European Road Trip: Milan
After an exciting drive through the Alps, day three of our European road trip brought us to Milan, a city I’ve been in love with ever since my first trip there last fall. Though I’ve visited a handful of other Italian cities – Venice, Florence and Rome – there’s something about Milan that casts a spell over me.
To some, my affinity for Milan comes as something of a surprise. Venice, Florence and Rome, for example, all have that sort of fairytale Italian look and beauty – as in, the look that we envision in our heads when we think about Italy. Milan, by contrast, can be a little dreary sometimes. It certainly does have it’s fair share of beautiful architecture, but it’s also a true metropolis with a pronounced modern feel, not just a tourist attraction.
Because of that, Milan has always felt more authentic to me in a certain way. It feels like you’re walking with real Italians – people just going about their work and their day – and not just throngs of tourists. It’s that balance of history and heritage with a modern sensibility that appeals to me so much about the city.
After our journey through the Alps and an extremely restful night at our hotel, our first stop in Milan was a lovely breakfast meeting with Matteo Perego di Cremnago at Cambiaghi, a luxury handmade hat and leather goods boutique. If you buy into my description of Milan – that it’s an exquisite and elegant balance of heritage and modernity – then Cambiaghi would be considered a quintessentially Milanese brand.
Founded in 1880 by Matteo’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Cambiaghi, his eponymous brand became synonymous with quality and Italian craftsmanship. In fact, in a matter of just a few short decades, Cambiaghi grew from its humble roots to a global company that was producing eight million hats a year. That was a hundred years ago. Think about that. For Matteo, continuing the Cambiaghi brand is all about carrying on the memory and passion of his family.
The quality and craftsmanship that helped distinguish Cambiaghi a century ago is still evident today. I could feel that quality just putting on one of the their classic hat designs. It really embodies everything I love about menswear and men’s style – classic styling with a fine attention to detail that reveals itself upon closer inspection.
In the case of my hat, that includes the band consisting of three separate strips of leather – each one a different color but so subtle you hardly notice – the unassuming brass buckle that fastens the band and the hidden mirror on the inside of the crown. A classic with a few perfect contemporary updates.
Aside from the obvious quality of materials and care that had gone into the design craftsmanship of each Cambiaghi piece, I was doubly impressed with Matteo’s resolve to keep the brand at a place where those things were always of primary concern. There’s something virtuous about being content with one’s place.
That’s not to say Matteo doesn’t want the brand to grow, but right now he’s more interested in cultivating a devoted clientele and focusing on what really matters – timeless design and high quality craftsmanship. It’s not pretentious to say that your brand isn’t for everyone. It’s noble. After all, this isn’t fast fashion. Respect.
That focus on individuals is why Cambiaghi also offers custom pieces. If you’ve ever gotten a custom suit made, you know what it feels like to have something that’s made just for you. There’s really nothing quite like it – you feel a true sense of ownership as the garment is unique to you and an extension of your personality.
Of course, it takes a combination of craftsmanship and exquisite materials to deliver a high-quality custom product. And the new BMW 7 Series Individual Collection gives the owner that same sense of custom control over the interior of their vehicle. We actually got to check one of these machines out when we picked our car up in Zürich.
It’s hard to put into words a sensory experience like sitting in one of these seats – leathers from special breeds of cattle, the contrast stitching and hand-woven braided leather piping details. But that’s okay because quality and style can communicate things – your personal tastes, your personal style, your values – in a way that words could never express.
The older I get and the more I experience, I notice a definite pattern in my tastes – I am drawn to people, places and things that are steeped in history and tradition but that don’t get so caught up in that sense of heritage that they remove themselves from contemporary relevance due to stubborn attitudes about change.
I am also drawn to quality and passion. In everything – especially when it comes to design. I always want something that’s timeless and will never go out of style. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a custom suit, an accessory like a watch or a hat, or a car. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always been a BMW lover.
Body styles will change, new features will be added, there will always be updates and improvements for safety and performance. But you always know a BMW when you see one. It’s iconic.
And when you’re dealing with an icon, you don’t go messing around with its DNA and all the stuff that helped it reach its iconic status. That was one of the big takeaways from my conversation with Matteo about what he’s doing with Cambiaghi.
What you can tinker with, however, are the details. And the new BMW 7 Series is a great example of how attention to these sorts of small details can pay big dividends when it comes to precision, elegance and refinement.
He Spoke Style