I’m going to be in Milan for a day en route to the brand-new Mandarin Oriental on Lake Como, which friends swear is great. It’s a birthday gift from my wife of two years, who also is insisting that she take me shopping. Don’t get me wrong: I love to shop and I love Alessandro Michele, but I can buy loafers back in Chicago. I’d really like something with provenance, pedigree, a story. Any suggestions? Also, how in the hell do I nonchalantly drop name and address into a conversation over prosecco and fettucine at Bice?
The Man Who Doesn’t Yet Have Everything
Say no more, my friend. For nearly 20 years, I edited a little magazine called Departures, where we prided ourselves in sourcing the rare, the unusual, the thing, the place, the person you had never heard of. I traveled to Milan five or six times a year, and over the past five or so years, it’s become one of the most exciting cities in the world. (Yes, there are plenty of alluring new hotels, but book room 410 at the Bulgari Hotel. Though small, it’s ever so chic and cozy, with an enormous terrace complete with two sunbeds. Nearby, and from the same architect, is the Mandarin Oriental and its over-the-top Fornasetti Suite, helmed by my favorite hotelier, Luca Finardi.)
First of all, forget Bice. Very old-school, and you sound too cool for all that tartan plaid and clubby wood. Instead, head to Langosteria on Via Savona for fish like we never get back home. For a head start, take an espresso and cornetto at Marchesi 1824, on Via Monte Napoleone. Now, as far as explaining how you have arrived at Bernardini Milano instead of at the usual suspects on Monte Napoleone, nonchalantly tell your wife that you want to visit a little chapel called Santa Maria delle Grazie, given that Leonardo created The Last Supper on its walls. Max Bernardini’s boutique is just across the street. “Now that’s interesting!” you might say. “Let’s check it out.”
Statement of fact: Bernardini Milano is perhaps the finest, yet possibly most unknown, name in watches—a dealer’s dealer, the collector’s collector. If a vintage Longines chronograph monopusher or a Patek Philippe rose-gold Cosmograph is not in the cards for her—or you—right now, know that my old friend Max Bernardini is also a specialist in luxury vintage everything. Max studies a client as Freud did a patient, deciphering through looks and conversation to discover exactly what you need—and perhaps never knew you desired. When he picks the perfect watch, for example, you wonder how you ever lived without it as he wraps it around your wrist. Max is Italian, but he grew up in Sierra Leone. (Way back, he once traded in emeralds in Latin America. In fact, he famously flew in the same tobacco-leaf rollers that Castro used for his own cigars for a Night in Old Havana–themed party outside of his Milan atelier.) Watches may be the beating heart of his business—I once drove with Max from Portofino to Monte Carlo, where he carried a Ziploc bag’s worth of them valued at 2.5 million euros for a prospective client—but there’s also a fine collection of vintage accessories. A teeny sterling-silver whisk made by Hermès in 1928 for removing fizzled-out champagne bubbles is a recent favorite. There are also vintage Vuitton steamer trunks, one papered inside with Roy Lichtenstein graphics per the request of a Ukrainian billionaire, alongside wonderful sterling flasks, crystal, and hard-to-find vintage Tiffany martini shakers. His most perfect shop is a secret that I impart with the greatest of confidence. Now, a silver champagne whisk from the 20s may be neither why you came to Milan nor what you absolutely need to take home, but isn’t it rather nice to know that you, and you alone, have a little something to always keep the bubbles in play?
Richard David Story is a veteran travel writer and editor based in New York.