Milan Fashion Week is back

It’s been a busy month in Milan. The beginning of September saw the city’s Design Week make a welcome comeback after the usual events in April 2020 were cancelled because of the covid pandemic. Rather than the usual Salone Internazionale del Mobile or International Furniture Fair, this year’s main event was known as the Supersalone – Supersalone to signify that Milan as a city is back with a ‘super’ event. It was curated by Milanese archistar Stefano Boeri, also president of the City’s Triennale Museum, and deemed a success.

Now it’s the turn of Milan Fashion Week. During the February 2020 Fashion Week a case of covid was identified just south of Milan. That was Thursday night. On Sunday Giorgio Armani and others chose to show their collections to empty houses, while the rest of us looked at half-empty supermarkets, and in Lombardy on Monday the kids didn’t go back to school.

Fashion Weeks continued during the pandemic but in a different format. Both September 2020 and February 2021 Milan Fashion Weeks were virtual, apart from a few exceptions. This September’s Milan Fashion Week spring/summer 2022 signifies a return to in-person shows, events and parties. Milan Fashion Week is back.

All the Italian greats – Armani, Prada, Versace, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Missoni, Marni, Tod’s, Moschino, Roberto Cavalli, Alberto Ferretti – and more will put their spring/summer 2022 collections on the catwalks, after which the fashion editors, buyers, influencers and executives will pack up and head off to Paris for the final show of the month. While we may watch and make mental notes of what we’re planning to wear next summer, fashion is, after all, business.

There’ll be a total of 173 appointments, out of which 123 will be in-person and the others virtual. Out of 65 runway shows, 42 will be in person. Carlo Capasa, president of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion said at the press conference that “This edition of Milan Fashion Week’s Women’s Collection signals a moment of re-birth.” It’s an exciting time.

Milan Fashion Week spring/summer 2022 has a lot to watch. There will be the first Prada show with Raf Simons alongside Miuccia Prada as co-creative director, the 20th anniversary of jewellery brand Pomellato’s Nudo collection, and the return of Roberto Cavalli under the creative direction of Fausto Puglisi. Boss (Hugo Boss womenswear) and Moncler are also returning. MM6 Maison Margiela, Luisa Spagnoli, HUI and Vitelli will all be showing for the first time. Gucci’s highly-anticipated event will take place on Saturday and launch the highly mysterious Vault.

There will be celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Giorgio Armani’s Emporio Armani. If there’s anyone that epitomises the understated elegance of Milanese style, it’s Armani. His clothes have a certain ‘milanesità’ – that which makes them Milanese, that understated elegance, where less is considered definitely more – and yet it’s probably the name that’s most associated with Italian fashion on the international stage. Celebrations will involve a special edition of the Emporio magazine, the runway show on Thursday 23 September, and the inauguration, also on Thursday, of an exhibition at the Armani Silos entitled ‘The Way We Are’.

Armani started Emporio Armani in 1981. The philosophy behind it was that it would be more inclusive and reach more people. It was the early 80s, Italian fashion had made the physical shift to Milan from Florence and Rome, to a city that could offer what it needed in terms of a textiles industry, magazine publishing, communications and transport. Giorgio Armani, along with Gianni Versace, Krizia and Missoni were some of the key names that helped make Milan one of the fashion capitals of the world.

If you’ve enjoyed reading and would like to read more about Milan as a city of fashion, see my book The Fashion Lover’s Guide to Milan.

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Living the high life in Alto Adige

I loved writing this piece about mountains, lakes, strudel and more for Italia Magazine this month. Alto Adige is one of Italy’s beautiful mountain regions and famous for the UNESCO-protected Dolomites. It’s been a real privilege to get to know this area better over the past few years, and to be able to write about it.

Read the full article in Issue 193 October/November of Italia Magazine!

Tales from Italian haute couture online talk: princesses, frocks and la dolce vita (new date)

Join me for a talk about Italian haute couture, Rome and la dolce vita. It’s a star-studded journey through the world of aristocrats and film stars as we go back to the middle of the twentieth century, the time when Rome was known as Hollywood on the Tiber and the city’s film studios Cinecittà welcomed film stars and film directors who made films such as Quo Vadis?, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita. In fashion terms, couturiers were dressing film stars, aristocrats and everyone who was anyone, and many of the couturiers were aristocrats themselves.

This is the first of a series of online fashion talks I’ll be offering to tie in with the publication of my book The Fashion Lover’s Guide to Milan which will be published on March 31st by Pen & Sword books.

If you’d like to join, please fill out the form below. If you wish to organise an event at your cultural bookstore, boutique or cultural organisation, I can also be contacted at rachaelmartinfreelance@gmail.com.

Date and time: Wednesday 17 March, 5pm (CET), 4pm (UK time)

Duration: about 60 mins

Cost: free

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What others say:

“You took me back to the years I spent in Rome during the 1960s and I remembered it all, 1968, the atmosphere, everything.” Elda Elvedese

“It was great to listen to you talk about the dolce vita but especially about haute couture and all the relationships and the history of Italy and Rome. You reminded me of my mother when she was younger. She founded Desfile in Argentina, which was similar to Vogue, but came before Vogue.” Luisa Forlini

“When Rachael suggested the talk, I was most curious. What were we in for? As it turned out, an amazing morning of fascinating stories about Italy in the 1950s and 1960s. Great morning Rachael – and very well researched.” Anne Stubley, President Benvenuto International Club of Monza

Photo of Irene Galatzine in 1951, Wikimedia Commons

Eating pizzoccheri in Valchiavenna

It’s a lazy Sunday lunchtime on a February Sunday and I’m having lunch in a restaurant with family and friends. The restaurant is La Genzianella in the hamlet of Fraciscio above Campodolcino in Valchiavenna. It’s a small place with an adjoining bar that fits snugly into its context with a wood-panelling dining room and a cosy atmosphere that feels like it could take you back to 1956 when the restaurant first opened. The waitress comes over and tells us what’s on the menu today. There’s a short moment of reflection and then quick agreement that we’ll have a taste of everything, or rather not quite everything. We decide to skip the antipasti or cold meats and cheeses which vary according to where you are and what the local produce dictates, but only because we can’t wait to start with the primi or first courses. We know that they have ravioli filled with soft fresh cheese and served in a fresh tomato sauce. And above all, they have pizzoccheri alla chiavennasca.

I often think that happiness is a dish of pizzoccheri, not only because of the food itself but because of the situation that is always involved. Take a mountain trattoria or a mountain refuge, in any case somewhere in the mountains which always has the winning factor for me personally because quite simply it is in the mountains. Fill it with family and friends around a table, add good honest food and it ticks all the right boxes in an atmosphere that makes you feel at home. Serve pizzoccheri and everyone’s happy.

What you need to know about pizzoccheri is that there are two types. One is from the Valtellina and involves large flat ribbons of pasta that could be equated with pappardelle, only they’re cut into short strips and made from grana saraceno or buckwheat, and dressed in greens and butter and local cheese. The type of pizzoccheri up here in the Valchiavenna is the other type, the one where roughly shaped gnocchi are made from stale bread and potato and served swimming in butter and local cheese. This is the whole point of this type of pizzoccheri. It’s supposed to swim in the cheese. You’ll also find them referred to as gnocchetti alla chiavennascha, little gnocchi Chiavenna-style. This is comfort food pushed to the max, the kind of thing you eat and then dream about afterwards.

It’s the dish that most represents this valley, with ingredients that people could generally get: potatoes, stale bread, cheese and butter. It served its purpose to feed people who live up in what can be quite unforgiving conditions in winter. It fed you, put something warm in your stomach and it was full of calories. It serves a similar function today for skiers in winter and hikers in summer. Fraciscio is at an altitude of 1341 metres above sea level. The road from Campodolcino leads on to the ski resort of Madesimo and the mountain pass of Passo dello Spluga up at 2114 metres. It’s one of the old transport routes linking Chur in Switzerland with Como and on to the Po Valley in Italy. The pass is closed in winter, but in summer you can go up there and enjoy its wild, remote beauty.

The first courses are followed by costine al forno (pork ribs cooked in the oven), brasato (pot-roasted beef) and salmi’ di cervo – venison stew with juniper berries and served with polenta. Venison is naturally a lean meat and for this reason it’s often marinated in wine, vegetables and herbs before cooking which helps to make it more tender when cooking. The polenta is the type that’s found up here, where the familiar yellow polenta cornflour is mixed with buckwheat to give it a distinctive speckled appearance. This is all followed in its turn by home made desserts including torta di grana saraceno or a fruit tart made with buckwheat flour again. Finish with a strong black espresso and one of the grappas made with the herbs you can find up here. It’s the kind of place where you find yourself dreaming of a sofa and a log fire afterwards.

Ristorante La Genzianella, Via Fraciscio, 93, 23021 Fraciscio SO, tel: 0343 50154. (Booking in advance is strongly recommended.)

Why Valchiavenna will always have a place in my heart

On Sunday we finally got to the mountains. We went up to Gualdera above Campodolcino in Valchiavenna. Valchiavenna is the valley that leads up from the top of Lake Como all the way to Val Bregaglia and then Switzerland and up to St Moritz. I spent a lot of time there when I was young, or rather the part when I was young in Italy, and so whenever I go there it always feels like going home in a way, even more so on Sunday because we went there with old friends who were there the first time round too. Years ago we camped up on a high mountain plain called Angeloga by the lake near the mountain refuge. It rained all night and the tents got slightly battered while we stayed up and talked about our lives and our dreams. I was the young English woman – or probably girl is more accurate – halfway up a mountain with her now husband and his mates.

I have this dream of getting an old baita (rustic house) up there in Valchiavenna one day. I’ll write there and walk and learn to cook pizzoccheri the way they do up in Valchiavenna, roughly shaped potato and stale bread gnocchi oozing in local butter and cheese. I’ll also keep hens, but above all I’ll be back in my beloved mountains.

I’ll write about Valchiavenna more over the coming days, about the places and the food, but in the meantime I made a video of some of the scenes we saw. There’s talk of Lombardy becoming an orange zone again along with other regions in Italy. Italy’s split into zones at the moment – yellow, orange and red, with red being the most restrictive. If we become an orange that will put a stop to days out, and so because of this it all feels more precious.