It’s that time of year again – the ready-to-wear shows have just kicked off in New York – and it always makes me nostalgic for my days at the fashion frontline. So this is a Saturday archives special from 2002, which reminds me of one of the reasons I must go back to Milan one day soon. The other being the food…
One of the greatest pleasures of going to Milan twice a year for the fashion shows is the shopping. But I don’t mean Prada and Gucci – you can do that anywhere – I’m talking about the specialist shops.
On a frosty morning in March, I was fitted with a pair of new kid gloves in a specialist ganteria in Milan and it really was an extraordinary privilege. I don’t think I’ve experienced service like it since I was measured for my first pair of Start Rite school shoes.
I felt the presence of Charles Swann – or at least his creator, Marcel Proust – at my side, as the glove-eur, or whatever you call a master glove fitter, assessed my peasanty paw by eye and produced a selection of gloves of exactly the right size. He fanned them out on the counter in one perfect sweep like a Monte Carlo croupier.
Once I had chosen my preferred glove – black kid, unlined – he stretched them using one of those mystery-object glove stretchers and much flamboyant snapping and slapping, that only an Italian could carry off. He then showed me how to place my elbow on the counter with my hand pointing straight up with yogic precision for the grand fitting of the glove.
Then he didn’t simply put that glove on my waiting limb – he ravished it. My hand felt taken by that glove. Hhe fitted each finger with a vigorous smoothing motion, so reminiscent of condom application it was hard not to dissolve into giggles. But I didn’t because I was so awed by the perfect tight fit of my new gloves. Six months later, they still fit with a glossy skin hugging tautness that would delight the Marquis de Sade. Venus in gloves.
On another visit to Milan I had a similar experience (although not quite so pervy) at a sock-eria. Although it had a chich modern interior, it was as far removed from our own sad sock shops as Rockpool Bar and Grill is from Burger King, and it was staffed by women who were sizing experts equal to Signor Glove.
They took one look at my stubby little foot and declared me an ‘otto’. So while my shoe size may be 36, in Italian, my sock size is eight. And it absolutely is, the socks fitted me perfectly.
But the size was just one part of the socking process. There were three weights of wool to choose from, from a stocking-like fine denier, through to a chunky rib and various mixes of wool, cashmere, cotton and silk. There was also the length to consider – to the ankle, the knee, or the cheeky thigh – and finally, the colour.
And what colours! Apart from the obvious black and very dark navy, there were camels, maroons and various shades of grey and green, before you even got into the fun colours and the ones with contrast toes and heels.
Apart from the wonderful selection – and bear in mind that these are socks totally devoid of those terrible circulation-stopping elastic tops – the real joy was the sincere concern and interest of the sockinistas at every stage. We lived through it together, they took great pride in their expertise, and at the end, they seemed as pleased as I was with the result. It’s a good job we got on, as they now have a customer for life.
So that is gloves and socks sorted, but my latest discovery is a specialist slipper shop. It had every kind of indoor footwear from the luxurious pig skin flats, to the funky Scandinavian felt, via all imaginable variations of sheepskin moccasin and fluffy mistress mule – and a resident expert slipper-ista sista just waiting to help me with my Cinderella selection.
I had shopping fatigue when I found it, not to mention a bag full of expensive socks, so I didn’t feel up to another intense consultation. But come October, I’m headed straight there to find out what my slipper size is.