Saturday 7 March 2015

#NoFilter Milan: Window on the city

Christmas window display, Dolce & Gabbana on via Della Spiga
Milan is a great place to go window shopping.  It's flat so very easy on the feet, has a gelateria on almost every corner for refreshment as you stroll, and it has some of the most beautiful shop windows in all of Europe.  The place in Milan that is most famous for stunning displays is the aptly named Quadrilatero d'Oro, the Golden Rectangle. This little area of interconnected streets is where all the main fashion labels of Italy, and many from abroad, have their flagship stores.  Here you can see elegant displays of the latest fashions in almost every window, but it is the displays of Dolce & Gabbana on via Della Spiga that take first prize. 

The windows of Dolce & Gabbana go beyond simply showing their exquisite clothes and accessories as they are planned to tell a story of the season.  Whether it's a lavish Christmas banquet, or the scent of spring from the balcony of a Sicilian family home, their displays produce spontaneous reactions of wonder and surprise.

Window shopping is a popular pastime with the Milanese.  After around 4pm it’s a common practice for them to spruce up and step out for an afternoon passeggiata.  Most afternoons, but especially on the weekend, the streets fill with well-dressed Milanese meandering along and stopping to study the latest fashion trends on display.  
The red cross, a symbol of Milan in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Another popular place for window shopping is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the oldest undercover shopping malls in Europe.  Whenever I visit the centre of the city, I can't resist a quick stroll through it, not just for the window displays but because of the building itself.  This beautiful arcade with its arched glass domed roof and brilliant mosaic floor was finished just after the unification of Italy.  It is filled with symbols of nationalism and hope for the new country. The shop interiors are equally beautiful and the shop assistants will greet you warmly without pressuring you to buy.  CLICK HERE to read more about the history.
But while Milan is known throughout the world for its haute couture and cutting-edge design stores, there is another lesser known and less glamorous aspect to its shopping that nonetheless adds richly to the fabric of Milanese life. Throughout Milan there is a register of shops of historic value which continue to operate and serve the people of Milan for their everyday needs, like the Ferramenta hardware store which has been run by the same family since 1927.  The little brass plaque beside the front door indicates that this shop is registered on the Bottega Storico list of shops and businesses that have historical value.  I have walked past this old store, located in the design district near via Tortona, many times and it never fails to catch my eye with its beautifully proportioned old windows and eclectic display of everyday items. 
Ferramenta Pietro Vigano, via Montevideo, 8, 20144 Milano
A few weeks ago I went for an afternoon stroll along Corso Vercelli.  This wide boulevard, quite close to Milan's Parco Sempione, is lined with beautiful shops where Milanese of all ages can be seen coming out for their afternoon passeggiata to enjoy browsing along the shop-fronts.  Not only are there branches of the city stores, but there are also some lovely upmarket boutiques.  However, it was down a little side street that I was reminded of the other world of shopping and life in Milan.

Shoes always catch my eye, and down this street it was Antonio's tiny shoe repair shop that stopped me in my tracks.  It is no wider than a pair of French doors and I found him sitting in his sunny shop window carefully repairing a pair of beautiful Italian shoes obviously worn down by their owner's daily passeggiata
Antonio, il ciabattino.
When I stopped and asked to take his photo, "Posso fare una foto signore, per favore?" not only did Antonio happily pose, he then proceeded to give me a little tour of all the machines in his tiny shop and to demonstrate how each worked in the process of repairing shoes.
It's these moments of window shopping in Milan that I enjoy the most, the unexpected friendly conversations. The Milanese have a reputation for being snobbish but I've always found them to be helpful and charming if you initiate a conversation. Practising a little Italian is a great way to break the barriers, but then you'll often find that many of the younger generations will speak English, albeit tentatively and with many apologies that their English is not good. I always reassure them that it will be better than my Italiano!
Are you puzzled by the #NoFilter Milan title to this post?
When we were invited by London Airports to take part in their #NoFilter Milan project, we were intrigued by the concept. This is the fourth city where the project has been conducted. Previous #NoFilter projects have been run in Dublin, Geneva and Madrid and they provide a wonderful collection of ideas and photos showcasing these cities.

For #NoFilter Milan, ten bloggers from Milan were invited to post an entry about an interesting aspect of their city that gives the reader an authentic experience. The photos included cannot be filtered in anyway thus giving a true impression of the real city, rather than a 'doctored' one. Well, as we take photos on a very small Canon camera, and a rather old iphone 4, our photos are never filtered so it was very easy to accept this challenge. We hope you've enjoyed strolling along as we've peeked into some of the windows on Milan. We are looking forward to reading the many posts from other bloggers delving into the many different parts of this city that we've grown to love.

The project will be judged by Sara Rosso from the blog Ms Adventures in Italy. Sara is a an American writer and photographer who moved to Italy in 2003. Her blog is a wonderful collection of Italian recipes, beautiful photographs and useful travel tips for exploring Italy. It is a great resource for travellers wanting to discover the less well known areas of Italy.

For participating in this project we will receive Amazon vouchers to the value of 65Euros.

Tips for taking photos that don't need filters
  1. If you glimpse someone of interest, stop and ask permission to take a photo. Rarely will someone say no and through the conversation that follows you may discover an interesting story or little snippet of history
  2. Light is everything. Interesting lighting makes an interesting photo. Be prepared to try different positions and angles to capture the light illuminating your subject in interesting ways.
  3. Use the different focus periods on your camera, eg the night setting to take photos in the dark.
  4. With an autofocus camera often framing in direct light and then focusing and snapping your subject in a lower light tricks the camera into capturing better light.
Ci vediamo.  Prossima volta in Venezia e Londra.

*** The results of the #NoFilterMilan blogger project are listed HERE  If you're planning a trip to Milan have a look at these great blogs.  So much to discover in this great city.  


  1. Nice to come across your post and the unique pictures! Look forward to reading more:) So glad to meet so many fellow travel bloggers becuase of the #nofilter project.

    1. Thank you reflective ponder. Yes, the #nofiltermilan project is a great idea to show Milan from many different points of view. It is a city of many contrasts.

  2. Love the photo of Antonio behind his sewing machine. Can't wait to check out the shop windows of Milan when I visit in March. I have added Dolce & Gabbana on via Della Spiga and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to my list of places to visit in Milan. Great to get the comparison between these lux shops and the simplicity and charm on Antonio's shop window. Belinda B

    1. Yes Antonio was a complete delight. So charming and friendly. Thanks for commenting Belinda.

  3. Love the shoe repair man Jen. Actually I remember there was a man mending chairs sitting outside his shop near the Mag gelataria. Do you know that one? I have also been meaning to tell you that I love the man in your main blog photo - the one on the left, shirt off, soaking up the hot Milan summer sun! Adds something to the photo! Good luck with #NoFilterMilan

    1. Thanks Therese, yes there are often chair repair men set up at different spots through the city. I have seen the man you are thinking of near MAG. The Milanese are great at repairing things which I wish we had more of at home.

  4. Beautiful. I love to window shop. I'm sure I would be right at home in Milan!

    1. Kathy, if you love to window shop you'd be right at home. Soooo many shop windows.

  5. This reminds me of window shopping in Milan back in 1990. Being on a very tight budget the only shopping I could afford was window shopping. It didn't matter - it was a great pastime. The Milanese do a very nice window. Really enjoyed the post. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Anonymous Aileen, I'm sure the shops in La Galleria haven't changed at all since you strolled through in 1990.

    2. The first comment I made didn't send - for some reason when I became anonymous it did.

      No doubt they are still spinning on a certain part of the bull on the tiled floor of La Galleria. I used to love watching the range of spins from the discreet slow turn to the very obvious & dramatic 360.

    3. Yes, indeed the spinning continues but only tourists seem to do it these days.

  6. Jenny- I adore the beautiful details you find, always showing an intimate view of Milan. XO