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Ran into Ettore Sottsass at the new Giorgio Armani shop on Tuesday. At first one didn’t recognise him but noticed his bespoke tailoring and elegant manners. Nothing about his person mimicked or amplified the general vulgarity of where he stood – which recalled Beau Brummel’s dictum: “the severest mortification a gentleman could incur was to attract observation in the street by his outward appearance”.

Sottsass, debonair creator of Olivetti gadgetry and Memphis “banal design”, is in town to realise the Mayer/Schwarz Gallery across the street. He is following a path from the via Montenapoleone constructed by the engineer Ferre, the enigmatic Gigli and the fabulous Fendi sisters. Together with the Armani and Vitadini stores, his presence may be seen as part of the Milanisation of Rodeo Drive.

Entering the Armani store with aviator precision, into Benjamin’s “interieures”, one remembers Rossi’s description of Schiele “entering … a more private area, not of abstraction but of obsession … the repeated self-portrait with all its narcissistic and almost obscene variations”. Indeed, with its layers of International Style steel and glass, it does look like one of those “Obsession” advertisements. Highly cleansed and monochromatic assistants float and glance in little ethereal groups, the chill removed by gold screens which emit the anonymous luxury of another Klein, (Yves). Advanced dandiacal espionage confirms that the Adriana Vitadini boutique is indeed by Gae Aulenti. Signora Aulenti, the grey granny of Milanese minimalism, came to town with the understated control of a soothing detective and implanted her barely perceptible oeuvre, shipped en masse from Italy, on the promenade. One could wonder here if the expert viewing of paddocks by Degas could not be shifted to the thoroughbred automobiles of Beverly Hills. Suffice to say that Aulenti continues her line of generic distillation of things which, like Loos who liked his beef rare and his columns Doric, produces a funereal corporeality. Of course, “Less is More” is quintessential Dandy: Dandy and Modernity being so interwoven, the former without the latter being mere foppishness and vice versa kitsch.

Baudelaire understood the need for shopping and the relationship between materiality and materialism. Bijan, indulgently nostalgic for pre-Ayatollah Tehran, is full of things and never one of them beautiful. The autonomous objects of Sottsass are taking up positions. Between Dessau and Sesame Street, they wink and flirt and challenge the refined sensibilities of Johannes van Tilburg. Exuding wit and tone and the slyly sexual materiality of Loos, black marble temple fronts pose with flesh pink chevrons to combat the ordinary. Like the dumb cacophany of Harpo Marx, they jest at our hautiness.

Up above, Carlo Mollino, impeccably scarved, rolled across the sky.

Ray Ryan

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