Lounging around in Milan
A VIP service raises the bar in luxury shopping
The Via Montenapoleone association’s VIP Lounge is a one-of-a-kind concierge service for well-heeled shoppers who splurge in the Italian fashion capital's main luxury shopping district. The brainchild of Guglielmo Miani, the association’s president, he believes there’s nothing else like it in the world, as he told K magazine’s Milan correspondent recently.
You're in what appears to be a luxury apartment in the centre of Milan's bustling quadrilatero della moda (fashion quarter). A small group of Asian travellers are sitting down, relaxed, talking quietly, and sipping sparkling water and espressos. Large bags bearing Gucci and other logos surround them. Only one thing strikes you as odd, for a private home: the reception desk just opposite the entrance. Welcome to the Montenapoleone VIP Lounge.
The space is the brainchild of Guglielmo Miani, the president of the Associazione Montenapoleone - the organisation that brings together the quadrilatero's fashion and luxury marques. The atmosphere is formal and sophisticated - everything is uber cool design, from the Molteni sofas to the Flos lights - yet relaxed. "There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world," Miani says.
Located at number 23 of "Montenapo", as the locals call it, the VIP Lounge is tucked away in the internal courtyard of a 1830s palazzo designed by Luigi Clerichetti, a well-known 19th century Milanese architect noted for his Neoclassical-style buildings. It is a peaceful place, away from the street noise, where one can regenerate the spirit (if not the wallet).
Opened in 2015, and with a surface of 150 square metres distributed over two floors, the Lounge was designed by architects Galante+Menichini, who have experience in upscale retail – they’ve created or revamped over 100 Brioni boutiques. In order to create the appropriate Made in Italy forma mentis (mindset), they designed features and fixtures reminiscent of renowned Italian architects such as Piero Portaluppi, and custom made some of the Gio Ponti-like furniture.
A room for living
Aside from his role as association chairman, Miani is also chief executive of Larusmiani, a high-end menswear brand which has a boutique in the district. Tall, elegant - but not in an in-your-face way - with a firm handshake and ready smile, Miani, 40 this year, invites you to sit down. "We have rented this space for 12 years with the goal of creating something that didn't exist before, the world's first lounge in terms of services offered, where shoppers can experience true, contemporary luxury."
What does the Lounge offer? You name it: staff can book restaurants, theatre tickets and seats at football matches, as well as organise guided tours, provide personal shoppers, get access to fashion shows, offer interpreters and - naturally - help with travel arrangements.
the goal is to create something that didn't exist before, the world's first lounge in terms of services offered, where shoppers can experience true, contemporary luxury.
There is also a fitting room in the location where shoppers can try on tailor-made outfits to make sure everything is prim and proper before jetting off to their next destination. Thanks to a partnership with a specialised logistics firm the Lounge offers hassle-reducing treats like delivering customers’ luggage and shopping bags to the airport, where travellers will then receive VIP assistance for tax-related and customs formalities. "If you want, I can send your suitcase directly from here [the Lounge] to your hotel room in London," Miani boasts.
To make things ever more convenient, Miani is working with city authorities to make valet parking on Montenapoleone available, allowing shoppers to drop off their Bentleys and Ferraris without having to worry about finding a (legal) parking spot (a real feat anywhere in Milan, let alone in the quadrilatero). "In the US, restaurants offer this service, but there is no street association that does," Miani says. The service won't be free, but it will cost less than a parking ticket, he jokes.
Luxury by association
As its name implies, access to the VIP Lounge is restricted. Guests are mostly top spenders at the fashion district's luxury boutiques, guests of Milan's ten 5-star hotels and travellers who have booked the service through luxury tour operators.
Established in 1985, and encompassing the famed quadrilatero's other four streets - via Sant'Andrea, via Verri, via Santo Spirito and via Borgospesso (a fifth street, via Bagutta, was recently inducted), the associazione's mission is to encourage people to come to Milan, stay in its top hotels and shop in its luxury boutiques.
In an age when there are many shopping destinations, in Italy and abroad, where travellers can find the same brands and the same products, Miani's team have worked to create a calendar of destination-focused events meant to draw potential shoppers to Milan, especially in off-season periods like October and June. Three of these are particularly important: Yacht Club, Vendemmia and Design Experience.
With Vendemmia it's about using a different approach to bring customers into stores.
Held in June (this past summer was its third edition), Yacht Club is an exclusive, invitation-only series of soirées that bring together yacht builders with luxury buyers in some of the association's higher-end boutiques. Only owners of yachts, members of prestigious yacht clubs and guests staying at Milan's five-star hotels that are members of the association are invited. "We aim to bring some 1,500 high net worth individuals - for example, those who buy expensive jewellery - into the streets’ stores," Miani explains.
Does it work? Apparently: last summer the owner of a yacht walked into a store on via Montenapoleone and saw a reduced-scale model of his yacht on display. After some drinks, the yacht owner took part in a private in-store sale, spending close to one million euros.
During Vendemmia (Italian for grape harvest), which this past October reached its seventh edition, shops tie up with wine makers to offer in-store tastings. Here participation is broader, less elite. "With Vendemmia it's about using a different approach to bring customers into stores. You bring them in through their passions, for that is what wine making is about. And it helps build more emotion and more loyalty to the brand," Miani says.
Vendemmia is the first of the association's events to get a foreign off-shoot: in November, Miani announced plans to bring it to Shanghai's top shopping street, Nanjing road, as part of a broader effort to promote Italian lifestyle to Chinese consumers.
Then there's Design Experience, held every April during the Salone del Mobile. It's the week that brings most people to Milan, Miani says. This is a different crowd, one that only partially overlaps with the "usual" customers of the quadrilatero's luxury shops. Initiatives include design-themed installations on the street and cocktail parties offered by boutiques hosting design items - aimed at broadening the luxury brands' reach. It has proven to be a runaway success: Montenapoleone's shops sell most during Salone, Miani affirms, more than during the fashion weeks and the Christmas period.
The association has set a hard act to follow. "Who else can claim 140 members - including Italian, French and American luxury brands and ten luxury hotels - and a lounge in one of the most important shopping streets of the world?" Miani asks.
And there’s a spirit of cooperation. "In the context of the association, there is not much rivalry [between the boutiques]," Miani says. "Everyone is very interested in - and receptive to - the events. As always, brands tend to copy each other a bit; they reason on the basis of what the others are doing. ... We all know each other and we have all been here a very long time."