By Karen Bleakley
(Photos by Catherine Sweeney)
The birthplace of many iconic fashion labels, Milan is a showcase of style. The Italians’ obsession with design spills out of the catwalk and on to the streets, with young professionals in sharp suits riding scooters and parents walking their smartly dressed children around the stores.
If you’re looking to indulge in a spot of designer shopping, this is a city break you won’t want to miss. Just don’t forget to bring your credit card!
Guide to shopping in Milan
Whether you’re looking to bag lots of bargains or treat yourself to a few key designer garments, Milan has shopping experiences to cater for most budgets. Even if you don’t want to spend lots of money, you can enjoy the window shopping and take in the glamorous atmosphere of this iconic city.
Milan’s boutiques fit into a square known as the Quadrilatero d’Oro, or the ‘rectangle of gold’. Formed by Via Montenapoleone, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Monzani and Via della Spiga, here you will find brands such as Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Versace and Armani.
If your wallet doesn’t quite stretch to those names, then partake in a spot of window shopping instead because this is the heart of Milan’s fashion industry and no visit to the city would be complete without taking a look around this stylish district.
Shopping malls and department stores
The glass-roofed shopping mall, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world, having opened in 1867. Prada’s flagship store has operated here since 1913 and has been joined by names such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci as well as lots of high street names.
The prestigious department store La Rinascente has ten floors selling everything you could wish for. It is located opposite the Duomo and is open seven days a week. Giorgio Armani even started his career here as a window dresser. Take a break from your shopping in the top floor restaurant for the incredible views.
Fashion moves quickly in Milan, meaning there is an endless supply of last season’s garments on sale for the intrepid shopper. Because fashions reach the rest of the world around a year later than Milan, buying in the outlet stores means you can still head home a trendsetter.
If you’re looking for great prices, you need to head to the outlets. Even with 50 – 70% off, some of the price tags might still hurt your wallet, so make sure you try anything on before you buy it because you can’t always return items later.
The Il Salvagente outlet is the ideal place to ease into outlet shopping. It has three floors of men and women’s clothes neatly arranged by size and color (children have a separate store of their own called Salvagente Bimbi).
The conveniently located Dmagazine outlet can be found in the main designer district, making it very handy. It is small and hectic, so expect to have to rummage for your bargains and queue for the waiting rooms, but it will be worth it.
Basement, as the name suggests, is tucked away in a basement. It caters only for women and is a little less stressful and a lot more boutique. It’s a great place to find big names for smaller prices.
The 10 Corso Como outlet is tucked away and mostly unadvertised. Selling last season’s leftovers for a more reasonable price than the nearby concept store, it’s well worth a visit.
The markets of Milan are another place to find bargains. As well as clothes you can pick up accessories, homeware, antiques and fresh food. The Mercato di Viale Papiniano is one of the city’s largest markets. Held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can come to browse for clothes, accessories and fresh produce. The Fiera di Senigallia is considered to be the city’s best flea market. Taking place on Saturdays on the Strada Alzaia Naviglio Grande, it offers a wide range of second hand goods including clothes, CDs and books. Mercato di Via Fauche is a great place to find shoes at bargain prices. It runs on Saturdays and Tuesdays and you can pick up designer names at a fraction of their usual cost. If you can time your visit for themonthly Mercatino dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande, which runs on the last Sunday of the month, you can check out vintage clothing, jewellery and antiques.
- Sale season lasts just a few weeks in January and July, so if you want real bargains plan your visit to coincide. Avoid August as many stores close for the month.
- Most clothes shops open 09.30 – 12.30 and 15.30 – 19.30 Tuesday through to Sunday, with many opening mid afternoon on Mondays. Larger stores will stay open all day, but the break gives you a chance to enjoy a lazy lunch in between shops.
- Within limits, polite bargaining is allowed in Italy. You might have some luck in smaller stores or at the market, especially if you are purchasing more than one item, but don’t expect to receive discounts.
- Non-EU residents can claim back the value added tax (IVA in Italian) by spending over €154.94 in a single transaction from a store displaying a ‘Tax free Shopping’ sign. Remember to ask for a ‘tax free form’ at the point of purchase, keep your receipts and pack your new, unworn and tagged goods at the top of your hand luggage (not in your checked in luggage). As you leave the country, take your tax free form, your unworn purchases and your receipts to the Customs desk where you can get your receipts stamped. Next, take your receipts and tax free form to a Refund Point at the airport to collect your money. There is also a tax free desk in the basement of the La Rinascente department store where you can get your cash back before leaving the country, however, you’ll still have to go to Customs at the airport.