To the west of the Milan Cathedral, after the Gallery, there is the building of the large La Rinascente department store, between Via Santa Radegonda and Via San Raffaele. The porticos with the large windows continue the covered passageway that at the north end of the square leads to Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
The present form of the building dates from the most recent reconstruction, finished in 1950 and made necessary by the heavy damage suffered during World War II. Aldo Molteni created the overall project and Carlo Pagani the interior layout. Ferdinando Reggiori designed the façade with marble arches and large windows framed in terracotta tiles, which at the time it sparked lively debate between those in favor of the eclectic style, and those against. The interior, thanks to the use of massive metal beams, is divided into spacious areas in the style of American malls.
Just a short distance away from this site, in Via Santa Radegonda, stood Italy’s first large department store with ready-to-wear clothing, launched in 1865 by the brothers Luigi and Ferdinando Bocconi. Some years later, in 1877, the Bocconi brothers opened the Piazza Duomo store under the name Alle città d’Italia.
In 1917 the store was bought out by Senatore Borletti, who in partnership with his brother-in-law Umberto Brustio resurrected the business under the new name La Rinascente, suggested by Gabriele D’Annunzio. In addition to D’Annunzio, Borletti and Brustio enlisted artists the likes of Marcello Dudovich, who made advertising posters for the store, and designers the likes of Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia, who created the Domus Nova furniture line. A fire that broke out on Christmas night 1918 burned the building to the ground. It was rebuilt, but did not survive the 1943 bombings.
After each reconstruction the department store was ready to resume business and reclaim its place as a city landmark for ready-to-wear apparel and much more. Its large shopwindows under the porticos always have a throng of curious people crowding to see them during the period leading up to the Christmas holidays. La Rinascente, which took its inspiration from the examples set in the foremost cities of Europe and the United States, became an obligatory stop for tourists, contributing to Milan’s success as a fashion capital.
In the course of its growth, La Rinascente spawned other store chains, such as UPIM and SMA: the former, established in 1928, offers lower-priced product lines compared to La Rinascente, while the latter is a supermarket food chain established in the 1960s.
The Borletti family sold its controlling share and the management of the company in the 1960s, and after that the majority share packet of La Rinascente, quoted on the Milan Stock Exchange since 1921, has changed hands several times. Even the format of the department store operated as a single unit has changed over time: for several years the vast interior spaces have accommodated many “bays” managed directly by the great names in fashion, luxury, and design.
The rooftop terrace on the seventh floor of the building is the venue for a café and a restaurant from which one can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding rooftops and the Cathedral spires.
Besides the magnificence of the interior design, La Rinascente also offers wonderful displays on its exterior: in fact, over the Christmas period, the whole building is illuminated by a cascade of sparkling lights that create an enchanting and fairy-tale atmosphere.
It also has a food hall on the seventh floor where customers can enjoy delicious meals whilst admiring the wonderful view of the spires of the Duomo.