Armani hits the suite spot in the city where it all began
Along with Paris and New York, Milan is one-third of the holy fashion trinity. A clutch of famous designers call Italy's northern capital home, including Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Versace. Four times a year, models, editors and catwalk wannabes descend on the city's champagne-fuelled fashion weeks. A-listers (Madonna, Prince) stay at the Hotel Principe di Savoia. The young and moneyed (Victoria and David Beckham) bed down at the Four Seasons. But until now, there hasn't been a hotel for a serious fashionista to rest their kitten heels.
Enter the Armani Hotel Milano. On November 11, this cube of understated chic follows up on the success of Armani Hotel Dubai, which opened in the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building - last year. The anticipation surrounding the Milan opening owes as much to its years of postponement as to habitual excitement about the city's most famous fashion designer. Giorgio Armani moved to Milan five decades ago to work as a department store window dresser.
The hotel's 95 rooms and suites sit perched atop Via Manzoni 31, architect Enrico Agostino Griffini's 1937 rationalist-style palazzo. The building has been dedicated to all things Armani for a decade. The lower levels are home to Armani Jeans, Casa, books, perfume and flowers, as well as the Armani/Priv?nightclub and Milan's best Japanese restaurant, Nobu. The complex sits opposite the northern tip of Via Montenapoleone, within the confines of Milan's Quadrilatero d'Oro ('golden rectangle') neighbourhood, with flagship stores and designer boutiques from Marni to Missoni.
The atmosphere is equally exclusive inside. A discreet 'Armani lifestyle manager' meets each guest on arrival in the foyer. Patrons are then ushered upstairs to the hotel's seventh-floor reception for check-in.
Within the guest rooms, Armani's decor is streamlined, balanced between neutral tones and metallic sophistication. Floors and walls are clad in silky, cream-coloured Asian limestone, and black lacquered furnishings convey a taste of Japan. Showers are encased in one-way glass, allowing you to peek out while remaining unseen. Said to be similar to Armani's own home, the suites have been designed with an eye for fashion that can endure.
The hotel's seventh and eighth floors - recent additions to the original building - have high glass walls that offer panoramic views of the surrounding rooftops, the silhouette of Milan's gothic Duomo and a cluster of new skyscrapers, including those by Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, on the horizon.
In the seventh floor's Armani/Bamboo Bar, businessmen conduct meetings on sleek beige sofas, surrounded by soft golds and bamboo-print textiles. Fur-swathed ladies take a break from shopping, dropping in for an espresso, a glass of wine or a tiny bottle of Armani brand mineral water. Light meals and snacks are served all hours, from club sandwiches to carrot soup with lemongrass.
In one spacious corner, Armani/Ristorante is a glassed-off temple to art deco, with polished chequered floors and soft pale leather bucket seats. The cuisine is modern Italian, with a strong emphasis on fish; tasting menus - as well as a private Chef's Table in the heart of the kitchen - are available for a blowout feast. Next door, a smoking lounge allows guests to enjoy a cigar with their pre-dinner aperitivi. Lush green bamboo creeps along the glass exterior.
After all that indulgence, the hotel's top-floor amenities come as a welcome antidote. Therapeutic massages can be booked at the Armani/Spa; a romantic Couples Suite is set aside for two-person treatments. 'Sunscreen walls' ring a top-notch gym and a heated infinity pool, although these are probably as useful for protecting against the paparazzi as the UV rays. Giorgio himself couldn't wish for more.
Via Manzoni 31, Milan, Italy
Rates: From Euro550 (HK$5,720) for a 485 sq ft deluxe room to Euro10,000 for the 2,150 sq ft Presidential Suite. Rates include complimentary mini-bar (but not alcohol) and unlimited access to the sauna, gym, swimming pool and business centre.
How to get there: Direct flight to Milan takes 131/2 hours, or fly to Rome, followed by a three-hour ride on a Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) train.
What to do: Visit the Museo del Novecento (www.museodelnovecento.org), Milan's newest museum and a temple to 20th century Italian art. Or plan your visit to coincide with the winter sales (from January 5) - perfect for stocking up on this season's fashions.