Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy.

“Milan is in bloom.”

This story first appeared in the April 19, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Marco de Vincenzo’s assessment pretty much summed up the palpable newly found energy and spate of initiatives in the Italian city. Chinese and Russian tourists are back in Milan, where the more traditional shopping experience is now paired with cultural and culinary visits and the fashion industry is abuzz with new projects, supported by the Italian government and a web of trade associations.

On the heels of the six-day international furniture and design show Salone del Mobile earlier this month, its president Claudio Luti defined Milan as “the international capital of creativity.” This edition confirmed the Salone’s leading role, with 2,000 exhibitors and 343,602 visitors, up 10 percent compared to 2015, when the same biannual events dedicated to lighting systems and office furniture were also showcased. Luti also emphasized “the myriad events organized in the city during the week.”

“The Salone was stellar, the city is safe and politically we are not too exposed. It’s a golden moment,” concurred Massimo Giorgetti, founder and creative director of MSGM, who just exited Emilio Pucci. After traveling between New York, London and Paris over the past three months, Giorgetti said he could feel Milan’s energy, contending the city “offers a gigantic opportunity now. For the first time in 20 or 30 years, architects, designers, creative talents want to come back to Milan, and this is an incredible result.”

While New York is going through “a complicated moment,” with protests in the streets; Paris is seeing the aftereffects of the terrorist attacks, and London is grappling with the results of Brexit, Milan is born again, going through a sort of renaissance, with new restaurants, clubs and bars, drawing the best chefs to the city, which has also been expanding its culinary offer, targeting all sorts of patrons.

“You can go traditional with the risotto Milanese or eat vegan and bio,” Giorgetti said.

New museums, such as Mudec, the Museum of Cultures and the Fondazione Prada, as well as events such as Miart, the international modern and contemporary art exhibition, and monographic exhibits on Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring all contribute to a brisk cultural scene, he said.

Asked to pinpoint the beginning of the changes, Giorgetti said “it kind of coincided with the Expo [in 2015], which was a success and nobody expected it. In Italy we’ve always been xenophiles, but finally people are waking up to what Milan has to offer.”

The designer also pointed to Milan’s new skyline, comprising the innovative Bosco Verticale — apartments called the Vertical Forest — designed by Boeri Studio, as well as the sleek skyscrapers designed by architects including César Pelli and Arata Isozaki. To top this off, life is less expensive in Milan than, say, New York or London, he contended. To leverage the momentum, “we must be alert and play our cards well,” Giorgetti concluded.

Architect Michele Pasini, a member of Storage Associati, a Milan-based architecture studio that has designed a few of the hottest spots in town, including Ceresio 7, the cool bar and restaurant with two swimming pools located on the rooftop of the Dsquared2 headquarters, said Milan has “adopted architecture as an element of development, growth and mutation as well as of communication.”

Pasini cited the Expo as “a platform” that gave a significant impulse to the city, “re-awakening [Milan’s] creative and spontaneous energy.”

“The city today appears more modern, renovated and tidier,” he said, also pointing to its changed skyline. “There were not that many skyscrapers besides the Pirelli, but now from Ceresio 7 it’s surprising how many you can count.”

He noted the process came naturally and perhaps more easily than in other cities. “Milan is reconfirmed as a city of stimuli and elegant news.”

De Vincenzo, founder of his namesake fashion brand, which he launched in 2009, said that when he started out “the atmosphere in Milan was very different. Fashion week was for big, established names and not much attention was paid to emerging designers. It was a slow chugging along and there was not much energy. I’ve seen the city change, and now if someone asked my advice on a design career, I would recommend giving it a try.”

Originally from Sicily, Italy, de Vincenzo spends part of his time in Rome as he also works with the accessories team at Fendi. “I was prejudiced before; I thought Milan was gray and cold, but I don’t anymore. It’s changed over the past two and a half years. I don’t know if it’s the Expo or the administration. There is an international pace, you can feel the adrenaline during Milan Fashion Week and it’s constructive.”

De Vincenzo also praised Milan’s new skyline and expressed his admiration for locations such as Fondazione Prada, Feltrinelli’s cultural venue designed by Herzog & De Meuron and exhibition space Pirelli HangarBicocca. “Now I enjoy weekends in Milan, and its quality of life. If there is one thing that I would do is to make the streets more alive when stores close, live the streets more, but that has to do with the weather, too, obviously.”

Antonella Bertossi, marketing manager for Italy at tax-free shopping agency Global Blue, agreed with the designers, saying Milan has recaptured its “splendor” after the Expo and “recovered a dynamism that it had lost,” also leveraging new infrastructure that made traveling to and from the city easier and faster. “Welcome Back, Chinese Tourists,” is the title of a recent Global Blue study. In the first three months of the year, Chinese tax-free shopping was up 13 percent — welcome news, as they account for 31 percent of total tax-free spending in Italy.

In the December 2016 to February 2017 period, 64 percent of international tourists bought fashion and accessories in the city’s Golden Triangle around Via Montenapoleone, up 5 percent compared with the same period the previous year, spendinBg an average of 953 euros, or $1,008 at current exchange rate. In this period, tax-free purchases were led mainly by Russian tourists, up 33 percent, followed by the Americans, up 14 percent, and by visitors from Hong Kong, up 13 percent.

“Milan is the shopping destination by definition, but now there is even more interest and desire to come here,” Bertossi said. “There are a web of activities connected to the more traditional fashion shopping, from cooking sessions and wine partnerships. The Chinese go to visit the [AC] Milan football store, buy its merchandise and travel to the stadium. The offer now is more transversal and alternative. There is a continuous evolution and more content, it’s very dynamic.”

To wit, Milan-based Altagamma is launching a new project with award-winning luxury travel agency IC Bellagio to provide personalized experiences involving the brands that are members of the luxury goods association aiming to present them as tourist destinations in their own right. Called Altagamma Italian Experiences by IC Bellagio, the goal is also to increase the number of luxury travelers to Italy, who accounted for about 5 percent of the more than 50 million foreign tourists who visited Italy in 2016, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, providing behind-the-scenes access to some of Italy’s most iconic fashion, hospitality, design and automotive brands.

Armando Branchini, vice president of Altagamma, said that after the Expo, Milan has “shown it is capable of renewal and innovation,” highlighting the wealth of events and a “spontaneous” cultural calendar, also triggered by the arrival on the scene of Fondazione Prada and the Armani/Silos exhibition space.

Asked about the increasing relevance of Milan Fashion Week and the Italian government’s increased attention to the fashion industry, Branchini credited Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda. “His support and interest were fundamental. You can see the results and there is a strong system now.”

Branchini argued that possibly London is going through a transition because of a weaker interest by the government, after former First Lady Samantha Cameron’s patronage, and that New York has possibly reached its acme, with the see-now-buy-now phenomenon “not really doing much to shift the attention to that city.”

Calenda has long been a promoter of fashion associations joining forces, and in March, a new federation regrouping 67,873 companies operating in the fashion, textile and accessories sectors was presented in Milan, under the moniker Confindustria Moda. Confindustria Moda merges fashion and textile consortium SMI Sistema Moda Italia and FIAMP, which used to represent the companies working in the accessories industry, including leather goods, eyewear, fur and jewelry.

A rescheduling of all the fashion, textile and accessories trade shows is reshaping the industry’s calendar, as from September they will be held in the same period, as an efficient demonstration of cooperation within the system. “Italy is famous for its individual genius, but its power can be strengthened by a collaboration among the different players,” said Ivan Scalfarotto, deputy minister of Economic Development.

Presenting Confindustria Moda, Scalfarotto revealed that in 2017 the Italian government will invest a total sum of 200 million euros, or $211.7 million at current exchange rate, to support Italian exports. Of this, 45 million euros, or $47.6 million, will be in the fashion and textiles sector.

According to research by Edison Foundation, revenues of the companies represented by Confindustria Moda, which employ 581,662 people, total 88.4 billion euros, or $93.5 billion, with exports of 54.7 billion euros, or $58 billion.

Milan Fashion Week is also receiving an injection of newness as the Camera della Moda, is working on a major event to be held on Sept. 24, which president Carlo Capasa has defined “the Oscars of sustainable fashion.”

Together with Eco-Age, founded by Livia Firth, and with the support of the Ministry of Economic Development, the Italian Trade Agency and the city of Milan, Camera della Moda will hold the first Green Carpet Fashion Awards, Italia 2017 at the La Scala theater. The event will see brands such as Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Valentino participate, as well as emerging designers.

“Sustainability is our future, we can’t not think about the earth we leave to our children,” said Capasa presenting the project.

In March, Camera della Moda, in collaboration with Eco-Age, launched The CNMI Green Carpet Talent Competition 2017, inviting emerging designers to create a bespoke look that must be produced in Italy. The designers are challenged to incorporate the Green Carpet Challenge Principles of Sustainable Excellence, Eco-Age’s sustainable guidelines, into the looks.

“Sustainability is the central pillar of the Camera’s vision of fashion for Italy,” Capasa said. “In the last few years, we have worked on plans with a number of leading fashion brands to make Italy a global leader in this industry. This celebratory event will present that vision to the world in a highly innovative and contemporary fusion of glamour and creativity that’s uniquely Italian.”

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