Commonly referred to as “the parlor of Milan” by the Milanese, the city’s sumptuous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the oldest shopping arcades in the world, has returned to its original grandeur, thanks to investments by Prada and Versace. The two fashion houses, along with the city government, injected more than 3 million euros, or $3.4 million, to finance the restoration work.

This story first appeared in the May 13, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

First completed in 1867, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni to connect Piazza Duomo with Piazza Scala, recently fell into a state of neglect, which was a poor match for the elegant and sophisticated allure of the several luxury stores present there, including Prada, Versace, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Tod’s, Church’s and Borsalino, among others.

Timing was also key: The decision to invest in restoring the galleria was spurred by the onset of Expo 2015.

Following a year of work — which was facilitated by an overhead traveling crane allowing teams to work during the day without obstructing regular store activity — the Galleria reflects a look more loyal to its original style. Sixteen teams — 12 working during the day and four at night — completed the project, which was mainly focused on cleaning and dusting the stone elements and restoring the plaster.

“The biggest challenge was to recognize the original parts,” said architect Marco Sobrero, technical director for the restoration firm Gasparoli. Sobrero explained that many interventions have been made on the Galleria through the centuries. Two years after it was built, a violent hailstorm broke the glass ceiling, causing rain to pour into the Galleria and the chalk and plaster parts to disintegrate. In addition, bombs dropped during World War II damaged the site in 1943.

“We discovered that the original color was very different from the existing one,” said Sobrero, pointing out that the current white tone, which was replaced by yellow before the restoration, was the hue originally chosen by Mengoni.

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