Even though my first day in Milan was amazing, I am ecstatic to tell my blog readers that today was even better. My jet lag was all but resolved and even more so once I sat down for my lavish breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast and an interesting workshop with a professional actress, we were off for our first real day exploring Milan. As typical tourists would, we started our journey in the duoma. We had the chance to gaze upon the eighth largest church in the world and take part in all the accompanying photo opportunities. Our group was later joined by a tour guide who took us on a journey of some of the best of the duoma area. Our tour guide started the tour by relaying a brief history of Italy so we could better understand the country we were in and the culture behind it. Following our condensed history lesson, we started to explore the galleria. The galleria was absolutely beautiful with some of the most expensive designers in the world and marked by a sleek exterior. However, with a gorgeous location comes exuberant rents. Some rents were as high as eight million dollars a year; this did not stop Prada from opening two locations right across from each other. Prada was not alone in the galleria, it was joined by other lavish neighbors such as Louis Vuitton and Versace.
The mood that the galleria gave off was in sharp contrast with the other neighborhoods we strolled past later on our walking tour. We first visited the store Gravi, which sold leather handbags. The exterior of the store was not shiny like the galleria, rather there was a more rustic look. Adjacent to the store were beautiful columns, a hallmark of the area. Inside the store itself, it was a very small place and there were bits of fabric strewn about. Various handbags were mounted throughout the interior along with little bits of catholicism mixed into the decorations. The operator and creator of the store, Gravi, was generous enough to give us all the answers we desired about his business. Gravi is a self-made man, he had started working with handbags at the young age of 14. Now, he owns a successful store where he creates unique bags for each customer. Gravi operates a one-level business: he sells directly to the customers. Gravi actually used to dabble in the retail business, however, he became so busy with his custom orders that he gave up his retail work. Since Gravi is the manufacturer and the producer, he has almost complete control over his process. The only part of the process Gravi does not have control over are his suppliers. Gravi’s purses are not just limited to leather, hence his suppliers vary wildly. He has leather from Naples, Venice,Verona, and Gravi also has fabrics such as snakeskin and crocodile from other countries. Gravi is not happy about having to use suppliers from outside of Italy, however, regulations in Italy forced his hand. Gravi’s custom purses are not just unique for Italy, but also for America as well. As an amateur shopper, I have never seen a store produce custom bags. Gravi has a loyal set of customers and is a part of the Milan culture. The second store we visited, IF, also sold handbags, but it could not be more different than Gravi’s store. The owner of the IF, Milan store was clad in a trendy, all black outfit as she welcomed us in. The outside of the store was more commercial looking than the Gravi store. The owner of the IF store explained to us that their brand was established in 2012, much more new than the Gravi store. Even though both the Gravi store and the IF store make custom handbags, IF’s store structure is very different. IF prides itself on having franchised locations both in Italy and throughout the world. IF has a much more basic design that only has a couple of tweaks that can be made to it. However, like the Gravi store, the IF bags are made in store. I was lucky enough to be able to witness one of our very own group members be a customer of the store. Our group member, Cassy, was able to pick out various aspects of the bag while the shop operator quickly assembled the bag. I will hand it to Gravi that his bags seemed to be of higher quality than the IF bags. The IF bags were constructed thanks to the help of hot glue and scotch tape. Even though using Italian materials and being Italian is very important to the IF company, their store is decorated with English slogans and their motto, “it’s hard to be simple” is in English. Overall, the differences between the galleria and the two smaller shops were discrete yet important. I am excited to visit the museum and meet some Italian students tomorrow!