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September 1 2014

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Arrivederci, Lorenzi: Saying Good-Bye to a Milan Landmark

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G. Lorenzi

To me, the most telling event of Milan fashion week did not take place on a runway. It happened on the corner of Via Montenapoleone and Via Pietro Verri, and the news was relayed by a simple printed sheet of paper in the window of a shuttered store. G. Lorenzi has closed, it announced. “Permanently.”

Why should that matter? If you weren’t familiar with Lorenzi, how can I begin to tell you what it did? Well, here’s what it did. Lorenzi sold nail clippers. Lorenzi sold hairbrushes. It sold knives. It sold shoehorns. It sold shaving kits. It sold corkscrews. Downstairs in the basement, it even sold items of less quotidian usefulness, cigar cutters and the like.

But, trust me, this was not your everyday array of nail clippers. Lorenzi offered everything from the most basic stainless-steel model to the most exquisite horn-handled variety. Every item in the store was either made by Italian artisans or sourced carefully from around the world and then often given a unique finish in an Italian workshop. And it was all displayed in a way that was both straightforward and reverent under the watchful eye of a stern whited-bearded patriarch and a team of sales assistants who combined the humility of lab technicians with the seriousness of art curators. Look, I know the world has bigger concerns, but at a certain level, it’s high art to take the most mundane of tasks—my nails need cutting, I could use a shave—and elevate it into the most refined of pleasures.

lorenzi note

Located on a prime corner of Via Montenapoleone, Milan’s Madison Avenue, Lorenzi seemed as much a part of the city’s fabric as the Duomo. Carla Sozzani, the proprietor of 10 Corso Como, the forward-thinking Milanese concept store, remembers the ritual of going to Lorenzi to buy Christmas gifts. The line would extend around the corner from the tiny shop, and she would see and chat with everyone she knew in Milan as they waited their turn. A little Internet sleuthing sent me to a Lorenzi in the Brera neighborhood that claims affiliation with the original, but it did not have the same charm, selection, or staff. It did not seem like the kind of place that would inspire queues.

I’m surprised that Milan’s textile tycoons, who have given millions of their own money to restore the nation’s monuments, haven’t stepped in. At a time when there is so much soul-searching going on about the country’s place in the fashion firmament and all the talk is of “Made in Italy” and the unique heritage encapsulated in that phrase, why let a place that represents the pinnacle of local craftsmanship disappear from the main drag? Why not follow the example of the Wertheimers, the owners of Chanel, who have saved specialized Parisian houses like Lesage from oblivion? Perhaps it’s not too late. Even if the economics of that particular spot no longer make sense, it seems the tradition should be preserved in some form.

In any event, the space that Lorenzi occupied for so long will not go unused. In due course it will begin a new chapter in its existence—it’s reportedly been leased to the Swatch group.

Photo: via lorenzi.it

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Dept. of Culture