and exciting it is. If you fail, the gossip machine goes into overdrive—and if you succeed, your friends are falling over themselves to congratulate you. It’s a totally different scene here. To be quite honest, Milan could almost do with a little more of that enthusiasm,” says Camilla.

 

The change taking place in Milan is driven by people.

Guilia Venturini

Scarcely any of her Milanese friends congratulated her on the success of Medea over the past year. “It’s not that people in Milan aren’t interested—but here, we are judged on our personal merits rather than our business acumen. We are at home here.” As they have been for most of their lives. The pair originally hail from near the town of Garda, on the lake of the same name. Their first points of contact with an urban lifestyle were the picturesque city of Verona with its population of around 250,000 and, of course, Milan, two hours away by car.

 

At the age of 17, the twins were both discovered as models and traveled to the fashion capital for their first illustrious photo sessions. They subsequently both studied fashion design in Milan and went on to embrace the cosmopolitan lifestyle, working for photographers and magazines, fashion labels, publishing houses and showrooms in New York and Paris. They then extended their orbit beyond fashion, entering the worlds of art and music. Nowadays, they have an excellent network and have cemented their image as tastemakers. Meanwhile, the number of people posting attention-grabbing photos of their Medea bags much lauded by the press on social media is growing exponentially. Their Milan office is located in a coworking space with an adjacent showroom. It is part of the 24/7 agency, which sees its role as providing a platform for young designers. In addition, the twins spend a lot of time at their production facility in Verona. “Our work there is more physical and involves inspecting the leather, testing out different handle variants. Naturally, this is also why we rediscovered Milan as the focal point of our lives.” Digitalization notwithstanding—the smell and feel of fine Veronese rawhide cannot be conveyed in an e-mail.

 

What sets the young entrepreneurs apart from other fashion designers, of whom Milan has more than a few? How are they shaping the new Milan? “We are working to create an image that is as personal and unmistakable as possible.” The Instagram account, website and advertising campaign for the Medea sisters have little to do with what people generally still associate with Milan fashion. There is no gloss, there are no faces airbrushed beyond recognition, there is no perfection. This is how they are actively refuting the popular preconceptions of recent decades. In the past, Milan was referred to as elegant, but unsexy. It was certainly important, but also a little too dull, too saturated and too businesslike. These days, the Medea sisters and other up-and-coming young entrepreneurs are making the city their own, making it more honest, cosmopolitan and vibrant. Especially as a mecca for fashion and design, Milan needs this new lease on life to not stagnate as a mere billboard for luxury, but rather to once again shape style and zeitgeist well into the future. “The change taking place in Milan has nothing to do with old or new architecture. It is driven by people,” says Giulia, full of conviction. And it is taking place delicately, not mindlessly. “We also love Milan for its infrastructure that has evolved over decades, especially with regard to the fashion business. Here, we have the support we need to do things well and to remain competitive.” 

Camilla and Giulia Venturini lean out of the windows of an Audi Q2

Fuel consumption combined *: 7.6-4.7 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 173-123 g/km

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

When it comes to this infrastructure, Prada has always been one of the most important players. Since 2015, the brand has additionally shaped the city’s image through an unprecedented museum project. The art complex designed for Fondazione Prada by legendary architect Rem Koolhaas is our next destination. Located on the site of a former gin distillery, it features three completely new buildings and a further seven existing structures that have been lovingly redeveloped and restored. Rising above them all is a rather austere building whose exterior Koolhaas had covered entirely in gold leaf. It captures the light even from a steely gray sky, combining warmth and splendor with minimalism on a grand scale. Over a total area of 12,000 square meters, the complex houses pioneering exhibitions and the Prada family’s art collection. “I have visited exhibitions all over the world,” says Camilla, “but what’s currently on offer here is just truly amazing and at the very highest level internationally.”

 

As we travel from the northernmost part of the city back into the hustle and bustle, we praise the many small parks that we pass on our left and right. Giulia and Camilla take a rather more critical view. “So far, the city has not been particularly green compared with other large cities. Thankfully, things are now changing for the better.” Milanese architect Stefano Boeri delivered a truly remarkable statement for this new beginning with his Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) project. The two elab­orately planted residential towers rise up unexpectedly in front of our windshield. Besides the dense, jungle-like flora that appears to drip from every balcony, it’s also the organic design that is particularly impressive. They almost seem to sway in the wind like trees—an optical illusion that is greatly enhanced by the typical Milanese interplay of sun and clouds behind the towers and the reflective external surfaces. “I left Milan ten years ago,” says Camilla, guiding our gaze with her index finger. Just a few years ago, she adds, this area around the central railroad station was not safe to walk around alone at night. “When I returned recently, the change from back then was extreme. The city is currently experiencing an upturn.

 

Our capital city Rome is struggling to stay afloat, whereas entire districts of Milan are being rejuvenated.” Here, the historic heritage does not feel like a museum or a deliberate contrast with modernity—it is preserved and carefully brought into the present day. Libraries are housed in brand-new structures, employment agencies in buildings that date back centuries. Like only a handful of other cities, Milan manages to incorporate all of its splendid urban palaces and create the impression of a casually coherent whole—despite the many architectural eyesores left over from the 1980s and the cool, angular new buildings. The change taking place here is not at the expense of history. Conversely, nor does history stand in the way of change, as it does elsewhere in Italy.

 

Camilla and Giulia love the informal vibe of their neighborhood. There is not a single osteria, car wash or wine bar in which they do not exchange a few friendly words with the proprietor. Distinguished-looking men in their mid-sixties in gray suits who stare with a grim expression until served with a dish of virtually raw, divinely tender tagliata—the twins are every bit as comfortable in their company as they are in the front row during Milan Fashion Week. “Sure, plenty of exciting design collectives, multifaceted art studios and hip fusion restaurants have sprung up here recently. But we just like the relaxed atmosphere of traditional Milan,” explains Giulia, responding patiently to our inquiry and pointing to her spinach-green gnocchi covered in rich sauce. It’s almost as if this sight alone says everything there is to know about their life in Milan. 

Camilla and Giulia Venturini and the Audi Q2 in urban area

Fuel consumption combined *: 7.6-4.7 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 173-123 g/km

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

When she greets us the next morning in her living room, there is a lot to take in visually. We did not suspect such grandeur behind the bare gray facade—and in the apartment of such a young Milanese woman. Terrazzo floors, inlay, art deco door handles. But Giulia fills the apartment, which actually resembles a Fellini film set, so effortlessly with a blend of pragmatism and energy that the film set quickly morphs back into an authentic living space. Camilla has already arrived and is eating a cornetto  for breakfast in the light-spangled kitchen. “A typical working day begins with us meeting at my place and taking my flatmate’s dog for a walk,” calls Giulia from the adjoining room, where she is desperately searching for her house keys between the colorful cushions on the big leather couch. It’s a million miles from the sparse urban chic typical of New York or L.A. We squeeze into the tiny, caged elevator that takes us from the third floor to the lobby. At the bottom, we are accosted by the concierge, who raises a finger in semi-feigned indignation: “Remember, no more than three people in the lift!” Giulia grimaces. “I love living in this little bit of Milanese history. But we are still regarded very critically.” Giulia’s neighborhood consists largely of buildings dating back to the early 1930s. They featured all the latest technical innovations of the time, she explains. So they are not just a piece of urban history—but also a piece of ambitious history. Though Milan could never be classified as old-fashioned, it was often overlooked compared with Paris or London. 

 

The Audi Q2 on a multi-lane road in Milan

“The gallery and nightlife district of Brera close by is also very popular among the Milanese and tourists. That’s where you’ll also find the typical city alleyways that our friends imagine when they think of the Italian dolce vita,” continues Camilla. Ultimately, Milan is nowhere near as ugly and “un-Italian” as many believed. In reality, it is only slightly less picturesque than Padua, Pisa or Florence. She explains that you have to seek out its beauty because it’s not immediately apparent. “I like it here in Giulia’s neighborhood. The modern buildings give it a flair of its own. A sense of calm and frugality.” But only on the outside, as we reflect on the wild flowing, bottle-green marble and refined wood of the lobby.

 

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

Fuel consumption combined *: 6.7-4.4 l/100kmCO₂-emissions combined *: 153-114 g/km

On foot, we make the virtually seamless transition from 100-year-old district culture to the brand-new landmark district of Porta Nuova. The area around Piazza Gae Aulenti is bustling with life. Imposing skyscrapers border on generous lawn areas as walkways wind their way through gently curved beds of evergreen plants. Here, Milan demonstrates yet again that urban development must dovetail with people’s needs. While part of the ambitious project, which has already won awards, is still in the shell construction phase, the completed buildings are now coming to life. Boutiques, supermarkets, stylish restaurants—but no cars. Porta Nuova is a purely pedestrian district. After one last espresso on the futuristic piazza, we say our farewells in the shadow of the vertical forest, the symbol of the new Milan.

Camilla and Giulia Venturini
Camilla and Giulia Venturini in the restaurant
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