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Insider guide to the most fashionable place on Earth

By Silvia Marchetti, for CNN
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 0918 GMT (1718 HKT)
The only thing faster than a Supercar on Milan's Via Montenapoleone? The swiping of credit cards. Fashion's biggest names mix with Ferraris and Lamborghinis to ensure well-heeled shoppers arrive and depart in style. But where to cram those bulky bags? The only thing faster than a Supercar on Milan's Via Montenapoleone? The swiping of credit cards. Fashion's biggest names mix with Ferraris and Lamborghinis to ensure well-heeled shoppers arrive and depart in style. But where to cram those bulky bags?
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World's most stylish street?
Bring extra credit cards
No napping guards here
Diffusion lines
Designer decor
Where trends are born
Fashionistas earn their stripes
Swim in Armani
Candy and bike for sale too?
Brands everywhere
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Milan's fashion quadrangle is packed with high-end brands and high-end people
  • Via Montenapoleone is the main road, with the biggest boutiques
  • Via della Spiga is a quieter alternative, silent, car-free and dreamy

Editor's note: This piece, and several others on Milan, complement the CNNGo TV series. Starting with a tour through the city with two top fashion models and a photographer, this month's CNNGo TV episode then ventures into the "fashion quadrangle," arguably the most fashionable shopping district on the planet, and also takes a trip to the city's most famed umbrella maker. More on Milan plus the full show can be found here: www.cnn.com/cnngo

(CNN) -- Got your flats?

Topped up the credit card?

Got a handful of Euros for gelato and a slice?

That's all you need for a tour of the fashion center of the fashion capital of the world.

And our handy guide.

Milan's "fashion quadrangle" is one of the world's top shopping districts, sparkling with glossy boutiques, squeaking with luxury designer brands.

Brands scream for attention, often with outrageous displays or perplexing marketing campaigns.

"You must be stupid," Renzo Rosso, the billionaire founder of Diesel jeans, tells CNN, referring to the need to take risks to succeed.

MORE: The fashion model's guide to Milan

He "invented" ripped denim at the age of 15, he says. "I still don't know why but I did something stupid: the cloth was stiff so I started rubbing the jeans on the cement of my barnyard. My jeans had a great success."

Now he has a store on one of the most enviable retail streets in the world, at the southern end of Via Montenapoleone.

"You must be ready to take risks and have a crazy approach. Only the stupid can be truly brilliant."

The four main intersecting streets: Via Montenapoleone, Via Alessandro Manzoni, Corso Venezia, Via della Spiga are noisy and busy.

The internal alleys are more relaxing.

"Here you can breathe the essence of Milan's fashion universe: creative, vibrant, dynamic," says personal shopper Annamaria Lamanna, who takes foreign clients on tours.

Advisory: The price tags within may not be suitable for all viewers.

MORE: World's 12 best shopping cities

The besuited fashionistas must be inside the store.
The besuited fashionistas must be inside the store.

For big names: Via Montenapoleone

The top brands on Via Montenapoleone are clustered together like over-friendly neighbors.

But don't be fooled: tough-looking security agents guard entrances and there are few price tags exposed.

"It's the quadrangle's symbol road, loaded with identity and the biggest boutiques," says Lamanna.

This is where the ultimate in fashion names hang out: Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Ralph Lauren, La Perla and Gucci, to name a few.

Shoppers here are invariably of the "money's no object" classes, stepping out of one store and into the next as if they were sampling mild cheeses.

To get a price you need to ask.

Highlights: At Gucci, a woman's "Lady Lock" crocodile tote bag costs €18,500 ($25,360) while a crocodile-skin jacket goes for €33,000 ($45,000), though they have been sold for as much as €90,000 ($123,000).

Gentlemen are luckier: they can grab a tailored suit for a measly €2,500 ($3,400).

Shhh. That\'s the sound of women admiring wearable art on Via della Spiga.
Shhh. That's the sound of women admiring wearable art on Via della Spiga.

Stylish silence: Via della Spiga

This is a favorite street for many.

Despite being one of the quadrangle's main streets it's silent, car-free and has a dreamy atmosphere.

Boutiques here are works of art in themselves, set in historical buildings.

You can become more entranced by the decor and furniture than by the items.

"It perfectly blends tradition and fashion, the pleasure of a walk and the glam of the sexy boutiques," says Lamanna.

The shop fronts are some of the most photographed things on this street.

Elegant mannequins lie on leather couches while high-heels and clutches adorn stone gargoyles. Wooden animals, boats and leopard-skin sofas are some of the other classy objects to be seen.

It's pure glamor.

Boutique picks include Ermanno Scervino, Emilio Pucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Rocco Barocco and Byblos.

Highlights: Dolce and Gabbana's "Bellucci" pumps, showcased inside a wicker chest, cost €795 ($1,089). Mens' fine jumpers at Brunello Cucinelli, Italy's "Cashmere King," are €500 ($685).

The kids aren't left out either. At Pinco Pallino you can get your daughter a nice white dress and gold shoes for €1,000 ($1,370).

MORE: Milan: 7 things to know before you go

Smaller brands, but equally high prices. The stone lion growls a warning to purchase with caution.
Smaller brands, but equally high prices. The stone lion growls a warning to purchase with caution.

Smaller players: Via Sant'Andrea, Via Santo Spirito

These are the top internal alleys, away from the buzz of Via Monte Napoleone.

Via Sant'Andrea features, among others, the boutiques of Trussardi, Missoni, Jimmy Choo and Chanel, where cocktail dresses can be found for €4,300 ($5,900).

Miu Miu's signature leather tassel and crystals biker bag is sold at a modest €1,700 ($2,330).

"Via Sant'Andrea is becoming ever more important inside the quadrangle thanks to the opening of new stores. And it's a pleasure for the eyes," says Lamanna.

Highlights: In Via Santo Spirito, a pair of Balenciaga sandals cost €995 ($1,360). If that's too cheap, you can always move along to Valentino.

From the Gianvito Rossi store you can peep into the spell-binding Bagatti Valsecchi Palace.

To be glamorous inside and out, only Armani waters will do.
To be glamorous inside and out, only Armani waters will do.

All in one: An Armani universe

Burnt too many calories? Need a break?

Giorgio Armani is the only designer to own an entire block -- appropriately in the shape of a gigantic "A" -- at the heart of the fashion quadrangle.

The store leads into the Armani universe: restaurants, a luxury hotel, lounge bar and club.

Highlights: You can grab a light lunch at the sleek red-and-black Armani Emporio Caffé (Via Croce Rossa 2; +39 02 6231 2680; from €10) or sample the fusion cuisine of Japanese restaurant Armani/Nobu (Via Pisoni 1; +39 02 6231 2645).

The five-star Armani Hotel (Via Manzoni 31; +39 02 8883 8888; rooms from €500 ($685)) has a rooftop spa featuring a pool with a glass ceiling overlooking the city.

Signature suites are bigger than 200 square meters and come with a personal trainer.

In front of the spa there's Bamboo Bar (Via Marcona 6,+39 08 8395 0201) one of Milan's coolest lounge bars. Its barman makes extravagant cocktails (from €10 ($14)), such as Blue Cheese Daiquiri using real cheese.

Close to Bamboo you'll find the hotel restaurant. Its menu features Sicilian langoustine tartare with green apple, passion fruit and raspberry jelly (from €20 ($28)).

Other hotel picks include four-star Hotel Manzoni (Via Santo Spirito 20; +39 02 7600 5700; from €290 ($397)).

Il Salumaio di Montenapoleone (Via Santo Spirito 10; +39 02 7600 1123; from €15 ($20.50)) serves amberjack carpaccio with a "Tiziano" cocktail made of Champagne and raspberries.

MORE: Happy when it pours: The umbrella man of Milan

Silvia Marchetti is a freelance journalist and writer based in Italy.

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