By Antonella Boisi

There is a big route that goes from Piazza della Scala to Piazza Gae Aulenti, in the Milan that changes, rises, gets pedestrianized and prepares to address the main theme of Expo 2015, namely ‘nourishment’.

In this truly unique situation that reveals the deep roots of the historical city in its territory and its places, along an urban promenade punctuated by porticoes, passages, galleries, stores with the air of crafts workshops, one reaches Piazza XXV Aprile. Here, on the circuits of shopping, fashion, culture and events, we find a new food island, a success of structure and strategy, a square with two extraordinary samples of the food culture of the Mediterranean, set into a city of the third millennium: Eataly Smeraldo Milano and Princi. “Because high-quality Italian food has become the main form of urban entertainment, the driving force behind the perception of a new dimension, contaminated, rich, versatile with respect to consumption” says Patricia Viel, the partner of Antonio Citterio in the Milan-based studio Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel Interiors, which did the design of Princi. “We are right next to Corso Como, the new Garibaldi area residences, the nascent Fondazione Feltrinelli. Aware of the unique character of this location, Rocco Princi asked us to help him to rethink what was already a beautiful bakery, where the qualitative level of the baked goods remains very high, due to excellent ingredients and constant freshness, transforming it into something else: a niche restaurant, secret, sheltered, with great attention to detail, in which to graft other moments of consumption, all the way to after-dinner drinks, and to showcase the fish and meat dishes of the chef Valentino Russo”. An architectural project, to really be international, needs management in the creative phase. Therefore, Viel continues, “we have put everything under glass, making it completely visible, in the kitchen, the heart of the place, the classroom of a truly stimulating kind of education about eating, especially for foreign visitors. The counter has been redesigned as a long 10-meter table inserted in the atmosphere of the restaurant, which is composed of other tables of different types, all the way to the outdoor zone with the view of the plaza. To get away from the stereotype of a breakfast place, we have made everything a bit darker and more sophisticated, thanks to the lighting designed by Metis Lighting, and we have focused on materials left in a natural state, without finishing: basalt stone for the walls, burnished solid wood chunks for the floor, saw-marked table tops – a way of underlining the authenticity of all the ingredients, flanked by the collection of ceramic plates, which are the result of a project directly supervised by Rocco Princi with the group of young Italians who produce in Bali, of Gaya Ceramic”. Eataly Smeraldo Milano, the 25th super-store of Oscar Farinetti, offering “good, healthy and right things” has opened right across Piazza XXV Aprile, in the renovated spaces of the former Smeraldo theater, with a project by the architects Carlo Piglione and Thomas Bartoli with Studio Bartoli. An iconic location, since 1942 the theater was a favorite place for music and entertainment, as illustrated at the entrance, covered with giant photographs of legendary singers. The new store was opened on 18 March, the day on which exactly 166 years earlier, in 1848, the famous Five Days of Milan began. A date that is an omen of hope for a new Risorgimento, a resurgence of the ‘market’ in keeping with the philosophy of Mr Eataly: “the democratic nature of consumption has to meet with extreme quality of products Made in Italy, knowledge of the ‘know-how’ of the Italian territories and the possibility of direct experience”. A high level of entertainment, in short, which in this case is accompanied by the pleasure of live music every evening, from 7 PM to midnight, with a central semicircular stage featuring a black grand piano, clearly referencing the original genius loci. The stage can be seen from every part of this food ‘temple’ for tasting, dining and study: 5000 m2 on four levels, 10,000 products on sale, 19 corners for dining, two cuisine classrooms with gear by Arclinea and Valcucine, two conference rooms. A construction with a strong narrative thrust, open and luminous, marked by four majestic columns covered in iridescent green mosaic tile, by the large central skylight and the very striking windows on the square. Amidst artisans at work, white and transparent furnishings by Kartell, green lamps created for the occasion by iGuzzini, the impressive show must go on, in the format of the stores of the future: an emotional experience organized in terms of thematic areas. Mixing consumption, entertainment, education, combining food, design, culture and events, represents a trend that can also be very clearly seen in the world of fashion. Eat and buy, 50% food and 50% fashion (among high-end and research brands, across different price ranges), is the formula chosen by the Brian&Barry megastore on Via Durini (facing Piazza San Babila), opened on 21 March in a building from the 1950s designed by Giovanni Muzio and reinterpreted, in its layout, by the architects of Studio C&P of San Donà di Piave. Again the inspiration is the international store, combining the best of Made in Italy – fashion, taste, cosmetics, design, jewelry, watches – with the best of what is made in the rest of the world. All combined with different food market and dining possibilities, inside a kind of factory of 6000 m2, on 12 levels: a minimal, modular box that thrives on light and lightness, display cases, vertical order and the dynamism of elevators and staircases. Two levels (third and fourth) are for the offerings of Eataly (one of the main partners of the project), and one (the ninth), furnished by Flexform, is set aside for the Asola Cucina Sartoriale restaurant, where the chef Matteo Torretta interprets the Italian tradition in an international way, seating guests around a big counter so they can watch the preparation of the delicacies ‘live’. The kitchen as an atelier, the chef as a tailor: food and fashion are becoming two increasingly linked shopping experiences. The secret is easy to discover: the digital revolution has radically changed the world of retailing, as well as the recognition of the value of brands. Everything is more fluid, and the mono-brand flagship stores of yesterday, which were synonymous with the identity of a brand, are being joined by pop-up stores, with the coexistence in a single building of different dimensions, suggesting new styles of consumption. A trend. In this sense, on 26 March Milan also saw the opening of Donizetti, 2700 m2 on Piazza di Città di Lombardia, with the Palazzo della Regione. The space is set aside for the creators of taste: artisans, producers and chefs show their wares and their know-how directly to consumers. “A concept store for food and wine, inside a structured network, including show cooking, friendly competitions between chefs and designers, and music”. Because during leisure time there is an increasingly widespread need for contact with reality, experiencing something unique, away from the paradigms of prepackaged commerce. It becomes very enjoyable to discover the new meeting places in town, the charm of works of architecture of the past and present, our history and culture given a new lease on life.