At DSquared2's Milan Bar, Everyone is Cosplaying as a Grown-Up
Milan is filled with fashion cafes. Our roving reporter spent a night at one to see just how far the idea of a "fashion lifestyle brand" can go.
Photograph by Victor Boyko for Getty Images.
The cocktail menu at Ceresio 7, the gym-spa-restaurant-bar complex in Milan owned by Dean and Dan Caten of Dsquared2, opens with a quote from Benjamin Franklin. “There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking,” reads the sloping text on the menu’s first page, ahead of a list of drinks with names like Aromatic Journey (gin and saffron syrup) and Love in Portofino (gin, agave nectar, absinthe).
If you aren’t familiar with the clothing the Canadian Caten Twins have delivered since they founded Dsquared2 together in 1995, the inclusion of a platitude from America’s Most Quotable Founding Father may simply register as trite over anything else. But if you have even a passing knowledge of the brand’s leather-and-legs, beefcakes-in-bikini-briefs aesthetic, a nod to the modestly attired and famously chubby Franklin seems, at least, amusingly off-brand.
Cocktail inspo isn’t the only unexpected element at Ceresio 7. In fact, while Dsquared2 clothing tends to, in current parlance, do the absolute fucking most—especially as it’s styled for the brand’s lavish shows during Milan Fashion Week—the venue is mostly striking for what it isn’t. For a sense of what I expected—what any reasonable Dsquared2 aficionado might expect, really—just glance at the opening look from the Dsquared2 Spring 2017 ready-to-wear collection: a model wore collarbone-grazing earrings and a black sweatshirt with an embroidered gold coat of arms, leopard print sleeves and immense shoulder pads, onto which red bows were tied. Below, she wore an extra-long leather belt, diamond encrusted, distressed denim and heels decorated with more ribbon, more gems and a protective evil eye. But Ceresio 7 is neither scandalous nor overtly opulent nor particularly sexy. It’s expensive and manicured, but mostly it’s just inoffensively okay.
Ceresio 7, which opened in 2013, is just one of a peculiar kind of enterprise that populates Milan: the designer label wine-and-dine establishment. Ceresio 7 was not the first such restaurant in Milan, and likely won’t be the last. There is also the glass-walled Café Trussardi, the Wes Anderson-designed Bar Luce at Fondazione Prada, Dolce & Gabbana’s Bar Martini and Martini Bistrot, and the unabashedly frozen-in-time Emporio Armani Caffé, among many more. Perhaps one day Virgil Abloh’s acolytes will order “RISOTTO” from a striped menu at the Off-White Trattoria. These restaurants and bars allow for fashion houses to seize another revenue stream and, vitally, another point of contact with their clientele, bringing them further into the fold of the cohesive universe needed to achieve the highly sought-after “lifestyle brand” status. Although New York has the Polo Bar and Tommy Bahama Restaurant, and similar ventures exist in Asia, the concept is very Italian in its genetic makeup--an epicurean echo of Milan’s obsession with fashion.
Earlier this year, Dsquared2 added a basement gym and spa to the building, which also houses the brand’s corporate HQ in addition to a bar, restaurant and two Soho House-style swimming pools on the roof. This new wellness edge led me to stop by to see how its more indulgent environs felt.
When they aren’t piling on the clothing, you can usually count on the Catens to take it off. Their 2014 men’s outing opened with a trio of male models in their underwear, prompting Tim Blanks, then a runway critic for Style.com, to implore of the twins: “Boys, give us clothes, not camp!"
To that end, one might expect Dsquared2 to go full schlock—Rainforest Café-meets-Chelsea leather bar, perhaps, or après-ski-avec-poppers, or at least a roller disco. And, in a town built on Italian luxury, which so often skews toward the over-the-top, peacocking opulence of Versace or Alessandro Michele’s Gucci, that could be wholly enjoyable to see reflected in a rooftop cocktail bar with two adjacent swimming pools. But Ceresio 7’s disconnect is that it stops short of anything that could qualify as a guilty pleasure or a delightful “fun, if you just give into it” experience.
On the night I stopped by, a fairly quiet Wednesday, a concierge behind a polished desk told me (twice) that they had been waiting for me; I arrived about 25 minutes after my reservation time. (Here, there is nothing fashionable about being late.) In the heavily mirrored elevator on the way up, a man complained to his two female companions that he had an 8am flight to Paris in the morning, and then another to London the next day. “An 8am wake up call?” one woman sought to clarify, incredulous. “No, an 8am flight!” the others said in unison. They rode the rest of the way to the roof in contemplative silence.
Upstairs, other guests projected a similar air of moneyed, Continental jet-setting—maybe authentic, but certainly intentional. They spoke to be heard, either verbally or by employing other reliable signifiers of cash to spend on a menu that kicks off with a €21 artichoke starter; I lost count of the number of fur coats, statement eyeglasses and luxury watches the patrons—mostly on the shady side of 45—sported as they chatted and “ciao!”-ed. One of the Catens sat at a table full of men, facing outward, near the maître d. I was seated at a banquette further back, next to a man with blue hair who spoke in rapid fire Italian; to my left, a woman sipped a pink cocktail from a martini glass while her husband scrolled through his iPhone.
Bill Withers played in the background.
The look of the space—conceived in partnership with the architects at Storage Studio and the interior designers at Dimore Studio—is that of a carefully replicated 1960’s club room: wood, velvet, low-hanging light fixtures, like a perfectly serviceable boutique hotel lobby in a second-tier American city. You might say you could “see the work” in the design execution, the effort extolled in carefully spacing art books just so on the bookshelves that separate some tables or in selecting scattered objets d’art (or d’whatever the Italian equivalent of Pier 1 Imports is).
While not overwhelming, there is a lot to take in: oversized vases of exotic flowers, sketches hung in clusters of mismatched frames and heartthrobby waiters who uniformly speed walk back and forth from the kitchen, turning corners at such speed that an occasional collision seems inevitable—one that might send a €35 branzino careening across the floor until it lands on one of the intermittent patches of carpet dispersed throughout the dining area.
The staff is probably the closest link to the campy Dsquared2 POV as we’ve previously known it. Especially the male servers, dressed in black ties and white, short-sleeved button ups that seem to get tighter around the bicep, as if to make sure that we know that they know where the Ceresio 7 weight room is. Many were tattooed, all were exceedingly friendly and took at least as much care to smile and refill my glass of water as they must do with their perfectly symmetrical eyebrows.
The food? Good. The drinks? Strong. The view from the patio? Gorgeous. The overall feeling? You know, fine. Whereas Bar Luce exudes the whimsy of the best of Miuccia Prada’s work and the Emporio Armani Caffé makes guests feel like they, too, could be an American Gigolo, there’s nothing about Ceresio 7 to mirror the sexed-up absurdity of Dsquared2 to demonstrate what kind of lifestyle brand extension this is.
For a brand that has previously reveled in gleefully pushing their designs to the limits of good taste and well beyond, cosplaying as sophisticated is an odd look that doesn’t inspire emotion one way or another. Interestingly, that may actually lend their excessive tendencies a bit more value. The Catens can deliver generic near-refinement, but who wants them to? I’d rather roll my eyes than shrug any day.