When you look up pictures of Duomo in Italy, you’ll see photographs that will amaze you. The beautiful architecture that resulted from the rich history of the country is breathtaking, even in photos. However, seeing everything in person is completely different. It is an experience that I will never forget.
This morning, after a crash course in Italian and a beautiful lunch in the city, we took the metro to Duomo for a walking tour. First, our tour guide gave us a brief history on the unification of Italy and how it continues to effect the country’s culture. I was surprised to learn that Italy as a physical place has been around for centuries, but only became an official country in 1861. Next, we saw the cathedral, which is the 3rd largest in the world. The architecture was amazing. One of the statues on the church actually served as the inspiration behind the Statue of Liberty.
Then we toured the high end Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall. The stores here included: Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Versace. This mall is so exclusive that McDonald’s was forced to move to the other side of the street and all storefronts have to be black and gold. The first Prada store is located here along with a second Prada directly adjacent. Yearly rent for one storefront in the Galleria is 8 million Euros! Since all the stores in the mall are high end, the clientele that it draws is high end as well. Even though there were many tourists like us in the area, there were very few people actually shopping in the stores. And those that were looked as though they were high class.
After leaving the Galleria, we had a surprise! Currently, a food waste conference is happing in Milan, and it draws high profile speakers. This year, former President Obama is speaking, and his hotel is in Duomo. When we were walking around the back of the cathedral, we saw his motorcade and were informed that he was touring the inside. It was cool to know that the same area that I was touring draws the attention of very important people who have the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world.
Next, we visited the shops outside of Duomo. These shops had more affordable stores that I would shop at in Pittsburgh. Some of them were: Victoria’s Secret, Zara, and H&M. I noticed that unlike the Galleria, the streets and the inside of the shops were bustling with people.
On this street, we were given private tours of two leather companies with unique characteristics. The first was Gravi. This store was very tiny, so we had to split into 2 groups and rotate through. Here, only one man makes the products. His last name is Gravi. He learned to make bags at a young age as an apprentice and over the years, has built up a reputation in the area and acquired many clients. As we were there, at least 4 people came in to purchase custom made items. He makes all of his products in the back of the store, as shown in my pictures. He is completely vertically integrated in that he controls all parts of the supply chain except for the leather suppliers. The leather comes from approved tanneries in Tuscany, Naples and Venice. They must be approved because Gravi works with obscure leathers such as snake and ostrich. With regards to selling the bags, he does not give to retail stores. All of his items are sold out of his store in Milan. As a result, Gravi is his own supplier and manufacturer.
The second store that we visited was IF. It was named after the original owners: Isabella and Francesca. They have stores all over Italy and market their items as custom made. The concept is that customers break away from the “hype” of other brands and can build their own accessories. They can choose the colors of the bags, ropes, and decals. This way, everyone’s bag is unique. IF is similar to Gravi in that all materials and leathers come from tanneries in Italy, and they are vertically integrated in that they manufacture their products in stores that they own. However, their products can be found in downstream customer’s retail stores in the United States and Japan, and they have an online store. This way, they are not as vertically integrated as Gravi who only sells his products himself.
These two leather stores contrast to the stores in the Galleria. For example, Prada is attempting to move towards vertical integration; however, large, brand name items can be found in retail stores and some of the manufacturing is outsourced to other suppliers outside of Italy. Therefore, the stores in the Galleria are more commercial in their business design then the ones outside of Duomo on the streets. The entire manufacturing process does not take place in Italy and for this reason, they are less locally focused. Therefore, there is less incentive for locals to shop at the Galleria and to look to local artisans for their products. For example, our tour guide’s purse was custom made by Gravi.
Needless to say, after today’s activities, I am exhausted. My Fitbit logged 7.6 miles! However, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything because today has been an enlightening. I had the opportunity to see buildings that I had only seen in pictures and expand my knowledge of how small business owners in Milan conduct their stores. I look forward to more days of expanding my horizons and amazing adventures.