Milan: Downtown cool in Zona Tortona

It makes total sense that Milan has not just one, but two design districts. If Brera is uptown posh, Tortona plays it downtown cool. Although it has a grittier vibe than Brera, Tortona also explodes into a riot of activity during Salone del Mobile.

Milan Via Tortona design street

Crossing the pedestrian bridge into Via Tortona, street art serves as a kind of border that marks entry into creative, alternative, and dare I say it… hipper territory.

Milan Via Tortona pedestrian bridge street art

It’s not just stickers and spray paint that Tortona has more of. Former industrial warehouses give this neighborhood a lot more space, making it possible for brands to mount more ambitious, large-scale showpieces for the Salone.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014

Even big-name brands—such as Peugeot, whose Design Lab dreamed up this futuristic, wood-and-carbon fiber baby grand for Pleyel—want to nab a bit of Tortona’s street cred for themselves. We don’t mind; we’re just here to enjoy the show.

Even expensive marble gets a creative spin, with art installations such as Fabio Novembre’s Here I Am crafted from Turkish marble.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Fabio Novembre Turkish marble

Still, Tortona knows how to keep it real. Somehow I don’t think DIY screen-printed tea towels would appeal to the well-heeled Brera clientele.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 La Fabbricchetta

And they’d probably turn up their noses at the thought of “flea” and “beer” next to each other in the same sentence. Or next to them, for that matter.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 flea beer shop

Here’s a pop-up that should appeal to both worlds: that of the iconic Paris lifestyle store Merci, which I visited for the first time last February.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Merci pop-up

Merci is full of gorgeous finds, and so is its pop-up shop. But all we grannies wanted to do after a long day of walking around Milan was crash on their comfy, linen-covered couch. Perfect recovery spot!

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Merci pop-up shop living room

You know how food trucks crossed over from alternative to mainstream? I propose someone make design trucks the next big thing. Like ice cream carts, but selling pattern, color and style. Tell me that’s not a great idea.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Merci Paola Navone for Essential

“It’s like a festival!” Judith said as we pushed past waves and waves of people. I agree, and I say that as someone who believes that her festival-going years, like hostels and dorm-room beds, are firmly in her past. The Tortona crowds swell to even bigger numbers at sundown, when it seems half of Milan pours in for aperitivi and parties.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Tortona crowd

Jill, Judith, Kat and I? Well, we went right in the opposite direction: away from the festivities and towards the last train home. After all, we’d already been cool for a day—thanks to Via Tortona.

Lovely comments:

  1. I think all roads lead to Milan – see you there next year :-)
    Awesome recap and great shots.
    Happy Easter


  1. […] turned out to be a great way to end our visit—with hardly any of the crowds we’d previously encountered in Tortona, lots of big, playful and imaginative installations, and refreshing bursts of […]