Before COVID-19 destabilised the world and sent me back to Sydney for nearly six months, I had recently moved to Milan in January for work, leaving Sydney’s summer for Milan’s unforgiving chill. Cultural immersion began first thing, waking up the next morning to catch a 7.30am high speed train to Florence for Pitti Uomo. Brimming with excitement for the new year, Italian and International fashion crowds alike gathered at Florence’s fourteen century Fortezza da Basso in pursuit of what the new millennium would look like in terms of style and design – an optimistic moment to begin 2020 with.
Seeing people wearing sartorial Milanese tailoring, arms draped around friends in new-age street wear, sharing stories over shots of espresso embodied the contrast between traditionalism and contemporary flare I was expecting to see in Italy. The next two months back in Milan were spent navigating the local fashion and media scene as we began developments for GRAZIA’s 7th print edition. Work ran as per normal, but it was forced to run at the pace of the Italian fashion capital. Normal tasks were at hand; organising castings, concepts and shoots while simultaneously pointing at an assortment of pastries and Googling “Zeppole” before my new local barrister would figure out my linguistic aptitude was cosi-cosi at best. In so many ways, living in the city was full of constant stimuli. (For the uninitiated, Zeppole are deep fried pastries with custard and jelly. Delicious!)
From the classically famous Duomo to the abstract light sculptures used to illuminate Aperitivo hour, inspiration exists around most corners of the city whether you’re looking for it or not. Experiencing this so briefly before returning to Sydney to quarantine with my parents and cat was a violent deviation from the fantasy I was actually living, but one which made me reassess how I saw inspiration around me.
The term ‘stuck’ has been used by many, including me, to describe time in quarantine, however it also presented a chance to discover new forms of creativity as opposed to simply stumbling upon it. Whether it was painting my bewildered cat as she smelt lavender for the first time on her 16th birthday or making lemon curd Serbian doughnuts (krofne) from the family citrus trees.
Coming back to a place where creativity naturally exudes itself after quarantine was a new experience in itself. Nothing is taken for granted any more, because if this year has taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty creeps around every corner. Milan certainly is a different city now. Although the tactile nature of its people is restricted, the Italian passion and obsession for craft and design is remerging in different ways. As a simply mundane example, not being able to sample gelato and having the flavour of Sicilian cactus fruit delicately described as a ‘salty air with grassy pear’ exemplifies the reimagining of classic human behaviour. It underscores what I experienced during my quarantine in Sydney, a chance to really unpack the culture and visual delicacies around me, and not just wander through it with a passive sort of consumption.
My expectations and motivations have changed since my arrival in January this year, instead of finding how I fit into this chaotic, fast paced metropolitan, I find myself navigating this ‘new world’ together with the city and its locals, which is a nice place to start.