At dinner in Milan I had the good fortune to be sitting next to Carla Sozzani, proprietress of 10 Corso Como. As you will be aware, 10 Corso Como is one of the holiest sites in modern retaildom. It is one of those things one is expected to be cognisant of, so when fashionable friends tell me they have seen something in 10 Corso Como, or, if they happen to be in the manufacturing end of things, jubilantly advise me that their product has been stocked in this shop, I try to behave as if some inestimable honour has been bestowed, such as elevation to the House of Lords, beatification or a Nobel Prize.
Of course, I am so far out of the swim of being fashionable that I had never visited 10 Corso Como and felt I had got away with it… until I sat next to the charming Ms Sozzani. I have never really got on with Milan – it is not a city I particularly understand – but she attempted to make sense of it for me by explaining that I should see it through its churches, not necessarily for matters of spiritual nourishment, but to understand the artistic and architectural heritage of the city. This made perfect sense as for about a millennium it was the Church, in the form of its abbeys, cathedrals and so forth, that was the protector European culture.
All in all, she is a woman so nice and so intelligent that I became curious to see the retail manifestation of her personality.
I have to say that I was charmed by what I saw. Located behind an anonymous entrance is a sprawling café/restaurant/shop/art gallery with a great roof terrace and some guest bedrooms. Indeed, I thought the inclusion of the art exhibition, an installation by Kris Ruhs of gilded wire and tiny elements of white porcelain that represented a forest, particularly agreeable. As I had just finished reading a biography of Dante, I found it to be the exact opposite of the forest at the beginning of the Commedia in which Dante finds himself. It was welcoming and bright, cheering rather than frightening, and did what art does not always do and made me feel better about life. And all without having to buy anything, although I was tempted by a set of plates covered with intense graffiti-style designs by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
It struck me that whereas once the Church was the repository of creativity and the meeting place of the applied and decorative arts, in the world in which we live now that role is increasingly devolved to such shops as 10 Corso Como, about which I can now at least nod with conviction, genuine recognition and authentic enthusiasm when next the shop is mentioned in conversation.