Max Bernadinis Luxury Vintage store in Milan is chock-a-block with faultlessly chic, infinitely covetable old stuff, says Oar Pali
Max Bernadini’s Luxury Vintage store in Milan is chock-a-block with faultlessly chic, infinitely covetable old stuff, says O’ar Pali
In Milan, a few steps from the Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to Leonardo’s The Last Supper, lies a negozio which in its own right houses a charming array of past riches. Max Bernardini’s Luxury Vintage store in Milan is a treasure trove of period Vuitton, Goyard and crocodile trunks, Hermès accessories and various curiosities, from one-of-a-kind silver pieces from Italy’s twenty-year fascist era to an impeccable collection of vintage watches.
Once you have been buzzed through the two front doors, you will quickly find yourself transported into a bygone era as you are greeted by the store’s maggiordomo (butler), a glass of refreshment and, of course, Bernardini himself.
If you thought luxury was dead, a quick visit to this half-showroom, half-gentleman’s club should help you change your attitude. First rule of the house — as Bernardini will kindly remind you — is that luxury requires you to take your time and appreciate it, so I am encouraged to sit down in a leather Chesterfield sofa, finish my refreshment and partake in some pleasantries before being shown around the store.
Bernardini’s experience extends to more than twenty years in the business. He started as a collector in the 1980s and later bought the family jewellery business from his father Franco, adding watches as a centrepiece and making vintage luxury goods the frame for his ‘watch world’.
Whoever owned a Patek Philippe Calatrava watch in 1939, he explains, would also have travelled with Louis Vuitton trunks and a beauty case made by Hermès. The suave Bernardini therefore seems to have made it his mission to re-teach this dying art of vintage di lusso.
‘If I had to give an explanation of what luxury vintage is, this office bar would be it,’ he exclaims enthusiastically, as he holds up three Baccarat bottles bound together by a signature orange-leather Hermès strap. ‘These are two top luxury brands coming together to produce one unique vintage piece,’ he coos. ‘You do not need this…’ But you might deserve.
There is, however, no denying that Bernardini’s true passion is his watches. His voice gets a little huskier and lower when he speaks of his collection, as if he is about to let you into a secret. Flipping through a book of his most notable past pieces, his tone is reminiscent of a man looking through a photo album of ex-girlfriends.
He stops at a Patek Philippe 1939 and comments that ‘this one here was bought by a client for his one-year-old grandson a few years back’. He looks at it again as if remembering something and smiles. ‘He has been acquiring vintage watches for the young boy each year ever since. At first I thought it was rather eccentric, but then I realised that by the time that kid is eighteen he will have eighteen super watches worth a fortune.’
His clientele is very important to Bernardini, whose store is visited by appointment only and has even been known to turn away a would-be client or two. The deal-breaker, as he continually reminds you, is a flashy show-off. His perfect client is low-key, has a passion for finery and is willing to learn.
When he speaks this way it is easy to see why he gets a little nervous about his decision to join the LuxuryVintage.net project, the website dedicated to luxury vintage, which will launch in November. The internet does not allow the close relationships he has grown accustomed to when meeting his clients and forming a connection with them. Hence Bernardini is adamant in stating that LuxuryVintage.net is not the store’s website, but simply a tool to help him introduce viewers to the luxury-vintage world and other trusted vintage dealers.
Although he does not deal in luxury vintage cars, for example, a vintage collector interested in watches and trunks may also be attracted to old automobiles. LuxuryVintage.net would connect such aficionados with the right sources and create a forum for vintage lovers.
Nevertheless, in the LuxuryVintage.net philosophy, not all Bernardini’s objects are available for viewing. The site limits the selection depending on how you answer the interest questions when you first register — and, of course, on your targeted price range. The most expensive and exclusive items are accessible only by invitation.
‘This shop is like a dream come true for me,’ Bernardini confesses — and if you have seen the store, with its array of toys for the big boys, you would understand why.
As I make my way from a small leather travel bar-set, designed for the Prince de Polignac, to a Louis Vuitton signature monogrammed suitcase converted into a sunbathing accessory holder for yachts that have everything, I conclude that the store could easily be a dream come true for many well-educated men who come to Milan in hope of finding that special something they can’t find anywhere else.
‘Do you know what the difference between a wealthy man now and then, is?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘A wealthy man then had no job other than to enjoy his luxuries and be wealthy. Today’s man, well, you know… who has the time?’
Then, taking hold of a Cuban cigar, he asks mischievously: ‘Would you consider it rude?’ in such a charming manner that even if it were, one would have to consent. At the first sign of acquiescence he takes out a super-sleek Hermès gold-rimmed cigar cutter circa 1950s. When he catches me admiring the piece he smiles and jokes: ‘No guillotines here.’
Perhaps I have seen too many mobster movies, but a cigar-cutter instantly evokes images of finger-chopping. His slim little device, however, is so delicate that the frame looks hardly fit to cut a cigar, although the sharp blades quickly prove me wrong.
‘Un oggetto chic’ — a chic object — he exclaims. This is precisely the beauty of a luxury-vintage piece: its efficiency does not prevent it from being smart, and you never have to worry about someone else owning the exact same one. It is truly unico.
Bernardini, a self-declared ‘lover of women’, has plans to expand his store in the next couple of years to include a ladies’ collection; after all, why should boys have all the fun?
Bernardini explains that he is a great admirer of the way that men ‘then’ used to behave and dress like men, and women like women. ‘There was a style and a specific set of rules and values,’ he explains, something that he hopes to bring back through his Luxury Vintage store.
I ask if the idea of extending his collection harks back to the time when he was working in his father’s shop. ‘No, that was awful,’ he says. ‘That was jewellery.’
Seeing my puzzled expression, he clarifies: ‘I was not that great at my father’s business, as we had women’s jewellery and watches and… I used to give it away.’ He looks up coyly amid his now ultra-masculine showroom and says: ‘It wasn’t great for business.’
Bernardini Luxury Vintage
Via Caradosso 2, 20123 Milano
Tel: (+39) 02 4802 4966
Fax (+39) 02 4800 2340