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It’s been a very busy few days, 3 countries in one day for a start.  The morning started off in Les Diablerets, Switzerland, where the family has just bought a new ski chalet – well, not so new, it’s an old wooden farm house from 1860, hence the rest of our trip this day.  First, across the border to Chamonix in France to meet with the lovely Carol to discuss soft furnishings and to see the stock in her warehouse.  It’s surprisingly hard to find stylish chalet decorations – think antler chandeliers and driftwood lamps.  The goods on American websites are a bit ‘rustic and heavy’, too much Adirondack cabin for me.  The Swiss shops – apart from being hellishly expensive, can be too twee, red and white gingham, which is sweet in children’s bedrooms, but for the living areas I’d like it to be more sophisticated – think greige velvets, cashmere sofa’s, cow-skin rugs and reindeer hides.  I saw some lovely things in Mégeve, a Swiss ski resort the other day.  It would, however be cheaper to shop in Euro’s on the French side, and Carol’s shop has such a lovely collection.

It was my first visit to Chamonix, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t find the town particularly charming.  There are lots of high-rise buildings in the center of town, and the shopping area seems too large and impersonal.  Spring is definitely in the air though, all the trees are in blossom, and the valleys are turning green, with lots of snow still on the mountains all around us. Chamonix is known for it’s challenging skiing, so maybe it’s not the right village for me, who’s very much a fair-weather skier!

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Next, over the Italian border to Courmayeur to meet with an architect, who turned out to be very knowledgeable on old chalets, and took us around to show us a few she’s worked on.  Really inspiring stuff.  This is a newly built chalet (about 8 years old), using very old wood.  This way, you get an instant ‘old’ chalet!  Apparently, the owner is legendary for her wild parties, I can just imagine, I love this place, such character.

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The area where we went to look at the cabins are a bit out of town, in a lovely forested area, high up the mountain.  Really unspoilt and special.  Now I’m all fired up to rip up all the new wood in the chalet and replace it all with lovely old planks (at great expense, I’m sure).

I found Courmayeur very spread out, with a typical bit of Italian chaos thrown in.  The center of town was quite charming, and of course, the Italians got the shopping right.  Even in such a small town there’s a shop selling Gucci and Prada and lovely shoes.  In most of the Swiss resorts it’s mostly just ski shop after ski shop, and even a pair of socks sets you back 30 Euros.  I love the crazy dining room in the Hotel Royal e Golf where we stayed.

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Arriving in Milan for a dear friend’s birthday celebrations, our hotel, The yard, a new boutique hotel in a great location, is gorgeous! The kind of place I would love to move into.  The whole place is booked for the party guests, so after the lovely owner, Alessandro, showed us all the rooms, I pick the one I adore most, decorated in Ralph Lauren ski chalet kind of way with antlers everywhere ……  love it!!  Each room has a theme, Chukka (polo), Fairway (golf), Mustang, hunting, smash (tennis), and touché.  A suite decorated in safari style, and winch, a sailing theme.  The bathrooms are filled with Culti, some of my favorite products.  How can you not love this place?

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Seeing as how a long weekend in Milan is part of my birthday present, I take full advantage of the afternoon and do some power shopping around the Duomo.  Or, more precisely, power window-shopping in Gucci and Prada.  I’m quite surprised that prices don’t seem to be much cheaper than in London.  I even bought Prada shoes in Gstaad of all places that were cheaper than they are in Milan?!

Go figure.  We have an absolutely lovely lunch in da Giacomo overlooking the Duomo, which looks so magnificent, as it’s been recently cleaned, gleaming pink and white , it’s the first time I’ve seen it without all the scaffolding.  Pollution is such a problem in Milan, cars are not even allowed to drive in the center on Sundays anymore.

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Miserable weather, but not enough to stop us shopping!

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This little beauty is on my wish list/birthday list/anniversary list…

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I’ll feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz in these!

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Thigh high python boots on less 50% sale……

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This gives new meaning to the word ‘ballet flats’!

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A new find, love love this.  The designer is half Japanese, half Turkish, and her influences come through strongly in these gorgeous scents.

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The crazy upside-down Victor & Rolf store

Another must-see for me is the Dsquared2 shop

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Anyway, time for a quick nap before we have to go to the first dinner of the weekend.  We’re in Milan to celebrate a very dear friend’s 50th birthday.  She does the PR For Valentino and Lanvin , to name but a few,  and her husband works for Armani Casa, so the crowd will be uber glam and fashionable.  Luckily I found a little Marchesa cocktail dress I adore!

Dinner, in a very sleek, modern apartment, consists of the most delicious Sicilian tomatoes, burrata and buffalo mozzarella en whole Parma hams, lemony green olives, masses of ruby red Italian wines…….  What a gorgeous way to eat.  I would be SO fat if I lived here!!

Today, with a slight hangover, I’ll let you know, I’m attempting Italy’s high street stores.  Gorgeous shoe stores everywhere, but for proper high street shopping, nothing beats London.  I do pick up that scarf print is huge, silk dresses, short shorts and remember wearing a belt as a scarf?  Well, it’s back.

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H&M’s spring summer campaign.  Not sure if I’m ready for the acid yellow jeans…

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Gucci, the original..

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And a lovely dress by Nicole Miller

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Another gorgeous traditional Italian lunch at Paper moon. It’s absolutely packed, I didn’t know you could fit so many people into 1 restaurant.  The buzz is very lively, and I just HAD to have the cotoletta primavera.  A whole veal chop, flattened and crumbed with the bone still on, served with fresh chopped tomato and rocket…. Perfect for a hangover!

I did a leisurely long shop in Zara home, they have a lovely large store in Milan, and picked up some cutlery for the chalet.

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Rushing back to the hotel, I realize I don’t have enough time to have my hair done.  PANIC!!  My dress is quite busy, so I need to take my hair back, but oh, I’m not very good at doing it myself.  Ok, I just need a bun.  It’s not exactly brain surgery, is it?   My husband can do it.  After a few failed attempts, and me getting more and more panicky, I realize that maybe it’s really NOT that simple.  He runs from the room with big eyes after I’ve proceeded to shout at him, only to come back with Rosa, the owners mother, who tells met in very fast Italian not to worry, she can do it.   After being a model for so many years, it’s amazing how quickly you can tell that someone knows what they’re doing just by the way they touch your hair.  Phew, sigh of relief, that was lucky.  10 minutes later, and I have the perfect bun, neat and sleek.  How great is this hotel??

The dinner and party is held in the Palazzo Crespi.  Never normally open for private parties (only Valentino and Lanvin has had parties there), tonight, for my friend, they’re making an exception.  What a treat! The art collection is world famous.  Full of old masters, and the two largest Canaletto’s in the world (rumored to be worth $100 000 000 each) hang in the sitting room, where we kick our shoes off after dancing the night away under the frescoes.  The story goes, the original owner lost them in a card game.  When he went back the next evening to win them back, he put the palazzo up for collateral, and proceeded to lose that too!  Imagine if it was your grandfather that did such a silly thing.  Anyway, in spite of the palace being jam-packed with all of us, I managed a tour, and the art collection was truly astounding.  The detail of the building, rococo furniture, inlaid marble floors, antique crystal chandeliers (I counted, in the hallway to the bathroom alone, there was 15 giant chandeliers), ornate frescoes, hundreds of gilt mirrors, a vast collection of silver and coral. A Library filled with priceless book…  and this is a private residence.  I was in my element!  The guest bathroom looked like something out of Marie Antoinette’s chamber, marble, gilt and cherubs everywhere, and larger than most city apartments.  Most of the guests dressed in Valentino, and free flowing champagne all night.  What more can a girl ask for?  We were not allowed to take photographs in the palace (because of the art collection), but I did manage to sneak one or two!  Truly a memorable evening!

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The girls, and note one of the infamous Canaletto’s behind us..

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Very foot-sore the next morning, the hotel has put an enormous spread together for our breakfast.  I do find the Italian breakfast a bit strange, mostly cakes and sweet things for breakfast, but this was truly a feast!  The owner’s wife even runs out to have the broken heel on my Choos repaired (a perfect repair for €5!, how cool is that).  The service in this hotel is fantastic.  It feels like you’re a part of the family.  I especially love that they always have two enormous bars of chocolate (the size and shape of a gold bar) on the counter, and believe me, we tucked in after getting home from the party.  Thank goodness I didn’t stay too long at the after-party in the living room, or would also be missing lunch at Pane & Aqua today, like quite a few of the guests!

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A VERY tired looking group the next morning!

After yet another lovely lunch with all the family and close friends at we stroll around a lovely food and flower market on the riverbank, before going to dinner at the birthday girls house.  How DOES she keep it up, I’m exhausted!!

Monday morning, I try to pop into il Salvagente in Via Fratelli Bronzetti.  It’s an upmarket outlet shop selling Balenciaga, Cavalli, Chloe etc, but they only open at 3pm.  Damn!!

We go to nr 10 Corso Como, where I end up never buying anything, but I love the shop anyway.  A great mix of different designers, shoes, hats, jewelry, and fantastic coffee-table books on the first floor.  I see a very cool Alexander Macqueen ipad case with a big gold skull on it, love the new shoe collection by Balenciaga, adore the fabrics at Lanvin, covet a gold chain bag by Givenchy, WANT the white all-in-one suit by Heider Ackerman and tennis dress by Rick Owens…  I see some inspiring silhouettes for my friend’s collection in New york in September, and fall in love with the belts and shoes by Alaia all over again.  Love love love.

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Belts by Alaia

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Just in time for lunch at Trattoria Milano, where I have an enormous portion of risotto Milanese with osso bucu.  Yum!

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Then, what I’ve been looking forward to sooooooooo much, a good food shop at my favourite place in Milan, Peck.  Parma hams stacked up to the ceiling, Sicilian tomatoes, meltingly soft burrata’s, smoked paprika Calabrese sausages…….. ooh, I can spend all day in this shop… well, or till I run out of money.

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Just a quick pop across the road to get some macaroons from another favourite, then, unfortunely, hit the road back to  Switzerland.  Not a very successful shopping trip, but a lovely lovely weekend with good friends and great food…

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Aah, and how sweet, Mamma Rosa, from the hotel, even gave us a goodie bag when we left, her homemade marmalade, and her famous biscotti!

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Some of my must do things in Milan:

Designer shopping:  via Alessandro Mansoni, via della Spiga, coso Venezia, via Senato and via Montenapoleone

See Tom Ford’s stand alone shop

High street shopping:  Corso Vittorio Emanuelle

Excelsior department store’s downstairs food department

Zero sushi, Jacomo for food, Giacomo Bistrot, or La Briciola. The restaurant at Armani/Hotel is also very good (with obviously a stunning design….). In its way also the Dolce & Gabbana restaurant called Gold is worth a visit:

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Ciao till next time!

xxx