While the former check-lists the Parisian clichés with a generous dose of eccentric style in the Netflix hit series “Emily in Paris,” the latter is a woman of understated elegance on a real-life mission to show Italians the most authentic side of France, starting with its culinary tradition.
This is the spirit behind Lorenzi’s Maison Aubry, an emporium that just opened in Milan’s Via Bellotti, in the Porta Venezia area bustling with restaurants and bars. In the first few weeks, the store has already attracted both the local French community seeking for everyday cuisine essentials and curious Italians looking to give their pantries a twist.
The key driver is Maison Aubry’s combination of sophisticated image and democratic, straightforward approach, which sets the emporium apart. Lorenzi’s goal is to prove that French delicatessens are not just for special occasions and there’s much more to its cuisine than Champagne, foie gras and oysters — the immediate connections Italians make when thinking of their neighbors across the border. Hence, the store is filled with basic products, such as crème fraîche and butter, as well as different types of cheese and chocolate from niche suppliers or small- to medium-sized companies, in addition to the more high-end offering.
Indeed, the idea behind Maison Aubry originated from Lorenzi’s own need to find kitchen essentials far from her homeland. A former lawyer specializing in risk management and terrorism, Lorenzi moved to Milan almost seven years ago, after meeting her husband, who originally hailed from Bastia, in Corsica. Not fitting in their respective hometowns, the couple gave Luxembourg a try as a common ground to build a life together, before eventually finding in Milan’s strategic location and livable scale their sweet spot.
Prior to the pandemic Lorenzi traveled to Paris at least twice a month, each time bringing back stacks of the products she craved, but with COVID-19 and her young son starting school in Milan, she was confronted with the reality of setting up more stable roots in the city.
“When I first arrived here, I didn’t know anyone. I enrolled in a painting class for adults at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, but was still missing my family and cultural references,” recalled Lorenzi. “And food was part of that.…It’s important. Italians abroad look for their brands when shopping and here French brands were missing, so I built this project based on this shortage,” she says, jokingly adding that the force propelling the entrepreneurial venture was “beaucoup de nostalgie.”
“The idea got serious with COVID-19 because I slowly changed my lifestyle,” says Lorenzi, who was forced to stop her normally frequent flights to Paris and her six-month stay in Marrakech, where the couple has a riad. “I realized [Milan] was my city and that I had to build my little Paris here.”
In setting up Maison Aubry she mixed the two cultures. She named the store after her grandmother, who used to gather everyone on Sundays to cook traditional delicacies, ranging from the “pot-au-feu” dish of boiled beef and vegetables to soufflé.
To curate the interior concept, Lorenzi turned to Sicilian architect Giovanni Musica of the MGALab studio. Already the creative force behind other restaurants and private projects in town, for Maison Aubry, Musica conceived an essential space defined by powder blue wood walls and a hand-painted ceramic counter with a glass display to showcase fresh products. Chandeliers, wood tables and brass details further mark the store, which covers two floors.
While the basement is destined for private tastings and events, the main area on the ground floor showcases the curated assortment of products. These include artisanal preserves produced in Brittany by La Paimpolaise; condiments shaped as crayons to sharpen over dishes by Ocni; multiple types of honey by Hédène; fancy sugar cubes in different shapes by Canasuc; chocolate by Le Comptoir de Mathilde; biscuits and macarons by Les Mirliflores or La Sablesienne, and precious caviar by Caviar Perle Noire, among others.
“Products are selected based on what you can’t find in Milan but that are important for us. The main focus is quality, but of course there’s nothing coming in a horrible packaging here,” says Lorenzi with a smile. “We work with many different suppliers, more than 30, and we shy away from things produced industrially but work with niche brands or family-run businesses.”
The focal point of the project is the wine and champagne selection, as Lorenzi noticed that only big names such as Moët & Chandon, Ruinart or Veuve Clicquot were primarily available in town. Hence, Lorenzi flanked these with lesser-known labels, covering all price points in the process.
“The French cuisine tends to appear always expensive, but I was really attentive about offering different prices. Sure, I have bottles retailing even at 600 euros, but I have included a little bit of everything. The entry price for a wine bottle here is 8 euros, so accessible.…The mission is truly to let clients — even the French ones living here — discover new labels,” says Lorenzi.
Overall, the most sought-after products since the opening are the Madeleine small cakes, foie gras as well as all types of pâté and cheese, including Camembert and Reblochon. Bottles of rosè immediately sold out, too.
“It’s funny, we drink it just when it’s hot outside, never in the fall, but Italians really love rosè and all the stock sold out quickly. Now I’ve placed a new order including additional labels, such as the Miraval, owned by Brad Pitt in the South of France,” says Lorenzi.
With Christmas and end-of-the-year festivities approaching, Maison Aubry will also offer special baskets, including one focusing on foie gras and coming with a dedicated type of bread and ideal wine pairing, or another one playing with all gold products.
Before launching a catering service for private events in March, Maison Aubry will also expand its assortment to test other categories that are part of people’s everyday life, starting from Marseille soaps, for example.
“The idea is that you can include us in your daily routine,” says Lorenzi. To further educate the audience on the authentic customs in France and to give information on the products available in store, Lorenzi aims to leverage Instagram via content such as videos of quick recipes and informative reels. “This is also because the general idea of French cuisine is less clear and crystallized compared to the Italian one. What we eat is very different from what you see at restaurants. For one, we never eat entrecôte at home,” says Lorenzi.
Asked about other differences between the two cultures, she spotlights the more domestic dimension and stronger family presence in Italians’ day-to-day life. “Another thing I love is that when you live in Paris, on weekends you stay in Paris, whereas in Milan you have the mountains or seaside closer and it’s easy to move around,” she adds.
Here Lorenzi offers WWD her quick guide to enjoy both cities:
Favorite area and why:
In Milan, Porta Venezia because it’s close to the center and is such a lively district.
In Paris, the 16th arrondissement for its tranquility and markets and Saint-Germain-des-Prés for its stores and restaurants.
Where to eat:
In Milan, coffee at Égalité for its croissants; aperitivo at LùBar for its beautiful interior, quiet atmosphere and proximity to the park; meal at Bomaki for a sushi that mixes Japanese and Brazilian flavors.
In Paris, coffee at Le Bonaparte for its breathtaking view on the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church; aperitif at Rosa Bonheur sur Seine; meals at Les Enfants du Marché or Les Gourmets des Ternes for its meat and traditional atmosphere.
What to watch:
In Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera, which showcases great oil paintings.
In Paris, the Beaubourg [Centre Pompidou] and the Musée Rodin in spring to enjoy its garden.
Soundtrack of the city: I listen to Italian music from the ‘60s in Milan, and Fauve in Paris.
Can’t travel between the two cities without… My Bose headphones!