Milan is known around the world for its high standards in fashion, food and architecture.
And from the stylishly dressed Lombardian locals hanging out in espresso spots before work to the immensely beautiful Duomo cathedral, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and countless other architectural wonders, the city definitely doesn’t disappoint.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Milan is also a hotbed for new store formats and brand experiences, so we took to the streets to check out the best of Milanese retail this winter.
HOMEWARE IS HOT: D&G CASA
One of the first things you notice about the retail landscape in Milan is the sheer volume of homeware stores.
Even in comparison with other major cities known for stylish living, Milan overflows with stores dedicated to designing beautiful homes.
Given the number of fashion houses that call Italy home, it’s pretty unsurprising to see most of the major players in luxury lining the streets with their Casa stores: Fendi, Armani and Versace all own flagship homeware spaces just a few minutes apart.
D&G Casa is the newest addition however, opening its doors in April this year. The space heavily features the four different patterns you can buy any of their products in: Mediterranean Blue, Sicilian, Zebra and Leopard.
The pattern throughout the store switches out, but when we visited, Leopard adorned almost every nook of the downstairs space, which felt a little like the brand had done a collab with Austin Powers.
Towards the back of the space, the Sicilian print features too.
This one is inspired directly by co-founder Domenico Dolce’s origins in the south, and makes use of unique, intricate patterns to characterise the typical Sicilian horse drawn cart (Carretto Siciliano).
Right at the back of the ground floor is an immersive experience room, which allows you to explore the four different patterns in spectacular floor-to-ceiling fashion.
The space also hosts their latest campaign work, which you can view on the surrounding walls and ceilings.
OLD MEETS NEW AT MONCLER
The Moncler store in the stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II pays serious respect to the building’s history as the oldest shopping gallery in the city, while also showcasing the progressive nature of the brand.
Beautiful architecture and statuettes are blended with modern lighting fixtures and art pieces.
Also featuring on the bottom floor is a trippy, one-of-a-kind Grandfather clock art piece, which forms the focal point of a lounge area.
Right by the front door, there's also a space dedicated to Stratta, Italy’s oldest confectionary family, who sold their sweets in the shopping gallery decades ago.
Via QR code, visitors can purchase traditional sweets in the space, further linking old traditions with new digital touchpoints.
MULTI-BRAND DONE RIGHT: OREFICI 11
VF Corp have absolutely knocked it out of the park with their multi-brand store in Milan. OREFICI 11 – named after the street and building it’s housed in – perfectly ties together The North Face, Timberland and Napapijri, while a bottom-floor staircase also links to the basement of the Vans store next door.
The first thing you notice are the pillars, which have been coated – quite literally – to replicate The North Face’s famous Nuptse jackets: very simple, very cool, and probably pretty good for insulation, too.
Beyond the pillars, a tree feature snakes its way through the space, lending a natural, outdoorsy feel to the space.
The upstairs heavily features storytelling and campaign comms for The North Face, Timberland and Napapijri, as well as a VR experience at the centre of the space, in which dancers guide viewers through an explanation of VF Corp's approach to circular product creation, with recycled materials used all the way down to the machinery they use to make clothing.
HERITAGE MEETS FUTURE: FERRARI FLAGSHIP
There aren't many brands in the world with a deeper back catalogue of stories to tell than Ferrari, but the brand's future looks like one of expansion into new segments and with their flagship space in Milan, Ferrari officially entered into the fashion and lifestyle arena.
Designed to embody the brand's values of innovation, style and performance, their store - which is just a few steps from Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II - brings the brand's racing history and future fashion ambitions together in one place.
From outside the space, the iconic 'Rosso Corsa' (Racing Red) marks the brand's territory at street level.
Enter into the space and you're immediately hit with cat walk-style techno beats, cool lighting fixtures and digital screens in the shape of chessboard raceflag, pointing at the brand's future ambitions and innovation.
It doesn't take long before a heritage moments remind you of Ferrari's rich history though: original steering wheels line the wall of the cashier's deck, while an old F1 car is suspended through the 3-level staircase.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: ATMOSFERA AND RONIN
It wouldn't be right for an experiential agency to put together an article about Milan and not highlight some of the coolest culinary experiences in the city.
First up is ATMosfera, a beautiful old tram which has been turned into a restaurant that tours around the city, feeding you wonderful local cuisine as you see the sights: a lovely reference for any brand considering and F&B experience.
On the flipside of the culinary and experiential coin is HOUSE OF RONIN.
Officially opening its doors this year, the experiential Japanese eatery is a visually stunning space, with each of its floors dramatically different from the last.
On the bottom floor is Piccolo Ronin, an izakaya and listening bar, in which various artists and vinyl collectors take turns curating listening sessions, during which talking is heavily frowned upon.
The second floor is home to the dimly lit Robatayaki Bar and Grill, a fine dining experience inspired by the traditional robata Japanese grill; the word fusion is strictly forbidden (and rightly so).
And finally, Madame Cheng's brings Tokyo's karaoke culture to Italy. Clashing colours and neon lights make this spot a firm favourite amongst local influencers.
AND FINALLY... STARBUCKS?
It really didn't feel right to go to Italy and head to a Starbucks (talk about 'Brits Abroad'...)
But we had to see if the hype was lived up to. After all if an American coffee brand is going to open its doors in Italy, it has got to get it right.
The space opened in the historic old central post office building a couple of years back to a collective chorus of moans, groans and growls from Milanese locals and coffee connoisseurs the world over.
However, as someone who would always support the small, local espresso shop over the chain and the little guy over the conglomerate wherever possible, it pains me to say that I had probably the best coffee of my life at the Starbucks Flagship.
We were there on a Tuesday afternoon: it was packed with a mixture of tourists and locals (albeit the locals tended to be Gen Zers).
Aside from product being spot on, the overall experience felt little stepping into a grown-up equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, with old-school machinery and new-school gadgets all simultaneously at work, roasting and toasting delicious coffee beans before our eyes (sadly not Oompa Loompahs in sight, though).
This is a beautiful, experiential space that brings the brand to life through craftsmanship in the brewing process and - even for the puritans that respect tradition and local fair - it's well worth at least one little visit.