Fashion, Canals and Music – another day in Milan

Designer sugar lumps. There were designer chocolates too, but I was more impressed with the sugar lumps emblazoned with the Armani logo. I was gazing at the accompaniments to my cappuccino in the cafe at Armani Silos. It was a shame to eat them, but I do have a sweet tooth.

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Armani Silos is a museum of design dedicated to the work of Giorgio Armani. It is housed in a former grain silo (hence the name) not far from Milan city centre. Before we set out, I was worried whether my daughter F’s attire was suitable for a visit to such a fashionable destination. She often tells me I know nothing about fashion, so I can only assume that stained tops are the new ripped jeans. I was confident that I was suitably dressed. I wore a George sweater to Giorgio’s museum – what could be more appropriate?

When our family arrived, we were welcomed by a man on reception wearing a dark Armani suit. He offered to take our coats and bags and presented my daughter with a Panini sticker album. When I had Panini football albums as a child, I used to spend all season collecting the stickers and still ended up being 2 or 3 short on each page. This book though was accompanied by all the packets of stickers necessary to fill it.

The album was dedicated to the temporary exhibition on the ground floor, showing the photography of Charles Freger. His work is an anthropological study showing people in traditional costumes and uniforms from across the world. It includes Polynesian dancers, Oriental theatre costumes and uniforms of empire . The colourful costumes in this exhibition helped to inspire some of Armani’s creations, which we were to see on the 3 floors above.

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Showing off over 40 years of fashion, the designer’s work was divided into themes, rather than being in chronological order. The first floor was androgynous, showing suits for men and women which he described as conveying understated discreet femininity.

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The ethnicities gallery was on the 2nd floor, and displayed the strong influence of non-western cultures on Armani’s work, albeit very nuanced. Here it was possible to see Freger’s influence. F seemed to speed around this area quite quickly eager to make her way upstairs.

Much of the 3rd floor was dedicated to the theme of stars, exhibiting the costumes made for Hollywood celebrities. Also on the 3rd floor was the digital archive, which held F’s attention for some time. I’m sure it’s a generation gap thing, but I get confused as to why seeing something on a screen is more interesting than seeing it in real life. The archive contained over 1000 outfits and was intended to reveal the creative process that went into them. There were also videos showing fashion shows, Oscar red carpets and adverts for Armani. I should also mention the accessories section, containing jewellery and other accessories made by the designer. Strangely, this was the only part of the building where we encountered a tour party.

Once F had exhausted the digital archive, it was down to that cafe with its wonderful sugar lumps. As indicated previously, I’m not exactly a fashionista, but I was quite impressed with this exhibition. There was a fine range of garments, I felt I learned something and the building offset the costume display well. Overall, Armani Silos came across as cool and stylish without being the slightest bit aloof or unwelcoming. The sticker album for children was also a nice touch.

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After our refreshments, we walked the short distance to the Navigli district, home to what remains of Milan’s canal network. The first canals were dug in the middle ages, and there was a great expansion of the system under Leonardo Da Vinci (yes, he surveyed canals too). They were used to convey building materials to the Duomo. At its peak, Milan had over 150kms of canals making it one of Italy’s principal ports, despite being more than 130kms inland. Most were filled in during the 20th century, and what remains is now an area to enjoy leisure time, with waterside walkways, restaurants and bars. We arrived at the Naviglio Grande looking for a nice cafe with al fresco tables by the canal. Having indulged significantly at our hotel breakfast buffet, we were only looking for a light bite, but most of the restaurants seemed to be offering 3 course cooked lunches. We found no luck on the sunny side of the canal and proceeded into the shade. About half way along, was a Middle- Eastern takeaway that looked like the sort of place that would be busiest about 1am back home, when people get the munchies after a night out. Given how empty it was at lunchtime, perhaps that’s their peak time in Milan too. We went in seeking to feed a vegetarian, a person with significant food allergies and a generally fussy eater. We struggled with the language barrier as the proprietor’s Italian didn’t seem much better than ours. However, we sat down at one of the 2 tables and out came a mix of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern veggies inside a wedge of bread. I’m not sure exactly what we were eating but it was just what the doctor ordered. Even F enjoyed it.

After lunch, it was time for another walk alongside the canal, where F was the first to notice an abundance of fish. A huge number of dark objects were swimming below us. As we carried on walking, we realised their density was as great all the way along. I’d never seen such a spectacle in a man-made waterway. Their presence is enabled by the water flowing in from the Ticino River.

Once F had been torn away (she can get transfixed by such things), we hopped on a tram bound for the Piazza del Duomo.  We grabbed an ice cream and looking around for somewhere to sit, seemed to gravitate towards the sound of music. So there we were, eating gelato in a grand square watching a musician playing operatic favourites on a grand piano, just a few hundred metres from the world’s most famous opera house.  When in Milan……..

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Factfile:

Location

Milan is the capital of Lombardy in northern Italy

Transport

Most long distance train services arrive at Milan Central station. The city’s main international airport is Malpensa, which has express train services to both Milan Central and Milan Cadorna, the latter being significantly quicker. Linate and Bergamo airports are also nearby. Armani Silos and the Navigli district are both a short walk from Porta Genova train and metro station

Information

Click the link for information on Armani Silos. Fabula by Charles Freger runs until 24 March 2019. For information on Milan, click here

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