Milan: La Citta della Moda

I came to Milan because it’s “The Fashion Capital of the World.” It’s where famous Italian designers and houses grew their reign, where inspiration meets innovation, and where craftsmanship is valued to great lengths. I take great appreciation in that people actually care about what they wear and while I can’t afford a lot of the clothing I see in the shops, nothing stops me from admiring through the windows like a child at the gelateria. Fashion wise, it is amazing how different Milan is from Austin, and from the US as a whole, in many more ways than I had thought.

Mango during Vogue's Fashion Night Out (VFNO). A night dedicated to shopping and celebration of fashion.
Mango during Vogue’s Fashion Night Out (VFNO). A night dedicated to shopping and celebration of fashion.

Fabric

I went to a fabric store in Milan, and it wasn’t quite what I wanted. The ones in the US let you stroll around and choose your fabric in private, letting you use your five senses to determine if it’s the right one for you. While waiting to get your fabric cut you can shop for needles, thread, embellishments and more. Here you tell them what fabric you want, for example jersey cotton, and they give you some options. Prints aren’t very common in these smaller fabric stores. You’d either have to find a larger store or get it custom-made. The fabric stores also don’t always sell other sewing supplies. You have to go to these “Asian dollar stores” or the supermarket for those. These “Asian dollar stores” usually have no name, but they sell just about every knick-knack you will need for cheap and they are always run by an Asian family, with everything sporting that “made in China” label. I miss getting to browse the large warehouse-like fabric stores in the US. I feel weird having someone watch me as I inspect and choose a fabric; I feel like I lose my inspiration and creativity under pressure.

Shops of Milan

I was at the Milan Centrale train station the other day to get my bus pass. The train station doubles as a mall and I decided to walk around and see what they had. Later I walked down a big pedestrian street with a lot of similar stores. I went in to compare. This one shop in particular, Tally Well, had a similar assortment of clothing in each store, but their prices and displays were a lot different. The train station was cheaper and had a warmer tone to all its clothing and displays. The Tally Well on the street had edgier clothing, with blacks and whites being in the middle of it all and kitschy t-shirts with graphics like “I love you / you’re problem”. The contrast of these two stores really explains a lot of Milan. The train station is safer; anyone can go in and feel like they can buy something; the atmosphere is inviting. The one on the street feels more Milanese; edgy, forward, powerful, and fashion fierce. It’s for people who are serious about fashion and they way they express themselves.

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Street display on Via Montenapoleone

I met a guy on the tram. He lives outside of Milan but defined the city in a very simple way: “Milan is very expensive for the expressive person.” While a lot of clothes aren’t ridiculously priced, it still comes at a cost due to the fast fashion concept. Zara restocked every 2 weeks. That is people going in every two weeks to buy clothes to show they are the most fashionable of them all. But it doesn’t stop there. People in Milan want to look rich, but often aren’t. My Italian teacher explained it this way: “Men in Italy wear their pants low so you can see their Armani underwear waistband. They all want to show off, but 80%, if not more, of those are fakes. The purses you see on the street? Most of them are fakes. Italians want to look rich, but they don’t want to work.”

Chanel No 5: The way to *SMELL* rich
Chanel No 5: The way to *SMELL* rich

Walking the Fashion Quadrilateral

Next to the Duomo, the largest gothic cathedral in the world, is the Galleria. Built in 1865 to commemorate Italian unification, it features several pricey boutiques and restaurants. Here is where the very first Prada store was opened in 1913. All the shops in the galleria have the same lettering in their signs: Gold letters on a black background. Walk out of the galleria towards Via Montenapoleone and you’ll enter “The Fashion Quadrilateral.” You know you’ve reached it when Ferrari’s zoom past you like no big deal, and when there are security guards in front of every shop and building. Here is where flagship stores of every famous brand you can think of reside, Armani, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and more. You’ll hardly see any price tags, but if you do, you probably can’t afford it. Some stores you have ring and then be buzzed in. Others have more employees than customers walking about, intimidating window shoppers from going in. Several haute couture fabric stores lay around, selling a meter of fabric for more than what your entire outfit is worth.

As intimidating as the price tags read, walking around the the fashion quadrilateral is an exciting and beautiful experience. Not only are the clothes and accessories beautifully designed and crafted, but their displays are made with just as much quality. I was excited to walk down Via Montenapoleone during Milan Fashion Week. Everything is buzzing, people are everywhere, and everything is sparkling with beauty.

The Everyday Dress Code

In America you might see a few people stand out or dress super stylish, with the rest of them wearing basic t-shirts and jeans. In Italy it is a bit different. T-shirts are can be seen around 20% of the time, but instead of a graphic tee you’ll see a nice blouse with a quiet print. Looking down this tram I can only spot one pair of bright sneakers, they’re not even Nikes, they’re Adidas.  Looking around some more I notice the types of colors worn. Nothing is neon and nothing is bright, except for one outfit worn by a child. I see someone wearing black & white and conclude it is the brightest outfit on the tram. I see greens and reds and blues and more, but everything is a darker tone than what you would see back in the USA. The only exception may be some business casual shirts colored pastel blue.

I picture myself on a bus in Austin, what would I see people wearing there? A lot more burnt orange, a lot brighter colors, and a lot more t-shirts and “norts” (Nike shorts), etc. Comfort seems to be a lot more important in American vs. Style in Italy.

Trendy Italians walking down the street.
Trendy Italians walking down the street.

Conclusion

Italians are very prideful about their country, and when it comes to clothing, if it’s made in Italy, it has to be good. While a lot of their knock-offs may come from China, it still appears Italian thus they still feel patriotic towards their country. Italians take pride in the goods coming from their country and I think that is where a lot of their love for fashion stems from. I see women walking their dogs in stilettos down the street and I think, “Only in Milan.” Comfort is for within the home and style is for outside the home. I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the Milanese fashion, but alas I don’t have the budget or the closet space to keep up with their stylish fashion. In fact, I’m so behind that I don’t think I would have enough time to shop for even all the basics I would need in my wardrobe. I have 3 and a half months left to figure out the Milanese fashion culture, challenge accepted.

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Us trying to keep up with Italian Fashion.

 

This article originally appeared on the UT BBA Study Abroad blog

Gigi Hadid and Milan Fashion Week

I went to an event at the start of fashion week by Italian clothing company, MaxMara. Their new line featured Gigi Hadid as their model and to promote the line they were having a “See Gigi” event at their flagship store. I decided to go with some friends just to see what was up.

The event was supposed to start at 6pm, but of course it didn’t. We spent almost another hour waiting on her arrival. The crowd kept growing, yelling at random times the way fan-girls tend to do. Everyone was pushing and shoving, but all we could see were what looked like executives or VIPs on the top balcony of the store.

Thing about this event was we weren’t even sure what “See Gigi” really meant. Would there be autographs? A meet and greet? Would she just say hi and show off some clothes? We didn’t want to leave because we already had invested so much time, so we stayed put, feet aching.

VIPs started showing up, more and more. Still no Gigi in site though. These VIPs kept taking our picture…. seemingly amazing that there was such a crowd. How dare you take our pictures while smirking in unbelief? I am not a zoo animal. I am not here for your entertainment. I am an average person that just wants to spot a celebrity, how dare you treat me like a peasant.

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Posing for Vogues Fashion Night Out

This is one thing that I’ve noticed about Milan that really bothers me. While something like that may happen in every city during fashion week, this feels almost normal here in Milan. The rich or well-dressed know they look good and they strut their stuff looking down on all the average folk. The wealthy here aren’t very kind. Their body language and attitude is one of, “I’m better than you.” Always. To be treated like a zoo animal is not fun and not cool.

6:48pm on the dot she finally showed up. She was on the store’s upper level waving and sparkling all around. She was dressed in a nude/beige bodysuit with nude/beige heels. Over her shoulders she had a full length gold sparkling trench coat that complemented her blonde hair fairly well. She waved, the crowd chanted her name, she blew a few kisses and then turned around.

Oh great Gigi, yes I know the back of your coat is sparkly, but I didn’t wait an hour to see where the hair on your head meets your neck.

At least we got to see her face for a good 60 seconds. I do think shes prettier in real life than in the photos!
At least we got to see her face for a good 60 seconds. I do think she’s prettier in real life than in the photos!

She was taking photos with all those VIPs, who suddenly went from, “I’m better than the peasants,” to “Omg photo with a celeb!” The crowd was angered, they continuously chanted her name, begging for something more than just an air kiss. My group wasn’t very happy either. Sure we got our photo and proof that we saw her, but is this how the company is going to treat us? The model was late, the event was catered only for the wealthy, and Gigi was barely able to acknowledge the crowd.

I’m sure it isn’t her fault, she did try, but the company could definitely done a few things better to please their future customers (maybe not anymore) along with the likes of their clientele.

Outlook Festival

What do you get when you cross a Croatian beach with an ancient fort? Outlook festival! By day, picture beach parties with great reggae bands, hammocks, people swimming, and everyone just hanging out. By night, walk up a hill to “The Clearing,” aka the mainstage. The speakers and lights perfectly synchronized for maximum boom and bass. Continue down the path to “The Fort,” which is actually the Fort Punt Christo. Inside you’ll find a tiny stage, yet the crowd is just as wild. Down in the moat, is another stage. A long corridor quickly filling up. There’s a stage on top, a stage in the old horse stables, a couple stages here and there.

Everywhere around you are the sounds of drum ‘n’ bass, dub, bass, and dubstep. This is Europe’s largest festival for this kind of music. The stages open at 9pm and the music goes on til 6am. The atmosphere is perfect for these kind of sounds. The forest and fort create a spooky, yet safe-feeling environment for all to dance in.

Outlook's Main Stage featuring the hardest drops, people dancing their feet off, and intense lighting and sound design.
Outlook’s Main Stage featuring the hardest drops, people dancing their feet off, and intense lighting and sound design.

We only got one day passes, which was all we had time for, but one day provided us not with a taste, but with a whole meal of music, dancing, and more. I actually didn’t know any of the artists on the lineup, they were mostly European artist and producers. Although I knew that if I followed my ears, i would be able to find good music the whole night. And that is exactly what happened.

Reflection on my 2-month Euro-trip

After having been on the move for a solid 2 months I am very happy to have finally unpacked my big bag for one last time. I nearly teared up putting my toothbrush in the cup by the sink. I smoothed out my clothing and hung it up for the first time in months and smiled at the arrangement. I sat in bed and looked at the White wall next to me, wondering what it soon will become. These past two months were hard, but I learned so much about myself, the world, and life.

Touching the tip of The Lourve in Paris
Touching the tip of The Lourve in Paris

Myself

I am a very independent person. I don’t think every person has the capability to travel two months all alone (into the unknown). I thought I was the right person in the beginning, but during my trip I doubted that. I felt helpless, alone, scared, and even bored. By the end though I can look in the mirror and see myself as a different person; a stronger and smarter person. I am much better at adaptation now. Culture shock got easier and easier to deal with in each city I visited. I was able to figure out the basics of the city so I could quickly get around, find food, learn about the culture, and meet others.

Waffle full of toppings
Waffle full of toppings

The World

The world is so much bigger than I ever thought. Of course I knew it was big, but there is so much more to the world than you can read about online or hear about from a friend. I’ve learned about new ways of life; new ways of speaking and communicating. I’ve seen and learned about all the history I had to learn back in high school from a new perspective. I can see firsthand how the world wars affected people, the cities, and how the city is shaped. I didn’t know the Berlin Wall was put up in one night; I didn’t understand that Berlin was in east Germany but allowed to be split. That is just one of the many things I learned and experienced. All throughout Europe i look at these wonders and ask myself, “how did these survive the bombings?”

In Central London with my girl Natasha
In Central London with my girl Natasha

Life

I’ve learned that the only person you can truly rely on is yourself. You have to be careful who you trust, but you also have to be willing to take some risks. When you start to meet a lot of people, you get better and better at reading each one. It gets easier to quickly decide if that person is trustworthy, if that person is a good person to be friends with, etc etc. I had to use this judgement when i was Couchsurfing. A lot of people are impressed when I tell them I confidently stayed with strangers. Even through the web I figured out a way to read them and figure out if they were trustworthy. I used previous reviews, I judged their ability to speak English (it’s hard to trust someone who is hard to understand), I judged them through the conversation we had, and then I could figure out if they were. Everyone I stayed with was absolutely wonderful!

The unpopular opinion: Sometimes you have to rely on stereotypes. You can’t always risk getting to know a specific person before judging them. Sometimes you have to take their culture, their dress, and their first impressions into account, especially if there is no one there to say, “hey don’t worry about them, they are nice.”

The famous Love Lock Bridge of Paris
The famous Love Lock Bridge of Paris

In regards to life, you really learn how to use your time wisely. It was difficult to get up each day, but I pushed myself to at least make the day worth it. Sure I had a few days where I barely did anything, but as a human you NEED time to do nothing and let yourself rest. I learned to value my time (and my money), but not let myself stress out. I had two mottos:

“Tomorrow is a new day.”

“It’s a sunk cost, so oh well.”

Telling myself these two sentences helped keep me from not getting too stressed, and to stay positive.

Selfies with my gopro, so glad I bought one!
Selfies with my gopro, so glad I bought one!

In the end I am happy I went alone. I remember crying and telling myself going alone was a bad idea, that I would never wish this upon anyone, that I would never travel alone again. Looking back, I’m glad I did it. I became stronger and had the experience of a lifetime. I don’t think I would want to do another big trip alone though. I found while overall I liked going alone and getting to meet people and do new things with them, just constantly longed for a buddy. It was hard making all the decisions on my own; going out by myself sometimes; going to the aquarium all by myself.

 

The sunset in Sevilla
The sunset in Sevilla

I encourage others to try a trip alone, or at maximum one other person. Western Europe is pretty safe, you just have to be alert, play it smart, and don’t venture into the rough areas. Don’t be like the girl from Taken, inviting a stranger into her empty house. Hostels are typically safe. Check out Europes Famous Hostels if you want a really good and social hostel experience. They are a little pricier, but are always nice and really fun! Happy travels!

Templehof Park in Berlin
Templehof Park in Berlin

Steps to Visiting a New City

Traveling to a new city isn’t always the easiest thing, especially if their language and culture is very different than from what you are used to. I’ve travelled to a lot of different cities and began to form a quick pre-departure plan.

Google Maps App is a lifesaver
Google Maps App is a lifesaver

Step 1

Download the city and surrounding area on google maps. This allows you to access streets, some buildings and businesses, and more while offline.

 

Step 2

Research where you want to go in the city and how to get places. Even if you know what you want to visit, you never know what kind of surprises a city may hold. Continue reading “Steps to Visiting a New City”