Across the breach into that rarified air where fashion and shopping go from hobby to sport, from devotion to religion, from magazine fantasy to standin in front of you reality lies Milan. Combined with the romantic streets of Italy and its beautiful people, shopping in Milan can take on an overwhelming, almost religious quality. This city is one of a handful of true shopping meccas, a place where Italian loafers exiting Ferraris and impossibly long legs wear 3 inch heels while carrying thousands of dollars worth of purchases on cobblestone streets. This is a place where those scenes in cologne ads can and actually do happen. Milan is larger than life, both enchanting and intimidating. Dolce and Gabbana has a store that literally IS a city block. Armani has not just a store but a hotel. Milan is as Milan does, and Milan isn’t shy about it. Try to keep up or cheer from the sidelines.
While that Milan can be fun, that’s not the Milan I came to know when I visited this past June. Granted I was there for a research conference so Milan’s brainy side may have been more on display, but the Milan I got to know was a bit more thoughtful, a bit more rakish, a bit more rough around the edges than one might expect from conceptual Milan we all envision. While still beautiful, I discovered that Milan doesn’t always operate at full throttle fashion magazine speeds: it can and does switch gears.
If Milan switches gears, the gearbox just might be 10 Corso Como.
10 Corso Como is more a state of mind than it is any physical place, a statement of style, purpose, and aspiration. Ostensibly a “store” it’s really more of a conceptual complex fusing different layers into a design-nerd’s wonderland. It feels like what art and fashion aspire to be, somehow manifest physically. It’s cultivated and themed to not be about fashion, but to be fashion.
Unassuming from the outside aside from simple signage, entering and following the alley leads to a charming, open-air garden at the center of the complex, immediately demanding an altered state of mind. Broken into its components, 10 Corso Como is part art gallery, part clothing boutique, part art and design shop, part hotel, part garden, and part cafe: a microcosm of hip that is simultaneously self aware but not self obsessed.
It’s excessive, but in a exuberant, almost playful excess the way a good Wes Anderson film can be, not the ‘leather on the catwalk, impossibly perfect bone structure, jump on the Vespa with the model’ way. It’s as much Warhol, Bowie, and West as it is Anna Wintour or Georgio Armani. It’s assuredly aspirational, like much of Milan, but also encouraging, even supporting. Some part of you is 10 Corso Como: maybe it’s the part of you that likes Andy Warhol and Tea. Maybe the part that likes $1000 shoes but thrift store bags. Perhaps the vinyl buff who appreciates an Eames chair. At some point you will connect, and that connection is used to link you to the vibe of the rest of the complex. You belong, even if not fully, but that’s okay.
10 Corso Como is themed design, but its much more conceptual than literal. It encourages you to bring different sensibilities to the forefront of your thoughts as it guides you to various design pleasures. A jacket that may seem to unconventional on a shop window street suddenly makes more sense after you stroll through the garden, have some tea, and explore an Warhol photographic exhibit. 10 Corso Como is fashion meeting you half way at convincing you it will make you a better person and actually getting you there without ever making a purchase.
With 10 Corso Como as a new baseline, my next shopping experience doesn’t seem quite as unexpected. Even still, wandering Milan wasn’t exactly where I was expecting to find a great stash of comic books.
While meandering around on a sleepy Sunday I stumbled across one nondescript storefront with a mild buzz, defined mostly by it being open while everything else was closed. I walked inside its old tobacco storefront and was greeted with a stash of graphic novels, both Italian books I didn’t recognize and some independent titles I recognized from America, translated into italian. I was greeted with smiles and an offer of Nutella, despite not speaking a lick of Italian. I felt like I had walked into somebody’s welcoming home and right into their cool basement: I had found the home of Bao Publishing.
Probably a testament to my naiviette, but obscure graphic novels were not what I was expecting to find wandering Milan on a Sunday. Being greeted with warm smiles, a funny dog, and some gratis Nutella, and a stack of comics was couldn’t have been further from my expectations, but I was damn glad it happened. This is the type of thing that’s not fashionable per se: it’s just genuinely fucking cool.
The Bao store is the type of place I would have went out of my way for, but instead stumbling across it as I wandered the streets of Milan was a pleasant accident. Comics are a favorite souvenir of mine as a travel. Unlike books, I can pick them up in any country I visit and still somewhat follow along with the story, a nice bridge between a foreign culture and my own. At Bao I picked up a copy of La Grande Odalisca, which is actually a French graphic Novel but one Bao had just recently brought over to Italy. The art is great and the story (as much as I can decipher) seems fun: I’ll definitely pick it up in English if/when that happens.
So that’s my Milan. Sure, Milan is still Milan, still beautiful and larger than life and fashionably intimidating. However, there are more fringes of the city than you might expect. I found fashion, but I also found art and photography and comic books. I can aspire to Milan, but there’s already a bit of me there.