Milan is a lifestyle. Not quite the Italy of vintage postcards of lolling about the sunlit piazza in or meandering walks in medieval architecture, the fashion capital has pivoted itself as post-Brexit’s nexus of contemporary culture, with a renaissance of restaurants, bars, boutiques, museums and galleries. Milan is quick, contemporary and constantly pushing the boundaries.
When I visit, I love focusing on a single neighborhood, and the new opening of Portrait Milano, latest addition to the Lungarno Collection from Italy’s style-driven Ferragamo family, gave me a great reason to explore Porta Venezia (and San Babilia). And I discovered that Portrait is the neighborhoods best kept secret.
An Epic Hotel In A Historic Seminary
Walk down Corso Venezia in the city’s Quad d’Oro — a golden triangle of posh stores, hotels and restaurants — and you’ll find yourself infant of Rococo gate inscribed with the word “humilitas.” For ages, this grand entrance was best known as a Santa Babilia neighborhood parking location. No one really knew (or cared about) what hid behind the gate.
In 1564, Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan and now saint, founded the Seminario Arcivescovile, a sprawling 200,000-square-foot complex of columns and courtyard, in the Santa Babilia district. For a few centuries, it was the headquarters of St. Charles seminary school but like most centurions, the complex had a few incarnations library, prison, hospital) until Lungarno stepped in the mid 2010s for a complete renovation.
From the piazza to the parlor, Portrait Milano showcases the chic Italian aesthetic of Michele Bönan. He blends the unencumbered ease of Japanese kanso with the resplendent hues and textures of Milanese design in every public space and guest room. Bönan’s touch in each custom detail in each of the 73 rooms feature from leather paneling and wall studs (inspired by Ferragamo trunks) to the rattan headboards and walnut desks, embodies elegant design.
The lobby, the lounge, the restaurant, all of the spaces are intended to be hangouts. The idea is that Portrait is your home in Milan. And with that in mind, Bonan curated not only the art but the books in all of the spaces. You will want to spend time browsing not just the library, but the lobby. Its center table has the most gorgeous collection of books on Milan design, art and style.
Portrait Milano is a world unto itself, thanks to a little help from architect Michele De Lucchi and studio Amdl Circle. De Lucchi preserved the integrity of the original architect including its courtyard. With two entrances (a second via Sant’Andrea), Portrait’s courtyard is piazza for the city with boutiques and eateries.
Fashion maven Antonia Giacinti’s clothing boutique Antonia takes over most of the west side of the courtyard, and next door is flagship SO-LE STUDIO, an upscale accessories shop focusing on up cycling. Two eateries flank the square – Lungarno’s own _10_11 restaurant and garden bar and Beef Bar, the tony Monaguesque steakhouse and cocktail bar.
I’m looking forward to opening of the Longevity Suite, Portait’s subterranean wellness spa and clinic. When I visited, it was still in construction, but was able to see the remnants of a centuries-old column-line fountain.
A Neighborhood To Watch and Walk
In the 1930s, Italy’s answer to Frank Lloyd Wright achitect Piero Portaluppi deigned the city with so many beautiful palaces and fetes. Walking around Porta Venezia you’ll find Portaluppi everywhere including actual Porta Venezia, a large monumental arch inspired by antiquity but completely avant-garde. One of Milan’s most beloved native-born architects, Portaluppi fixated on details and materials.
Up until the early 20th century, Milan’s city center was tiny and surrounded by “surburban” niche neighbourhoods. Today, these neighbourhoods are integrated into the busy historical center. This is great for house hunters in particular, those who love looking at art houses that are time-piece to design. Milan has several casa musei, house museums, and in Porta Venezia there is Villa Necchi Campiglio, 1935, designed by none other than Portaluppi and nearby is Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a late 1800s palazzo with a collection of 19th century art.
FYI- I love a Milan archi-walk to catch the range of architecture from Rationalism to 1960s’ flourish with BBPR’s Palazzo Chase Manhattan in Piazza Media and the unforgettable Torre Velasca, a 1958 mushroom-shaped building.
A Secret Boutique To Book
Porta Venezia has also is address to amazing shops like Fornasetti, La Double J and pretty much everything else you could crave. But recently, I discoveredt the more immersive shopping experience J. Cricket, by designer Jimin Lee
Lee converted a Porta Venezia townhouse into showroom and exhibition space style as a salon, somewhat reminiscent of the early 1900s. On the ground floor Lee hosts an office, salon and garden while the second level is dedicated to fashion. Visits are by appointment for an art and styling experience.
A thirty-year veteran of the high fashion world, Lee set out to create well-being through fashion with J. Cricket, her line of limited edition, eco-conscious ready-to-wear items. Visits are by appointment for an art and styling experience.
Shape, form and function are prioritised, and each piece is made from rediscovered textiles and upcycled remnants which dual personality – minimalist aesthetic and a maximalist flair. Sophisticated tunics like her tent dress, the duster gilet (a tailored trench) and ephemeral Bubble blouses, focus on lightness, versatility, ease of movement, and comfort without compromising beauty and style. Lee also designs her own line of handbags and travel bags.
Here’s a secret: Hidden in the upstairs mansard flat is a beautiful bedroom, another Lee-designed creation of mediative simplicity. Lee splits her time between Milan and Shanghai, and knows that most of her clients rack in even more miles. She created the b&b flat as a respite for out-of-towners.
Next time you plan for Milan, you won’t even need to leave Porta Venezia.
Other hotels I like in Milan: Excelsior Hotel Gallia (Marriott) for its Great Gatsby style and accessibility to train station. This is great for those who plan a lot of trips, and Palazzo Parigi if I want to be in the thick of fashion.
Bastioni di Porta Venezia by Bernt Rostad/Flickr.