Conversations: Umberto Angeloni and Raffaello Napoleone

CONImage: Marco Falcetta.

The fashion biz titans behind La Via Dell’Uomo – Milan’s new home for menswear on Via Gesù – Umberto Angeloni of Caruso and Pitti Immagine’s Raffaello Napoleone explain the charm of the pre-renaissance, luxury-paved locale that is today crowned by the likes of Versace, Silvano Lattanzi, Mariono Rubinacci, and even the Four Seasons.



ANGELONI: Maybe we should start our discussion with the association of La Via Dell’Uomo and the
link between a lot of these brands on the street and Pitti Immagine1?

NAPOLEONE: The link is extraordinary because all the companies are in, or have in the past been in, Pitti Uomo2. Some have launched and had success directly because of the event. If I were to follow a list of the La Via Dell’Uomo brands today—from Barba to Brioni, Caruso to Doriani, and Doucal’s to Stefano Ricci—for years they all invested in Pitti, and likewise us in them.

ANGELONI: Through the industry, you and I and all the rest of the brands’ owners have known each other for a very long time. Stefano founded Classico Italia3 and was president for two or three mandates. I was president for some time too, as were others from our association, and we all shared Florence as an appointment twice a year. There are bonds between us all that go way back, which I feel like are now being reestablished, or even reinforced, with La Via Dell’Uomo. Each brand we represent today has an identity that distinguishes it substantially from the others, so there is really no competition between us. Instead of competing, we are building an emotional lifestyle together.

Image: Marco Falcetta.

NAPOLEONE: It’s really the spirit of that, and the atmosphere of what happens on this street, that is very closely linked with menswear and the overall Italian excellence.

ANGELONI: Yes. Another difference between Via Gesù and perhaps another men’s street like Savile Row or Jermyn Street is that it’s not just for trade, commerce, or a venue of a fashion show, but that it’s a place where people actually still live. Generations of families have lived there for over 600 years and still do today.

NAPOLEONE: Thanks to these current residents, but also because of the Bagatti Valsecchi4 museum and the big hotel, it’s a living lifestyle experience. You stay on that street and things happen. There is only one thing missing: a chapel. Everything else you need to live is there.

ANGELONI: I agree with you on that, but you know the rest of Italy does not have a shortage of churches!

NAPOLEONE: The street is almost a metaphor of the Italian way of living, you know, where everything is very close and has such a strong influence of the family. If you look at the fashion business, it’s mostly, if not all, family owned. In all of La Via Dell’Uomo’s 300 meters, both of these are represented.

ANGELONI: I think we actually do have a church, because for 300 years before it was the Four Seasons the building was a convent. If you walk into the hotel now, you can still see the frescos of the sacred images that adorned the monastery and the courtyard where the nuns would pray. So in a way it also has that dimension.


Image: Marco Falcetta.

ANGELONI: I feel like a lot of cities right now are trying to recover a bit of their own identities. The people who onced traded in the center of old metropolitans, such as tailors or small shops, have all disappeared because large entities have bought these premises for very high prices. Whether it’s London, Paris, New York, or other parts of Milan, you see this. So perhaps Via Gesù is different in this respect too, because we have two resident bespoke tailors on the street and we have one Salumaio—basically a local shop where you buy groceries, although it’s high-end groceries … prosciutto …

NAPOLEONE: Mozzarella …

ANGELONI: And culatello, do not forget!

NAPOLEONE: Yes, of course.

ANGELONI: So I think the city of Milan has opened its eyes to the fact that Via Gesù must be preserved as is—this is what the residents want and this is what the brands want, because it still has that flair of Milan from over 300 years ago. Similar to perhaps when Stendhal5 first arrived and loved it because he could combine the luxury of a big city together with the calmness, privacy, and peace of a small area.

NAPOLEONE: This is the exact essence behind La Via Dell’Uomo. I’m very positive because the Italian menswear industry remains relevant worldwide.

ANGELONI: But I do think that the street has now reached its full potential in terms of number of operators. The residents are very much firmly placed. I can even see some of the companies’ owners starting to come and to stay on the street. That’s my case anyway, as I have rented Vico Magistretti’s6 apartment and made it sort of my second residence. I think that the people who actually do operate on Via Gesù fall in love [with the street] and eventually want to preserve it. This happened to Gianni Versace: not only did he put his business there, he also lived on it.

Image: La Via Dell’Uomo.

NAPOLEONE: I remembered when Gianni was here! He always used to organize women’s and menswear fashion shows on the streets.

ANGELONI: In the past—especially during the middle of the summer when Milan is more deserted—the residents would sometimes put tables in the middle of the street too and meet together to have a big dinner. Who knows, maybe that too would be a possibility going forward.

NAPOLEONE: La Via Dell’Uomo gives a lot of opportunities for organizing all kinds of things that aren’t just fashion—art, food, and tourism too. Pitti was one of the first institutions to respond to the project. We immediately saw the link to it and what we have been doing for so many years, as well as the novelty of the initiative and Via Gesù in general. I am very excited to see it cultivate. Like all projects, this is the very beginning of something that still has to fully wake, but I know it will continue to grow.

ANGELONI: I can also see that growth in terms of the community, especially when I go out for a stroll. Because it’s a small street, you begin to meet all of the people who live there; it doesn’t take too long to know everyone. Eventually I can see Via Gesù becoming a place where people want to find authenticity and the roots of how Italians actually live.

1. Highly-respected collection of fashion industry, food, and fragrance events held throughout Italy.
2. Biannual viewing of men’s fashion and accessories collections in Florence known for featuring both heritage brands as well as new projects.
3. Consortium of Made in Italy luxury clothing companies that includes Alfredo Beretta, Fedeli, Mandelli, and more.
4. Historic house museum that showcases early 20th century discoveries from collectors and brothers Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi.
5. Pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle, a 19th-century French writer who spent much of his later life in Milan.
6. Late industrial designer and prominent architect that lived on Via Gesù for 25 years.