Any fashionista where to would find the most cutting-edge fashion in Europe, and there’s a good chance she will tell you “Milan.” While Paris may be the first European capital that springs to mind when one thinks about high-fashion, the Italian city of Milan is actually, by some accounts, even more influential and the place to find the latest, most stylish clothing, shoes and accessories.

What that means for the average visitor is that in between excursions to notable landmarks like the Duomo, and waiting in line for a glimpse of “The Last Supper,” shopping is definitely on the agenda. Even if you don’t have a bank account that stretches into the seven figures or you don’t have a chance of being featured on the cover of Vogue, exploring the department stores and boutiques of Milan is an experience you cannot miss.

Designer Boutiques and Showrooms
For the best high-fashion shopping (or window-shopping) the Quadrilatero d’Oro, or Golden Quadrilateral, is the best place to start. Virtually all of the major names in Italian fashion, including Armani, Prada and Fendi can be found on these streets north of the Duomo. When visiting Milan, try to book one of the hotels in this area, which will make it easy to visit most of the major tourist attractions and shop until you drop, or at least need to take a break.

One popular destination is the Armani flagship store, located on Via Manoni near La Scala. This store features several levels of Giorgio Armani’s impeccable designs, as well as a café, outlets for Emporio Armani and Armani Jeans, a home store and even an outpost of New York’s trendy Nobu sushi bar.

While other designer shops are not as elaborate as Armani, you can still see the latest and greatest by strolling these streets. Shop Via Montenapoleone for shoes at Ferragamo, leather bags at Gucci or cutting-edge looks at Versace. You can find colorful knitwear at Missoni on Via Sant’Andrea or classics at Valentino’s two stores on Montenapoleone and Via Santo Spirito.
Of course, Prada is one of the biggest names in Italian fashion, and you can find their signature minimalist items at several boutiques. The largest outpost is in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a high-end shopping center that also houses Louis Vuitton and Ferrari stores, among others.

More Budget-Friendly Options
If your sense of style is bigger than your bank account, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to shop when you’re visiting Milan that won’t leave you without enough cash to pay your hotel bill. You can even score some major deals by visiting during the annual sale periods, in January and June each year.
To shop for everything from cosmetics to toys, visit the eight-level La Rinas

cente department store. In the Quadrilatero, you can find discounted overstocks from major designers at D Magazine and Il Savagente, which are usually packed with both locals and tourists alike looking for high-fashion bargains. And of course, it’s not only clothing and accessories you will find here; don’t overlook the many shops offering housewares, linens, fine food and more throughout the main shopping district.

Watch Out for Fakes
With so many designer and luxury goods originating in Milan, it was inevitable that a brisk counterfeiting business would spring up as well. Milan actually leads Europe in the production and sale of counterfeit goods; the most common fakes you’ll find include watches, handbags and clothing, particularly T-shirts.

To avoid purchasing fake goods, do your homework. In most cases, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is, with the notable exception being the deals offered by department stores during the annual sale periods. There is usually little chance of an authentic designer item being sold for pennies on the dollar. The quality of the items can also be a tipoff to whether it is real or not. If you have your heart set on a particular designer good, learn about that item’s features, such as the stitching techniques, the available colors and the types of materials used. This way, you can identify a fake simply by noting important differences.

Shopping in Milan is an unforgettable experience — and for many people, it’s the only chance they will have to see so many designer goods in one place. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fashionista or intend to purchase any clothing, it’s worth popping into a few of these shops to see what’s new in the fashion world.

About the Author: A resident of Rome, Louise Vinciguerra takes a trip to Milan to hit the big sales at least once a year.

Versace photo credit: Dimitry B / Foter / CC BY
Louis Vuitton photo credit: thinkretail / Foter / CC BY-NC