italian does it better

the right: take initiative, even when you are at the top of the food chain

for a designer, it is important to be able to see, feel and experience different cultures. yves saint laurent’s pioneering spanish collection (1976), russian collection (1976) and chinese collection (1977) were good proofs of this. with the internet, the world is a much smaller place and pictures are readily available. however, you cannot compare looking at the mona lisa online and standing in front of the real painting in the louvre; just because you brought a cookbook does not mean you know how to cook. that is why traveling is so important for creativity.

i have been very lucky that work brought me to travel the world – new york, los angeles, paris, london, tokyo, berlin, barcelona, antwerp, etc., except milan. in fact, i had ever been to any part of italy. that is the source of a joke for most of my close friends. italian cuisine is my favorite. italian fabrics i love. italian renaissance was an integral part of my art education. yet, i had never been to italy.

that was before mid september, because i just went to florence and milan. florence is widely regarded as the birthplace of the renaissance with de vinci and michelangelo. and it is still well known for its leather craft business. but truth be told, their leather products can hardly compete with the luxury brands nowadays, not after the race of creating the “it” bag every season for the past decade. about 40 minutes from the center, there are some great outlet shops. space is a mighty big warehouse for prada and miu miu. and the mall has everything from pucci to gucci, from marni to bally, from balenciaga to stella. but the one standout is the pharmacy of santa maria novella who sells beauty products and perfume made by the monks. nice products with a great story. how can you beat that? my problem with florence is that now it is basically a town made up of tourists. so even with all that history behind it, florence is strangely unauthentic.

milan is totally different. duomo di milano is still beautiful but the city is much more about fashion. fashion quadrangle contains the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms in the world densely packed all within walking distance. it was amazing taking in all the visual information just by window-shopping. i cannot descript it with words; you have to experience it yourselves.

the night before i left was the fashion night out. it is the second edition of an international event conceived by american vogue (possibly by anna wintour) to fight the great recession of 2009. basically, it was one big block fashion party on the street in all of the world’s major cities. i had some free champagne from the stella mccartney store and the balenciaga store. no one was really shopping, but the fun was making fashion exciting again. it was great to see the most influential fashion press trying to change the world for the better. let’s hope the fashion brands can follow the lead with their products.

(first published in the nov. 2010 issue of his life magazine)

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