Fashion comes close to religion in Milan, a city where the Duomo stands surrounded by the façades of fancy stores. Some 900 steps up a stone stairway, from the top of this large and imposing Gothic cathedral, you can see all the way to the Alps – that is, you can see all the stores all the way to the Alps.
While the Duomo is Milan’s religious centre, the neighbouring Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with its grand arch entrance on the Piazza del Duomo itself, is the city’s temple of taste. Luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Tod’s have stores in this 19th-century arcade, and any dedicated follower of fashion will pay her respects at Prada’s handsome flagship store. Tell yourself it’s sale season – on any given day, prices here are about 20 percent lower than they are in Singapore. The Galleria is known locally as il salotto di Milano – Milan’s parlour – and for good reason: Camparis, espressos and people-watching are the order of the day under the soaring iron-and-glass ceiling. And if a macchiato isn’t exactly what you’re after, the Gucci café sells exclusive chocolates marked with the characteristic double G – so you can have your fashion and eat it, too.
East of the Duomo, marked by the four main shopping streets of via Manzoni, via della Spiga, corso Venezia and via Montenapoleone, the Quadilatero d’Oro (the Golden Square) forms a greatest-hits collection of fashion’s biggest stars. Dolce & Gabbana (via della Spiga, 26) is a hop away from Sergio Rossi (via della Spiga, 15) and GF Ferré (via della Spiga, 6), Versace (via Montenapoleone, 11) a skip away from Ferragamo and Narciso Rodriguez (via Montenapoleone, 21), and the Armani megastore (via Manzoni, 31) – well, in the Armani megastore, you’ll be jumping from Armani Casa (for homewares) to Armani Dolci (precious dragées and monogrammed chocolates) to Armani Nobu – unless you’re simply trying on the extensive ready-to-wear collections, of course.
The Quadilatero holds less shouty favourites, too. Here are Miu Miu (via Sant’Andrea, 21), that sophisticated wonderland for grown-up girls; La Perla (via Montenapoleone, 1), with a delicate, palazzo-perfect collection; and Etro (via Montenapoleone, 5), for its must-have mélange of hippie and rock ’n’ roll. Nearby, Patrizia Pepe’s (via Manzoni, 38) detailed, minimalist clothes make for the perfect slouchy-sexy wardrobe, and Pomellato (via San Pietro all’Orto, 17) serves up fine gold jewellery accented with candy-esque gemstones almost delicious-looking enough to eat. A worthy pit-stop, too, is Gio Moretti (via della Spiga, 4), where the well-edited collection hand-picked by style maven Giovanna Moretti includes the casual glamour of Ermanno Scervino, mixing flirty ruffled dresses with sharp suits.
Just north of the city centre, the frenzy of the Quadilatero and the Duomo district is replaced by the relative calm of the arty Brera neighbourhood – though your credit cards might not have as much of a breather as you do. You’ll ooh at the elegant, almost architectural designs at Isabella Tonchi (via Maroncelli, 5), and aah at the collection at Luisa Beccaria (via Formentini, 1), where feminine tuxedo shirts hang on the racks with full-skirted print dresses. Steps away, Cavalli e Nastri (via Brera, 2), full of vintage designer dresses and accessories, is absolutely delightful – a toy shop for grown-ups.
From retro to retro-futuristic: TAD (via Statuto, 12) is a concept store kitted out in Space Odyssey-esque glamour, with scattered silver leaves and sleek white walls all the better to showcase hot designers such as Stella McCartney and Phillip Lim. You’ll make discoveries here: ex-Issey Miyake top creative Tsumori Chisato’s urban bohemian fashions are for grabbing off the rails.
Lose yourself, later, at High-Tech (Piazza XXV Aprile, 12), a veritable treasure trove of things. While stationery, scents and designer housewares jostle for space in this former ink warehouse, you’ll be choosing between form, function and what you can fit in your suitcase. You’ll want to make room, though, for one last stop before you fly: 10 Corso Como (corso Como, 10), a lively lifestyle emporium filled with cutting-edge names and limited-edition pieces, and a favourite of fashion editors. Fill your arms with Viktor & Rolf, Balenciaga and Christopher Kane for you – and fantastically gift-wrapped books, soaps and incense for lucky friends – then sit in the courtyard café with a strong cappuccino and a stronger conviction: la vita è bella.