Massimo Alba’s perfect weekend in Milan

The fashion designer’s calm, casual yet refined sensibility and finely crafted fabrics have made his name a byword for understated Italian elegance and ease

Massimo Alba in the Giardino degli Atellani
Massimo Alba in the Giardino degli Atellani | Image: Valentina Sommariva

“My home in the Magenta district, where I live with my wife Mari and son Nicolò, is opposite the 15th-century church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a World Heritage Site. Even though we can see it from our windows, I seek out another view when I take our dog Jasper out on a Saturday morning. I’ll walk to the back of the church, past the gate that leads to Bramante’s Cloister – and the fountain with its four bronze frogs – to the bottom of Via Giuseppe Antonio Sassi, a little street with a dead end. From this spot, you can see a special part of the church that is hidden; it is like a star gate.

I’ve lived in Milan for 20 years, but it’s still a city of secrets. The Giardino degli Atellani, a regular stop on my walks, was mysterious for years until it was opened to visitors. I also love the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro: Bramante transformed this tiny space using a perspective that was unknown at the time, and it continues to amaze.

For lunch, I’ll head to Biagio for excellent pizza and a choice of artisanal beers. Then I like to get lost in the classic Renaissance art at Pinacoteca di Brera, close to my store on Via Brera, or stroll through the botanical gardens where I had my first exhibition, featuring a collection of dressed scarecrows, in 2011. I have a thing about fountain pens, so EE Ercolessi, which sells beautiful writing instruments, is another likely stop.

For all its history, Milan reflects the modern world. It’s open, free and informal and I’m totally at ease here. I like clothes to convey that same ease; if you feel comfortable, you engage with others in the best possible way. My inspiration often comes from chance encounters with people as well as places. But I also enjoy rummaging through the jackets, shirts and curiosities at vintage shops. Cavalli e Nastri has an interesting selection on Via Brera – I often buy vintage Hermès scarves there – but the branch on Via Gian Giacomo Mora is best for menswear

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I’ll drop into L’Arabesque, a concept store with a vintage book department run by my friend Alessandro Andrei. I love the smell paper gets over time. I recently bought a stunning Saint Laurent monograph; a Biba monograph from the ’70s; and a collection of images from an important Japanese textiles archive that influenced my next menswear collection. 

In the colder months, I round off the day with Milanese cuisine. L’Altra Isola has the best riso al salto [refried risotto] and cotoletta alla Milanese [breaded veal chop]. Or I go for spaghetti at Ristorante Carminio, a place with a spellbinding interior, owned by an elegant lady called Ada – an artist and a true signora Milanese. 

The city has so many cafés and pâtisseries, but Ranieri is one of the most historic – a lovely place to stop on Sunday morning to buy cakes or pastries if we are visiting friends. It’s also a good day to visit Navigli, Milan’s canal district – particularly on the last Sunday of the month to wander in the antiques market. I recently came across the most exciting records from my youth, all waiting in the same place: David Sylvian, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Chet Baker… It was as if we’d bumped into each other by chance, so I bought them all again and decided to play them at the presentation of my next men’s collection. I love to give records as gifts, too, and I often find what I’m looking for at Dischivolanti. 

Later, I might drop into Elita, the bar by my studio, for an aperitif and a paper cone of fried anchovies, a local delicacy. In the evening, we’ll have a glass of wine in the kitchen with friends while Mari and Nicolò cook pasta. The perfect night ends with me washing the dishes – I find it extremely relaxing.”

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