Matthew Williams’ insider guide to Milan
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“I was born in Evanston, an Illinois suburb, but I grew up in a small city in California called Pismo Beach, an hour north of Santa Barbara, and moved to New York when I was 20. When I started 1017 Alyx 9SM five years ago, I was commuting between New York and Ferrara – a small city near Bologna, where my business partner Luca Benini comes from – but as the brand began to grow, I moved to Italy full time. We were in Ferrara for three years, before we moved to Milan last year.
Milan is a really beautiful city, and it’s also been growing and changing since the Expo was held here in 2015 – it’s super-international. There are a lot of great things to do culturally, the food is incredible and the flights in and out are very convenient. But what I like most about living here, aside from the food, are the people and the quality of life. It strikes a good balance between being metropolitan and quite quiet and calm. There are also lots of spots that are really accessible just outside the city – in the summer, you’ve got Liguria on the seaside, right on the border with France, which is beautiful, and Lake Como is only 50 minutes’ drive from here.
I live with my wife Jennifer and our daughters Alyx and Valetta in central Milan – near Porta Venezia, which is a quiet, residential part of the city. There are lots of great parks nearby – my favourite is Parco Sempione, which has a running track around it – and all the city blocks are quite large, so there’s plenty of space and light. Right near my house is a café called Pasticceria Sissi, which I go to for coffee and simple – but really good – pastries, such as the pistachio croissant.
I’m mainly vegetarian (although I eat anchovies, so I’m technically a pescatarian) and there’s a great vegan place called Demetra near our house that I often go to. What they serve changes on a daily basis, but I typically order hummus, riso nero and a few other sides.
Not too far away, in San Marco, is a restaurant called La Latteria, which serves traditional Milanese food and is only open during the week. It’s super-small – there are about eight or 10 tables inside and they don’t take reservations – but it is one of my favourite places in Milan. It feels like being in a family’s kitchen. It’s owned and run by a married couple – the husband looks after the kitchen and the wife manages the tables. I usually have spaghetti with pepperoncini and limone.
Another favourite spot is Langosteria Café Milano, by the Duomo, which is owned by Romeo and Pietro Ruffini, who are close friends of mine. I met them through their father Remo, who owns Moncler. They all have incredible taste when it comes to cuisine. The restaurant mainly serves seafood, but there are other dishes as well – the food is so good, but the overall dining experience is great too.
While Milan is obviously known for its food, it’s a great place for skating. A few of my friends who are professional skateboarders believe it’s the best place for it in the whole world, and there’s a prominent community here. Whenever my son visits – he lives in California most of the year – we go to all the skate parks in the city. Italians are great craftspeople, and their skate parks are no different – they’re just made really well. There are also a lot of skate-able structures in the city that are built with good, dense concrete or smooth marble surfaces that allow for easier transitions and tricks. In front of Milano Centrale station is one of the most popular places to go.
When I’m not skating, I’ll visit one of the exhibition spaces around Milan. Fondazione Prada is amazing – I still remember what it was like walking through the permanent collection in the Torre building for the first time, when it opened. I also like the Pirelli HangarBicocca, which is a huge public space housing large-scale art that normally can never be exhibited. Anselm Kiefer has a permanent installation of towers built with concrete and shipping containers – they’re massive – and he’s added these beautiful paintings. There was also an exhibition of Giorgio Andreotta Calò’s work, which was incredible. He did all these soil extrusions from the lagoon in Venice, which had beautiful sediment colours, and he arranged them with video and sculptures of the extruder, as well as driftwood and steel sculptures.
Obviously, Milan is an epicentre of fashion – so many brands are based here and Italy is one of the great places for manufacturing, so there’s an amazing heritage and quality craftsmanship. But I still enjoy the fact that Milanese people dress really nicely; they take pride in what they wear, and there’s a lot of tradition behind the different styles of dressing. Many wear quite formal clothes in daily life, which I like seeing. Young to old, it’s all inspiring. Because of this, I also find that many people in Milan really understand and appreciate the value of designer clothing.
One of the best places to buy fashion is Slam Jam, owned by my business partner Luca – he has a big store in Ferrara, but there’s a smaller one in Milan, near Brera. They sell a lot of different high-fashion brands, like ours, but also more sportswear, technicalwear and streetwear. It’s a good hybrid of everything.
In the Navigli area, one of my favourite destinations for luxury fashion and young contemporary brands is Antonioli. It has a strong menswear selection, the service is always great and the overall look and feel of the store is beautiful. The Navigli district in general – which has all the canals that Leonardo da Vinci built – is a nice spot to hang out. I would consider it to be the East Village of Milan: a lot of young people live there. Each month, the flea market on the banks of the Naviglio Grande is also really amazing – there’s always loads of vintage fashion, furniture and objects. I found some great cups and trays by the architect and designer Gaetano Pesce there.
10 Corso Como is an amazing store for design, of course, but the food is also incredible – I love eating there. In the same area is this restaurant called Bésame Mucho, another one of my favourites. Because I grew up in California, I love Mexican food and I really miss it, living in Milan. The vibe at Bésame Mucho is quite casual and more fusion than typical California-style Mexican food, but it fills the craving. They import the ingredients from Mexico. It’s a little more high-end than most of the places in California: they still have chips and guac, but it’s not just your bean and cheese burritos. This is Milan, after all.”
British Airways flies from London Heathrow to Milan Linate from £46 return.