Milan’s Sustainable Style: A Slow Fashion Shopping Guide

6 mins

Step off the beaten path of Milan’s famous fashion houses to discover a world of eco-conscious designers and artisans who are redefining the city’s style scen

I’m standing on the roof terrace of Milan’s famous duomo after climbing 256 stone stairs to get a fresh perspective on a city so synonymous with style and fashion that at times you could be forgiven for only viewing it as one enormous catwalk. The fashion scene here is vibrant and trailblazing; blink and you’ll have missed the latest trend.

However, Milan isn’t just about shopping for fabulous clothes and accessories; it also has a fascinating fashion history that’s worth exploring. It’s been a long road, but many of the world’s best-known designers now have sustainability as their focus, with many spearheading environmental and social change through their work. So, when you do hit the stores, shopping has never felt so good.

Milan is synonymous with style and fashion

I begin by visiting the civic collection, housed in an 18th century Palazzo Morando, the former home of Countess Bolognini, who bequeathed all, including her fashion archive, to the city of Milan upon her death in 1945. In four rooms, you’ll find a small but seminal display of Milanese fashion. Particularly poignant are the dresses designed by long forgotten pioneering women, such as Jole Veneziani who opened a high-end atelier in 1944 and helped put Milan on the international fashion map post-war.

Although Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, Moschino, Versace, Valentino, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Missoni, and Ferragamo all launched their brands here, it is Armani, born 40 miles north of Milan, who is perhaps most globally recognised for his luxurious ready-to-wear collections.

Worthy of an hour or two of your time is Armani Silos, a slick museum that charts the designer’s rise from 1975 to present day and hosts a regularly changing calendar of fashion exhibitions (on until August 2024 is the work of photographer Aldo Fallai, long-time collaborator with Giorgio Armani). Highlights of the permanent collection include the Glamour section, where Armani’s luminous designs shimmer with sequins and embroidery.  

Armani Silos, the fashion art space in Milan dedicated to the Armani style. Permanent exhibition space conceived by Giorgio Armani
Armani Silos is a fashion art space in Milan conceived by Giorgio Armani

If you’re lucky enough to be in Milan during spring or autumn fashion weeks, one of the hottest tickets is for the Sustainable Fashion Awards (now in its sixth year), which are held at La Scala.

This year, Donatella Versace scooped the Humanitarian Award for her work in championing minority rights, and Dolce and Gabbana also came out on top for supporting Italian artisans, while Gucci won a prize for its Circular Hub’s Denim Project, which uses regeneratively-grown cotton (grown in an environmentally friendly way, preserving long-term soil health) for its denim collections.

Milan Slow fashion Shopping

Now I’m ready to shop, beginning at the world’s oldest and most beautiful shopping centre, the soaring neo-classical Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built from iron and glass in 1865.  In the original Prada store, then known as Fratelli Prada (Brothers Prada), goods are still displayed in original wooden cabinets and, even if beyond your budget, it’s fine to browse.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, built from iron and glass in 1865

Within the 6000-sq-metres of the fashion district, known as the Quadrilatero d’Oro (golden quad) it’s easy to be dazzled by the top designers, and visiting their flagship stores (more like stepping into art galleries) is a joy, but do also seek out newer designers with a conscience.

I head to Candiani, known for its commitment to sustainability in using organic cotton and recycled leather and tireless efforts to develop ground-breaking technologies in returning natural raw materials to nature in being fully biodegradable.

Herth is another one worthy of your cash as they use low-impact materials and work with Italian artisans, as is Vernisse, a contemporary luxury brand that upcycles with vintage garments. Newest on the scene is SO-LE Studio, the brainchild of Salvatore Ferragamo’s (Italian fashion royalty and shoemaker to the stars) great-granddaughter, Maria Sole Ferragamo, who uses leather off cuts from the fashion industry and brass to create exquisite jewellery.  

woman wearing earrings from SOLE studio with sun on her face
SO-LE Studio, the brainchild of Salvatore Ferragamo’s great-granddaughter who uses brass to create exquisite jewellery.

Within the Quadrilatero d’Oro, Via della Spiga proves one of the loveliest streets to wander and many fashionistas would argue that when you buy an item from a designer such as Versace or Prada that you are making an investment, as you might with a work of art.

If you prefer to browse pre-loved or vintage fashion, you’ll have to stay a little beyond the golden quad (although the original Prada store, in Vittoria Emmanuele II, has a fine collection of pristine vintage handbags for sale).

I head to Madame Pauline Vintage on Foro Bonaparte, where I find an immaculately, colour-coded, collection of vintage dresses, shoes, and accessories, which range from a pale pink and lilac 90s Chanel trouser suit costing a cool €3k (AED 12,000) to costume jewellery from the ‘60s for under €30 (AED 120). Via Gian Giacomo is famous for its cluster of vintage shops (from high-end to those that require a rummage), and, as this is Milan, you’re guaranteed to find something special.

the famous Via della Spiga, one of the streets in the historic center of Milan that bounds the so-called "fashion quadrilateral"
Via della Spiga proves one of the loveliest streets to wander

In Bivio Vintage, I scoop up an Armani blazer for the bargain price of €95 (AED 370), proving that Milan doesn’t have to be about spending a fortune. Support a small business or an up-and-coming designer; find pre-loved treasure in a vintage store or purely window shop and soak up the scene; feel inspired by all around you. In the words of Gianni Versace, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” There’s no doubt that fashion is the lifeblood of Milan.  


Portrait Milano is located at the centre of the fashion district and was once a seminary, dating from 1565. Still owned by the church and part of Leading Hotels of the World, it is leased and run by the Ferragamo Group. Elegant rooms have rich burgundy and cream colour schemes, and its fabulous restaurant, 10_11, named for the two smart addresses it sits between, is the place to be seen.

Double rooms at Portrait Milano from £799 (check official site here for special offers).

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