This evening I was due to be taking my normal Milan commute from the Vogue Italia office in Piazzale Cadorna: down the charmingly rickety elevator, an espresso at Pasticceria Villa, then a hop on the metro, changing at Duomo, before a stroll up Viale Montenero possibly punctuated by a glass at the excellent Moms Cafe (actually very much a bar). It’s early spring in Lombardy, much warmer than in London, and the cherry trees are starting to bloom; now is usually a lovely time to visit.
Late last night, however, following the Italian coronavirus quarantine measures affecting Milan and a huge swathe of the nation amidst a coronavirus outbreak, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office altered its advice on visiting the city and British Airways canceled my flight. This morning we conferenced via Google Meet—the editor, the chief of production, the deputy editor, and myself, all from our various homes (and me stil here in London)—and laid down a plan for virtual production of the imminent issues of Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue (they are both really good, by the way). A couple of hours ago Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended restrictions on movement to the entire nation.
So the closest I’m getting to Milan this week will be via the DHL shipment of latex gloves and heavy duty anti-particulate face masks (designed for cyclists) that I just sent to my girlfriend and her family. But of course I am in regular contact with her as well as friends and coworkers in the city. The words I am hearing most are “strange,” “scary,” “critical,” and “careful.” Everybody’s elders are locked away in their apartments. People are limiting their movement as much as possible, and when they are going out they are using cars for insulation—the metro and the trams are not a popular choice at the moment. There are military on the streets, more than usual, but not dramatically so.
Outside of Milan, but inside the world of fashion, people are asking how the current restrictions will affect the production and distribution of the clothes, shoes, bags, and countless other categories that come under the Made in Italy umbrella and which represent the best of the output of our industry. But as my boss in Milan, Vogue Italia’s editor Emanuele Farneti points out: “Everything is changing so fast at the moment that anyone who claims to know what lies ahead very probably doesn’t. Last week the sense was that the challenge in front of us was significant but that we could regroup, contain, and recover pretty quickly. As a mantra we were saying the city never stops—Milano non si ferma. But now we know different. It will take time, sacrifice, patience, and resilience, and to be truthful we are still a little bit shell-shocked by the force of this realization. The economy is important, but in the final analysis it is only there to serve the people, and right now we need to put people first… But recovery will come, and as fast as we can possibly make it happen… Resistance is intrinsic to the spirit of this city, and now we are going to demonstrate that once again.”
Apart from that shock-tempered determination, one other thing I am hearing is of a sense of grievance that by acting responsibly Milan, and Italy more broadly, has become stigmatized. Even back in January the authorities were taking the temperature of travelers as they arrived in the city—and there is a growing sense that Italy’s cautious and comprehensive testing policy, at least when compared with that of other nations, is partially to blame for the perception of Northern Italy as a Covid-19 hotspot. As one friend observed: “If you don’t test, then you don’t get results. Here, we test. So we get results.”
What also went down rather badly in Milan was an article in the New York Times speculating that Italians would apply “cunning,” or furbizia, to evade the terms of Prime Minister Conte’s lockdown. As Antonio Polto responded in today’s Corriere Della Sera: “What is being fought in Italy is a battle in which the whole West should look with greater solidarity: to succeed in bringing democracy together with a state of emergency, to induce virtuous collective behavior without restricting or affecting the freedom of individuals. In a nutshell, how to defeat coronavirus outside of China…”
Insults and injuries aside, there are attempts to boost Milan’s morale. On Wednesday our Condé Nast colleagues one floor down at Vanity Fair (which prints weekly in Italy) are publishing an issue dedicated to the crisis that will be given out free in Milan and Lombardy and available for free download, too.
Simone Marchetti, the editor of “Vanity” (as it is usually called) and his team have done a great job in gathering the thoughts of Milan’s great and good from across the cultural spectrum. As Simone writes: “At a difficult time for Milan, its region and the whole of Italy, we wanted to bring together the faces—famous and otherwise—of a city grappling with an emergency. It’s a choral appeal for unity, reason, and a sense of duty.” Below are a few selected quotes, in English, shamelessly filletted from the 64 interviews gathered by Marchetti and his team, because as a reflection of the feelings on the ground in Milan now, they are as lucid, compelling, contradictory, and diverse as the city itself.
Giorgio Armani: “I chose Milan. Not only as a place to live, but as a way of life. For its energy, its capacity to start again each morning, knowing that the work itself will suggest possible solutions. And its spirit, which has always known how to act when faced with the difficult times and tragedies history has placed in its path.
As it did during the reconstruction after the Second World War, when the city’s vitality and its talent, both intellectual and practical, succeeded in responding to the needs of a changing country… it will do the same on this occasion; Milan will read the signs of the times and ‘make them Milanese,’ perhaps understanding that, sometimes, making the decision to slow down is an indication of strength.”
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana: “Milan, Lombardy, and Italy as a whole were among the first to face the Coronavirus emergency, so they’ll be among the first to come out of it.”
Chiara Ferragni, entrepreneur and influencer: “It hurts me to see the city and our country in this state of emergency; it reminds me of my grandparents’ stories and their years of resistance during the war. This is our resistance, because I know in my heart that with rationality and caution, it will pass. Because in Milan anything’s possible. Go, Milan! Go, Italians!”
Miuccia Prada: “Milan taught me seriousness, ethics. My sense of responsibility for change, the absolute imperative to prepare fertile ground for the future are not just a passion for me. They’re one of the strongest forces in this city.”
Remo Ruffini, chairman and CEO, Moncler: “Over the years I’ve realized that it’s not so much what happens, but how you deal with it, that counts in life. It’s your attitude that makes all the difference, always. Milan’s creative force, its desire to change things, has always directed us to a future filled with energy and trust. In every situation. So, go for it Milan! A successful approach doesn’t need changing.”