Biffi, Campari & Co.
The big brands in Galleria
BIFFI THE GALLERIA’S FIRST RESTAURANT
According to contemporary accounts, the only restaurant open right from the day of the Galleria’s inauguration was the “Caffè Ristorante Biffi”, located smack in the middle of it, in the Octagon under the lunette with the fresco of Africa. The proprietor was Paolo Biffi, previously the owner of two combination coffee and confectioner’s shops (ofellerie as they were called back then), one on via Santa Maria alla Porta and the other in Piazza del Duomo, famous above all for the panettone that was found in all the best Milan homes and even on the table in the House of Savoy.
A few years later, Paolo Biffi turned over the business to Ferdinando Fumagalli and his manager – and then successor – Ignazio Capretti, who kept both the typical Belle époque furnishings and the original name, as can be seen from this menu with the bill of fare for 31 August 1905 and wine list. The Biffi establishment left the roomy premises after over a century, and is presently located in the south wing of the Galleria in the direction of Piazza del Duomo.
THE “RESTAURANT” IN THE GALLERIA
While it is certainly the best known, “Savini” is not the first or only name of the celebrated restaurant. Founded in 1868 as a coffee bar, in 1876 it became a highly popular beer house named Birreria Stocker. Virgilio Savini took over in 1884, selling out in 1906 to Giuseppe Bodina. Bodina installed velvet sofas, small tables with typical red lampshades, and large wrought iron lighting fixtures and flower boxes by Mazzucottelli. Only the latter furnishings.
A full seven years were required to restore the establishment to its former splendour. On 26 December 1950, it reopened for business furnished with the same sort of crimson sofas, mirrors and crystal chandeliers as the turn of the century. As before, famous names regularly patronised the establishment, including Maria Callas, Luchino Visconti, Charlie Chaplin, Totò and Grace Kelly.
CAMPARI, A SUCCESS STORY THAT BEGAN IN THE GALLERIA
The Campari story begins in a Novara coffee bar named “il caffè dell’Amicizia”, an establishment that Gaspare Campari purchased in 1860 after having worked in two of Turin’s historic spots, where he had learned the art of making liqueurs. In Novara, Gaspare created his first distillery products, named Elixir di lunga vita, Olio di Rhum and Liquore Rosa. But business was slow. Gaspare then relocated to Milan, where he opened a small spirits shop under the Coperto dei Figini. However, being aware that it was scheduled for demolition, he reserved a shop in the Galleria, then under construction. Wife Letizia was left to run the establishment, while he devoted his energy to perfecting the products of his distillations: Fernet Campari and the celebrated Bitter were created.
- Fortunato Depero. Bitter Campari. 1928
- Marcello Dudovich. Bitter Campari. 1920
- Leonetto Cappiello. Bitter Campari. 1921
By the time Gaspare passed away in 1882, the business was well enough established to prompt this to be written, “he leaves five children and assets worth approximately half a million”.
Son Davide, together with his brother Guido, gave a decisive impulse to the firm with the creation of another very successful product, the Cordial Campari, and the opening of the first Campari industrial plant in 1892, as well as his intuition of the key role of advertising – to the point of entrusting the image of his products to the creativity of artists such as Cappiello, Hohenstein, Dudovich and Depero. Once again, it was Davide who took the iniziative in enlarging the Campari coffee bar and opening “il Camparino” in 1915 on the opposite corner of the Galleria.
Four years later, in 1919, he sold the coffee bars (Campari and Camparino) to another solid producer of beverages under the Zucca label.
LANDMARK BUSINESS AND BRAND NAMES
An important chapter in the life of the Galleria is represented by the shops that are part of its history. One example is the “Libreria Bocca” bookstore. Although it has been doing business in the Galleria since the late nineteenth century, its interesting history goes back to 1775, as indicated in the lunette above the main entrance.
The publishing and bookstore business of the Bocca brothers began in Turin, then a capital city under the House of Savoy (the brothers were also printers to the court). Their business activity was later extended to Paris and Milan, where one of the brothers, Giuseppe, opened a shop at the turn of the century, located on Corsia dei Servi. It was there that in 1832 he printed a “politically incorrect” book of enduring fame, Le mie prigioni by Silvio Pellico.
Borsalino, too, got its start in Piedmont: the business was founded in Alessandria in 1857 by Giuseppe Borsalino. Before long, it became a name synonymous with quality hats throughout the world, thanks in part to astute advertising, whose driving force was the art of Marcello Dudovich.
Another old shop instead has its roots in Milan: “Argenteria Bernasconi”, the renowned silver emporium with spacious premises in the Octagon since the 1930s. As the logo says, the firm was founded in 1872, when Ernesto Bernasconi opened a workshop on Via Speronari, in the quarter known for centuries as the hub of this type of skilled craftsmanship. In 1924, the quality of his products earned him the title of “supplier to the Royal House”.
From September 2014 the space previously occupied by Bernasconi hosts the new Versace boutique: the structure keeps intact the original decorations, miraculously spared from the bombing of the Second World War. Thanks to a meticulous restoration, friezes, cornices, columns and other decorative pieces have been brought back to their original splendor in order to revive a lost masterpiece in the heart of Milan, a city that for Versace has a fundamental role: it is here that the maison was founded in 1978. The concept of the boutique is unique: designed by Donatella Versace together with the architect Jamie Fobert, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II store is an architectural dialogue that fuses the power of Versace with the delicacy of early twentieth century embellishments.
Another famous name – Prada – is located on the opposite side of the Octagon. The business was founded in Milan in 1913 by Mario Prada (grandfather of Miuccia Prada), who began the production and sale of handbags, trunks, leather accessories and beauty kits; the shop in the Galleria also opened that year. Renovated in 2000, the shop conserves the charm of its original exquisite Art Deco furnishings, including the black and white checkerboard marble floor, solid mahogany and brass forniture custom-made in 1910 by Pollards Pad of London, and small curved windows typical of the period. Even the handcrafted brass umbrella stand is original.