Milan calling

Our columnist discovers gorgeous architecture and fabulous food in Italy.

Melinda Looi on top of DuomoMilano1903

Melinda Looi on top of Duomo Milano.


BUONGIORNO, Milan! The scenery by train from Venice was breathtaking. The endless countryside green during the almost three-hour ride helped me to unwind and refresh my mind before reaching Milan, where we had a stall at the White Milano Trade Fair. I even started to brainstorm, and draw out new ideas and designs for my next collection. I think the European culture has really grown on me!

Can you believe that it’s my first trip to Milan? My friend was laughing at the irony of a fashion designer taking so long to visit this amazing fashion capital. Strangely enough, the first thing that struck me was the amount of graffiti on the walls as well as dog poo on the streets! I wouldn’t call Milan a dirty city but it was certainly less picturesque than I had imagined.

It’s a shame because I would have loved to have seen an old city preserved the way it should be (much like Venice). On the other hand, Milan could be simply a wonderful city that explores its creativity and is inspired by street art.

However, the amount of dog poo on the ground was shocking. I thought that this only happened in Malaysia! In Canada and Germany, people always carry a plastic bag when they walk their dogs and I think every dog owner should adopt this habit. The streets of Milan would be so much nicer.

My assistant Aidneis and I headed straight to the architecturally fabulous Duomo cathedral, where we met up with Eleen Yong, a Malaysian model based in Milan, who was kind enough to be our tour guide.

I had seen so many amazing photos of Duomo but nothing compares to standing right in front of it. Taking photos inside the cathedral costs ‚2 (RM9), and going to the top of the building was another ‚7 (RM32) by stairs or ‚12 (RM54) by lift. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and walk. It wasn’t easy but reaching the top made the climb worthwhile.

From the top, you can see the intricacy of the cathedral clearly. It didn’t surprise me to learn that the cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. From a designer’s perspective, Duomo reminded me of layers of lace and appliques which overlap and were embroidered together.

It was truly a breathtaking work of art. Being at the top of the cathedral was pure bliss; I can almost imagine myself lying down on the roof top with a book or sketch pad. It’s definitely on my list to visit again!

My friend Yooyo had recommended a seafood restaurant called Al Cuoco Di Bordo. When we arrived, I was blown away by the interior decor – it had a vintage touch, which I love! I had no regrets eating there. They had the best seafood and pasta, and their deserts were delicious!

We tried the Meneghina (a type of dessert) which was served to us on fire, along with some Panettone bread. I strongly recommend this amazing restaurant, which really wasn’t overpriced for that level of quality of food. I also noticed it was very popular after the fashion shows in Milan. I saw several fashion editors, photographers and famous fashion people here, especially from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

The next morning, we set up our booth. White Milano is a huge fashion trade show located in three different buildings in the Tortona area.

Tortona itself is like a warehouse with the trendy hotel Nhow next to it. We were placed under premier designer brands. I was quite impressed with the size of our booth – the spacious racks managed to display everything we wanted.

The booth was very cool, however, I was disappointed that we weren’t provided a Wi-Fi network. It would have made work easier.Having done both London and Milan fairs, I preferred working at Pure London rather than White Milano. The service in London was much better; the organisers made sure to greet everyone, and were always there to answer questions.

After setting up, Daniel decided to take us to San Marco Restaurant, located at Corso Bartesaghi, 40km away from Milan city. After that meal, I’d like to give a shout out to the chefs! Though it’s far from the city, the quality of the food was worth the trip. We had lobster pasta, crab pasta, mix grilled fish, yummy strawberry tarts and lemon gelato – what a treat!

I discovered that the restaurant was run by three young guys – two chefs and another partner – and they are heading out to Malaysia next week to try our local cuisine and get inspired! I felt very proud that news of Malaysian food had spread all the way to Italy. It was the perfect end to a long but lovely day.

The next day, we met up with potential Italian buyers to better understand their market – I learnt that the economy wasn’t doing well at the moment so people have become very careful when purchasing goods. Although we had more luck with buyers in London, it was still interesting to meet Italian buyers and learn what they were looking for.

Food seemed to have played a very important role in my adventure in Milan. We had another great evening at Rita on Via Angelo Fumagalli. It’s located along the Navigli (canal) area.

Rita is a very hip place; when you order your drinks, they will also serve you complimentary titbits like fresh carrots, cucumbers, peppers, chips, olive and pickles.

The food was not as elaborate as the first two nights, but nonetheless delicious. During our second day at the fair, which was a Sunday, there was a flea market along the canal where we were staying.

I bought a 60-year-old tiny Singer hand-held sewing machine (still in working condition). I wish I could have bought more but my next stop was Paris and everything at the flea market was quite pricey.

I wasn’t really able to experience and explore Milan since I didn’t have the time. But I did meet some really nice Italian people during my stay, especially Daniel, who kindly drove us around and Julia, our lovely translator (who recommended a vintage store – Franco Jacassi – that I will definitely visit on my next trip to Milan), as well as some other exhibitors who were very friendly and helpful.

At the end of the day, I left convinced that I would certainly fall in love with this city when I have more time to fully enjoy it. A Presto, Milano! See you again soon.

Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness. She believes her greatest creations are her children.

Mel’s Place is a fortnightly column by Melinda Looi for The Star newspaper.

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