East Market Milano
Originally published 5th July, 2016
When it comes to tackling the universal concept of flea-market shopping, its premise alone can isolate and entice fashion and design enthusiasts in equal measure. For those whose possessions have been largely procured from fast-paced bargain hunting, the notion of setting out at the crack of dawn to delve through market stalls is undoubtedly an exciting one. In the case of sartorial devotees who prefer their shopping as streamlined as possible, however, the prospect of elbowing past flea-market regulars in a desperate search for the best finds might not readily claim the top spot of their Sunday to-do lists. This very conundrum was analysed and, in many ways, remedied by marketplace connoisseur Sarah Bagner, whose innovative online bazaar Supermarket Sarah (featured in greater detail last month) combines the thrill of perusing one-of-a-kind wares with the seamless characteristics of click-to-buy e-commerce. Nevertheless, in an age where virtual reality trumps physical connectivity with increasing dominance, are we at ultimate risk of remoulding these convivial, monthly shopping forums into a dying breed?
Ask the same question of any Milanese fashion savant and they'll smile knowingly; brimming with assurance that in the heart of their city's design parameters, a dynamic force has been transforming contemporary flea-market shopping into a wildly-popular weekend activity. Based in the same design district that has housed the Salone del Mobile furniture fair over several renowned decades, East Market Milano spearheads a unique fusion of an East London market atmosphere with the finesse of Italy's fashion-capital home ground. A visible element of its success is linked to an innate understanding of the digitally-savvy mind - the market's combined social media following is as considerable as it is continually expanding, its feeds more freshly updated and engaging of market-goers than the majority of flea-markets across the globe. While my resolve to visit one of East Market Milano's monthly gatherings truthfully began some months ago, a recent visit to the city's eastern neighbourhoods coincided perfectly with the market's "Back To Summer" edition. Armed with curiosity and a trepidatious wallet, a vivacious scene in the depths of Milan's Ventura quarter greeted me:
Nestled among inconspicuous urban streets lay the main entrance to East Market Milano; a technicoloured flurry of enthused market-goers and artisanal food stalls of all cuisines imaginable. The concept of fast-food trucks was taken to a completely new dimension - each diverse selection catered to clean-eaters and diet-forgoers alike. Good-natured bargain hunters replenished their energy levels with freshly-made bruschetta from Pantura (I can entirely vouch for their pomodoro & avocado concoction) and a specially-brewed Heineken from the market's East Bar, while those searching for a heartier meal opted for Popdog's imaginative hot-dogs or Zibo's mouthwatering ravioli. The market's über-sociable premise was in full display from the outset - rows of crates revamped into table-and-chair options resided by the market's west entrance, on which attendees could happily combat a scorching-hot afternoon with some eclectic refreshments. As tempting as that prospect was, I soldiered on to discover the warehouse hosting East Market's latest incarnation:
The scene unfolding indoors was even more multi-faceted: the positioning of each colourful market stall was such that there was as much correlation as there was diversity between neighbouring stands. Denim cut-offs with a touch of grunge contrasted bona-fide 1940s frocks in every shade under the sun, while subsequent vendors towards the venue's western end combined more casual attire (think hand-dyed monochrome tees and minimalist summer shades) with a show-stopping cocktail dress displayed in front. This kaleidoscopic feast for the eyes was even more striking when set against such an urban fortress - its no-frills appearance gave market traders the perfect stage on which to showcase their sought-after goods, whether these symbolised authentic vintage garments, eye-catching light installations or a vast assemblage of vinyl. A proper perusal through the warehouse stalls took quite some time, given that majority of market purveyors were incredibly amiable and happy to take you through each unique-sourced item if you so desired! After finally exhausting the generous assortment of stalls on offer, while pondering a Gucci-esque shirt adorned with hand-crafted flower appliqués, I then discovered that East Market was holding court in yet another spacious building on the eastern side of the main entrance. This new, light-filled space, as it would turn out, exhibited more independent labels and industrious creatives than I could possibly have hoped for:
On the ground floor of a generous-sized studio building (also home to one of Milan's Politecnica design schools), a hive of sartorially-savvy visitors poured over imaginative collections and once-off contemporary designs to the soundtrack of East Market's in-house DJs (also a notable fixture in their primary warehouse). Stumbling upon an independent label named Vecchi Merletti - whose range includes one-of-a-kind print bags and endearing children's accessories made with 100% organic materials - I quickly fell for the vividly-hued wares of its effusive neighbours. Helmed by vintage aficionados Graziella Trecordi and Giulia Epifani, the stall was both a colourful depiction of Trecordi's Piacenza boutique - the charming Santantonino 34 Vintage - and Epifani's magical White Soap / La Zia Epi clothing label (stocked in the very same shop), whose designs combine delicate vintage pieces with modern-day embellishments and illustrations hand-drawn by Epifani herself. The design duo exuded warmth and expertise of their chosen field, easily veiling the fact that it was their first time exhibiting in East Market's sprawling locale. Fawning over a 60s dress-suit peppered with shades of pink, peach and aquamarine, I couldn't resist taking it home for the mere sum of €30 - an incredible price given Italy's typically-costly vintage rates. A colourful sample of Santantonino 34 Vintage can be found on the boutique's Facebook and Instagram pages, while you can check out Epifani's whimsical White Soap website blog and Etsy shop for more collection details and enchanting imagery.
While I had visually feasted on a plethora of creative labels at this late stage - the playful creations of La Vie En Violette were an additional favourite of mine, as well as the wares of a certain fashion consultant I'll revisit later - I was instantly spellbound by the fantastical headpieces of Evelyne Aymon. Dreamt up by multi-dimensional designer Fulvia Galbusera - whose pieces have piqued the interest of Vogue Italia - the label was created three and a half years ago as a colourful pioneer of handmade headgear, named after Galbusera's mother Evelyne and spurred on by an inspirational trip to Asia. Spearheading the global trend of festival flower crowns and visually-arresting hair accessories, no design is too fanciful for Galbusera's tastes. This summer's vibrant selections range from the ethereal to the exotic: woodland-creature hairbands reside amongst realistic flora embellishments, while its limited edition collection revolves around the multi-coloured splendour of parrots. Coupled with this refreshing design ethos as remarkably good value for money - Evelyne Aymon's main-label headbands retail between €12 and €18 a pop, thus ensuring that your flamboyant Alice band collection can be grown both comfortably and rapidly! A wonderfully eccentric selection of headpieces can be found on Evelyne Aymon's website, while Galbusera's full range of designs (as seen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) can be perused and purchased from her Bergamo-based boutique, the latter inspired by her mother's historic shop. As the sense of being a child in a candy store heightened, my resolve to remain frugal joyfully went by the wayside - I returned home with a coveted piece from the label's bow collection:
In addition to purchasing that aforementioned dress-suit from Santantonino 34 Vintage (an ideal partner-in-crime for Evelyne Aymon's cerise-bow creation), I had the pleasure of encountering style consultant Melania Minichelli's impeccable vintage and contemporary stall. Passersby couldn't help but fawn over each treasured design - from asymmetrical cashmere jumpers to brightly patterned day-dresses - all tangible proof of Minichelli's innate ability to curate high-calibre collections with care. As a result, it was difficult to narrow one's wishlist whilst browsing her vibrant stock - I ultimately came away with a vintage cerulean lace top and blush pink leather jacket for the bargain price of €35, which was nothing to sniff at!
While her attention-to-detail and, equally, her amiability would rejuvenate manys a tired market-goer, her good-natured attitude mirrored the behaviour of all participating traders surrounding her. Rather than witnessing rivalry between marketplace purveyors, there was visible camaraderie from stall to stall - whether the exhibitors were East Market veterans or neophytes made no difference. With such an effusive environment comes high levels of consumer and trader demand. Despite Minichelli's long-standing relationship with East Market Milano, due to the monthly fair's behemoth waiting list, last Sunday week had marked her first appearance as a vendor since December 2015. Nevertheless, prized spots will occasionally appear at the last minute - three stall spaces miraculously surfaced a few days before June's event - but given their gold-dust status, they tend to disappear as quickly as they've materialised.
While tourist guides may wax lyrical on the eclecticism of Milan's long-established Navigli market (which, having attended one Sunday edition in the Spring of last year, I can fully appreciate as a symbol of old-world vintage) there could be no doubt that East Market Milano perfectly symbolises the experimental undercurrent permeating the city's new-generation design scene. That isn't to say that its existence caters to a select category of consumer - in wonderful, typical Italian fashion, you are as likely to see entire families navigating these revamped warehouses (sartorially-savvy grandmothers included) as you are gaggles of in-the-know Milanese students. Setting off early to Via Privata Giovanni Ventura is ideal - while there was a manageable volume of market browsers during my mid-morning visit, many traders stressed that the crowds would swell rapidly by mid-afternoon. Onlookers might chalk up East Market Milano as an alternative, semi-underground movement made to counteract the mainstream trend of buying cheaply, quickly and mindlessly. While the latter is doubtless the case, as its Sunday market attendees continue to grow by the thousands each month, I believe its existence is actually infiltrating the Italian mainstream market with unprecedented success - and that knock-on effect is changing the face of mass-consumerism, domestically and even internationally, for the better.
East Market Milano takes place on the third Sunday of each month on Via Private Giovanni Ventura 14, 20134 - Milano. Clicking "here" will transport you to East Market's official website, where full details on this creative initiative can be found. Following the EMM team on Facebook and Instagram will guarantee you're kept fully up-to-date with monthly event announcements, new trader additions and unique market collaborations.