Strolling down Via Torino, one of the most antique streets in Milan, it has been one of the main streets for shopping for over a century as it has a long line of commercial tradition. Over the years, Via Torino has seen many changes to its appearance as urban development grew and the stylistic trends of Milan became significant to its city.
One is transported into a different world with the sound of your shoes again the cobble stone ground, the loud chatter of people in the streets and seeing the extraordinary monuments of art and history, like the Basilica di Santa Maria presso San Satiro. As I gazed at the array of windows, I was immediately struck by Kontatto’s unique window with its pastel display of summer garments with flowers dropping from the ceiling as if they were floating. Straight away there was a waft of floral perfume in the air that enticed you into the boutique when arriving at Kontatto.
As I walked under the array of flowers, I spotted Fabiola Guida, one of the stylists for the boutique, who was dressed impeccably wearing a smart grey cotton suit paired with a clean silk white shirt and high heeled shoes that clip clopped around the shop as she helped customers choose outfits for each occasion. “The owner of the boutique, Kontatto, is Federico Ballandi and it has now been open for six years. Our goal is to give the biggest variety we can when it comes to the clothes that we stock. Here a woman will find her office wear; party wear; everyday wear. We want our customers to be able to find an outfit for every occasion.”
In the 1970s, Milan had gotten a name for itself as one of the fashion destinations in the world as its image became more glamourous with a variety of boutiques popping up selling a range of high-end clothing. However, not only that, it also became more rebellious as it was one of the first cities ever to experiment with fashion as a novelty. As a city, it defined a style of dressing that would continue forever, which gave Milan the name it has today as one of the Fashion Capitals in the World; with the growth of the textile and leather industry being the two main sectors still of Italian fashion.
Guida said “Milan is one of the best cities to open up a boutique because it is good marketing to have a store here, because of tourism people come to Milan to shop for the fashion that is offered in the city and as there are plenty of people walking around, the potential of someone seeing something they like through our window are a lot higher.”
Boutiques are known for being for the most part small-scale, however, they also have a major turnover of merchandise as boutiques are always trying to keep their stock on-trend and unique. Boutiques are not a chain of stores that could be found all over the world, owners and stylists in their store can experiment with innovative window displays and interiors to draw the customer into their own world of fashion. Guida said “There is an informality we can have with our customers as with the spirit of freedom and individuality we are given by working in a boutique, we can then give that same expression and individual style to our clientele.”
The shop was bright with the light coming in through the front windows, making the clothing glow off the racks as the customers sifted their hands through the garments. The women looking around the boutique are dressed as though they are coming back from a decadent brunch as there is a different air about them with their hair pulled back from their faces in a sleek fashion and their double layered necklaces dripping down their blouses as they wander effortlessly around the shop picking out pieces to try on in the fitting room.
Fabiola Guida’s silver bangle bracelets jangled to the soft jazz music as she said “Like most boutiques we try to carry clothes that represent each season so for autumn we stock mainly pullovers as the weather gets a little windier, in the winter we put a major importance on stocking outer wear and other popular accessories such as hats, scarves and gloves for when the weather drops and for the spring and summer, for me they are my favourite seasons of fashion as we stock items such as dresses, skirts and tops vibrant with colour and pattern.”
With online shopping becoming more of a normality, one does wonder if the idea of a storefront could be possibly dying out? When asking Guida if she thinks boutiques are under pressure as technology progresses she said “The boutique is a concept in fashion that reflects the taste of the designer or owner, which in my opinion will never die out as the whole idea of a person walking into a shop and trying clothes on is a vital part associated with the identity of where fashion all started. The beauty of a boutique compared to online shopping is that the clothing is handpicked by stylists which are all limited edition, and the customers are then helped style their outfit with the help of an expert, which is something I think is really special that cannot be got through the use of a website.”
As Milan is one of the forefront cities of the fashion industry it is important that the fashion capitals come together and benefit from one another. “In our boutique there are seven stylists, who go to prime fashion states such as New York and Los Angeles. In Europe we go to cities like London and Paris, and we recently travelled to Japan to source clothing. We do this because as a boutique we want to go out and source unique and original garments for our customer as a huge selling point of people wanting to come and shop in boutiques is that not everyone is going to have what they are wearing because our stylists search for items that cannot be bought from just anywhere. The fashion communities must join forces to keep boutiques a part of the fashion culture.”
So, even with online shopping being on the rise there is one thing that cannot be bought, the experience. Boutiques offer customers the chance to be inspired so that they can feel good about themselves in their clothing.