A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Milan to meet biz image consultant Alessandra Boaro, who I’ve been introduced to via Instagram. But at the same time I felt needed a get-away from my work and family routine. You know how it is: if you ain’t treating yourself once in a while, you ain’t living… so I did some shopping, walked around the city, visited local artisans and independent boutiques in Brera, tried out fresh pasta and local wine, observed people, admired ornamented facades, and made frequent stops for coffee and gelato. In other words, there was a lot of living in those two days, coming out from the bubble I live in in Switzerland.
Visiting Milan, I am always struck by the vibrant atmosphere and the enthusiastic conversations going on from early morning in the local cafes. I usually order an espresso and orange juice and stay to soak in the exhilaration of my surroundings.
This time, however, my trip to Milan had a specific purpose. Not that I don’t take spending time with myself and having fun as a good enough reason to travel, but, on this occasion, I also wanted to meet some local brands and people from the fashion industry with whom I wanted to work.
One of them was Alessandra Boaro, Biz Image consultant and coach, and CEO and Founder of Style for Success, a consulting agency that trains the personnel of fashion brands, luxury restaurants, and beauty salons how to communicate and build relationships with their customers.
I met with Alessandra in front of 10 Corso Como and we walked in to see the curated selection of current and upcoming Italian designers mixed with high-end fashion pieces from iconic names. We then climbed in our heels to the rooftop to have a look at Milan from above, and then back downstairs to the book shop, where we lost track of time leafing through some stunning fashion photography and other historical books. Finally, we had lunch in the lush garden and talked all about fashion, marketing, and on- and offline shopping. Here’s part of our conversation:
Tsitaliya: Alessandra, how did you end up working in fashion?
Alessandra: I graduated in economics and, immediately after graduating, I started working in the marketing departments of several multinational companies, but soon I realized that this job was not for me. I came into contact with the retail world thanks to work experience in a footwear brand, where I was store manager for a year and a half. I learned so many things! I learned how important it is to know the product; how to convey trust and reliability to the customer; how to manage sales; how to manage personnel; what it means to manage a store — all experiences that still help me a lot today! That made me get a little more serious about fashion and I did a master’s degree in fashion and luxury management. I worked in retail and, finally, I knew exactly what I wanted.
Tsitaliya: How has retail changed in the last 5–10 years, especially with online shopping coming onto the scene?
Alessandra: Retail has changed more in the last 5 years than in the previous 50! Thanks to online shopping and social networks, the buying habits of customers have changed. Many people think that physical stores are disappearing because of online shopping, but I don’t agree at all. Online and offline can live together; they are two sides of the same coin. Brands can use both channels to communicate their value with customers. It is up to the brand to choose the channel through which it can reach its customers. One channel does not exclude the other. I think there will always be someone who will buy in the store for different reasons: the pleasure of interaction with people and sales consultants in the stores, being able to touch the product, being able to experience the atmosphere of their favourite brand, etc.
Of course, stores must change and learn how to adapt, incorporating different technological elements in the store, training their sales people how to interact with customers. This makes the difference between online and offline brand experience and sometimes the two can complement each other. But the quality of the relationship that a sales consultant is able to build with customers, in the physical store, represents the real competitive advantage and what can make the difference!
Tsitaliya: What is your impression — what do women want today?
Alessandra: Understanding what women want is not so simple :)
I believe that, first of all, women want to feel and see themselves as beautiful, confident, and, very importantly, free to dress as they want. They don’t want to be the ones to adapt to fashion; they want fashion to think of them! They want to wear catwalk clothes, but they want catwalk clothes to be designed for them. They follow fashion but also feel a great need to personalise and express their identity through the clothes they wear! I feel that more and more women use fashion to express who they are and their aspirations, their dreams, and even ambitions at any age.
Tsitaliya: A few rapid-fire questions about Milan: what places do you recommend for shopping outside of the famous area around Duomo?
Alessandra: Milan is full of places to shop! Besides the fast fashion market in the centre of Milan (Zara, H&M, Mango, GAP…) and the luxurious brands in the fashion district, you can visit local artisans in the areas of Brera, the Navigli, and the Darsena, where you can untangle furniture stores, vintage shops, clothing boutiques, handmade shoes, and much more…
Tsitaliya: Favourite places to hang out with friends?
Alessandra: It depends on what you want to do! For a fun evening with friends, Corso Como and Corso Garibaldi are the best solution for restaurants and fashion venues. For an aperitif before the evening, the many bars of Brera are ideal!
Tsitaliya: Favourite place to eat?
Alessandra: Even from this point of life, Milan offers so much, from sushi-Brazilian fusion to traditional Lombard cuisine! I love eating sushi and my favourite place is Temakinho in via Boccaccio, near the Cadorna station, where you can enjoy a fantastic sushi while listening to live Bossa Nova! The best Neapolitan pizzerias are there, too!
Pizzium, Trattoria Caprese (via Marghera 37), Da Michele near central station, these are the best 3 Neapolitan pizzas in the city. If you are looking for a more “elegant & chic” pizza place, choose La Taverna Gourmet.
Tsitaliya: A must-see place that still is a secret from most tourists in Milan?
Alessandra: Milan is full of green gardens hidden inside anonymous buildings and cloisters and courtyards, jealously guarded by grey walls: small oases of wonder to be discovered by challenging first appearances. Gardens with pink flamingos and peacocks that walk undisturbed in the courtyard of Palazzo Invernizzi, near Palestro, a spectacle of nature in the city centre. A little more difficult is to arrive at the mini botanical garden that is hidden behind via della Spiga, at number 1: a riot of camellias, maples, ivy, and pittosporum. Milan is like this; behind the appearance of fashion and cold business, it hides its tender heart.