There is no shortage of high-quality shopping in Milan, so if you’re new to the city, it might be hard to know where to start. But there is one store that should certainly be at the top of your shopping to-do list: La Rinascente. Just like Harrods in London, this is the store where you can find everything “from a pin to an elephant” on its seven floors. In fact, the store is often referred to as the “Harrods of Milan,” due to its international character.
As you walk under the portico next to the Duomo, you’re enchanted by the wonderful displays in the windows of the store, and once you go through the heavy glass doors, you find yourself in the middle of a cosmopolitan oasis. You see beautiful young people spraying perfume, elegant bags and accessories, and a basement dedicated to household goods where you rub shoulders with young Milanese couples putting together their wedding registries. Whole floors (seven in all, in two adjacent buildings) are dedicated to the best labels including Armani, Bulgari, Calvin Klein, Dior, Elle, and Furla. It’s a who’s who of the fashion world with room for everyone who counts.
La Rinascente is just the spot to keep up with the latest trends or pick up a gift, but it also provides a microcosm of the world, as you shop alongside Arab Sheikhs, Russian oligarchs, and Japanese tourists. Shopping here is not just a physical experience, but also a spiritual one, where you can convince yourself you’re on the set of The Devil Wears Prada or Confessions of a Shopaholic. The choices may be slightly less varied than in the single-label stores dotted around the center of town, but what La Rinascente does offer is an opportunity to look at trends, compare styles, and use your own creative flair to mix clothes and accessories from a range of fashion houses.
If you make your way up to the top floor, you’re in for a real treat. Here you find a rich assortment of delicacies: chocolate in all its forms, from macarons to lollipops, and also gourmet foods, jams, dressings, and sauces. And there is also a bar where you can grab a quick snack or sit down to something more leisurely. But the best part is the view of the Duomo as you step out onto the terrace!
A trip to La Rinascente is also a trip into history. It began in 1865 (2015 is the celebration of its 150th anniversary). Two brothers, Luigi and Ferdinando Bocconi, who also provide the namesake for the world-famous business school, opened their department store in Via Santa Radegonda. Their business model, unusual at the time, involved selling clothing off the rack, which was backed by the Parisian store Le Bon Marché, which opened in 1838.
In 1917, the business was bought by entrepreneur Senator Borletti, whose aim was to sell medium to high-quality goods at a cost that was affordable to the general public. On Christmas night 1918, the store was totally gutted by a fire. However, it was rebuilt in record time and “reborn” with a name coined by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio: La Rinascente. The shop is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. For the record, that wasn’t the only term coined by d’Annunzio to enter the Italian language—he named the labels Punta Ala and Saiwa, and some everyday words like tramezzino (sandwich) as well.
La Rinascente has changed hands several times over the years, including a period when it was owned by the Fiat group. These days the owners are Thai, although that hasn’t affected the store’s profound relationship with the city of Milan. The flagship store is in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, there’s another one located in Viale Certosa, and more in 10 other Italian cities. But if it’s the top-level of quality and quantity you’re after, it’s the flagship store next to the Duomo that offer you a shopping experience you will never forget!