FASHION AND CULTURE IN THE CENTRE.
Located on the corner of via Verdi and via Manzoni, the new Caractère flagship store looks out onto a part of Milan whose urban appearance has undergone a profound metamorphosis. Opposite where these roads cross, on the site of the 14th-century Santa Maria della Scala church, the Teatro alla Scala opened its doors on 3 August 1778. The theatre was commissioned by Maria Theresa of Austria, designed by architect Giuseppe Piermarini and defined by Stendhal as “the most beautiful theatre in the world”. The opening was celebrated with a performance of Antonio Salieri’s opera “L’Europa riconosciuta”. Piazza della Scala, the square just outside the theatre, did not exist at the time and, as space was limited due to a number of old buildings, they came up with a plan for an arched portico, so pedestrians would not get in the way of the carriages. Since then, the theatre in Milan has changed face several times, just like any “cultural giant” adapting to the passing of time. In 1813 the stage was enlarged, sacrificing a number of the buildings on the road named after Giuseppe Verdi.
The composer, who made his debut at La Scala in 1839, was a regular patron of the most prominent literary café in the city: Caffè del Giardino, which stood on the corner of via del Giardino and via San Giuseppe, today via Manzoni and via Verdi respectively. Established on the corner of Piazza della Scala in 1817 by Antonio Cova, a soldier and pastry chef, the café was one of the most famous venues of its day. A high-society meeting place for patriots, musicians and writers, it personified Milan’s lively cultural scene and its lavish, sophisticated interiors attracted intellectuals, the middle class and nobility. In keeping with the times, the furnishings were gorgeous and sophisticated: there was a long bar for serving coffee with a well-stocked selection of liqueurs, a typically Italian floor in many colours and a large crystal chandelier – the whole place exuded an essential, elegant and unique design. This unique character has been captured once again and restored to the city of Milan, albeit in a different time and with a different use of the space, thanks to the Caractère store, confirming its place in the history of Milan and its most iconic locations. These include the famous buildings on via Manzoni, which today house the Gallerie d’Italia: Palazzo Anguissola Antona Traversi and Palazzo Brentani. The first one was designed by architect Carlo Felice Soave for Count Antonio
Anguissola and built between 1775 and 1778, and its front part overlooking the road was altered in 1829. The second building, Palazzo Brentani Greppi to give it its full name, was renovated in the same year, producing the façade we see today. In 1848 it was also the scene of the assassination attempt of Carlo Alberto, king of Sardinia. In these years, plans were already underway to build the first shopping arcade in Italy and work began in 1865 between Piazza della Scala and Piazza del Duomo: the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was to become “Milan’s drawing room” with its shops, restaurants and cafés.
Just a couple of metres from here, a maze of streets opens up, which today are home to some of the most famous names in international fashion. A favourite haunt of Milan’s Scapigliatura movement from the 1860s onwards, the streets around via Della Spiga were already part of Milan’s history as early as the 1400s, when the road ran parallel to the Naviglio canal and marked the boundary between the city and trade, with roads of shops, artisan workshops and famous trattorias. Today, in Milan’s fashion district, the history of the city is still being written, forging new fashions and trends. The decision to be here means embracing this history and becoming part of it.