On 4 December 1950 the new Milanese branch of La Rinascente was inaugurated in Piazza del Duomo, following the extensive damage suffered during the war. The five-storey building was meant to win the ambitious challenge of modernity, with the daring goal of overcoming its own achievements. Hence it presented itself as an avant-garde entity in the distribution scene, and implemented the altruistic goal of offering a project that promoted cultural growth to both the Milanese and the Italian public. Architect Carlo Pagani was appointed to design the interior architecture and furnishings, in addition to entrances and windows. He said, «As regards the internal distribution and the floor plan concept, the Milanese branch completely broke free of the past, which still held onto an orthogonal Cartesian design that gave more importance to distributing the public rather than enhancing the merchandise. Hence, we abandoned the conventional European Department Store with its extremely wide straight aisles and stiffly schematic easy layout devoid of surprises and creative flair, and sought dynamics that would psychologically stimulate the client by enhancing the merchandise with an adequate selection for the display» (Noi e voi, Us and You, Arch. Carlo Pagani’s speech at the International Congress of Builders of European Department Stores, May 1966).

The American free-floor layout was adapted to the special needs and available space of the Milanese department store. Although the interior décor mainly followed the principle of characterising the various departments and identifying the merchandise, its formal decorative expression remained faithful to the traditional Italian taste, which refuses all excess, and sought a «new wealth of an innovative drive» without renouncing the practical need for flexibility and, especially, without forgetting the overall unitary aspect. Modern functionality, exaltation of merchandise, guide and attraction for the public throughout their consumption and purchase experience: these are the project’s underlying principles, besides innovative formal and aesthetic care of the spaces (e.g., the decorative strip designed by Fabrizio Clerici to draw out the precious features of the lingerie and linen department).

As Fulvio Irace said, «To avoid the traditional criteria of alignment and uniformity, Pagani focused on creating a heterogeneous sequence of rooms to convey the impression of small specialised stores. He especially exploited colour and light to create special settings and atmospheres. Over the years, the creativity of many designers was integrated into this structural layout. Munari, for instance, even merged the surrealist influence into fittings for the household sector by presenting the merchandise as trophies, treasured museum items, objet trouvé with Dadaist traits: “an upturned broom with moustaches acquired more importance” (we read in an interview with Bruno Munari in 1981)».

Beside Bruno Munari, several other architects and designers were called to conceive and implement interior and department fittings, special decorations and department signs, stands and boxes to enhance the merchandise, often using special custom-made display cabinets according to the actual needs stated by the art direction. These interventions were all inserted with unitary consistency into broader projects of a coordinated image defined by the communication plans. The important fittings promoted by La Rinascente for special reviews and sale displays require a special consideration, such as the Great lR Events, or exhibitions associated with Compasso d’Oro Award for Product Aesthetics, organised in the city’s historical locations, like the halls of Palazzo Reale or Palazzo Serbelloni, and the World Trade Fair in New York, with fittings by Franco Albini, in 1957.

Contributions to the creation of this «magical box» - citing the words used by Pagani to describe the Milanese department store, a temple of consumption and of new aesthetic pleasure - come from Albe Steiner’s modern visual culture; the unforgettable fittings by Architect Gian Carlo Ortelli; fittings centred on school or ethnic settings that pay tribute to Africa by Architect Rosanna Monzini; the graphic design of modular drawings for the youth target by Ettore Mariani; fittings and materials conceived by Giancarlo Iliprandi for special initiatives, such as decorations with fabric banners for the seasonal event known as Lilion Snia Viscosa alla Rinascente. And again, projects by Architect Paola Lanzani who, together with her daughter Piercarla Toscano Lanzani Racchelli, designed several interior, exterior and window fittings for lR and Upim branches in many cities and for Croff stores. She remarked, «I and my daughter Piercarla, who is also an architect, were convinced that large spaces had to be designed and fitted out with a playful and dynamic look, with special design features and a suggestive image, besides the functional layout. […] I was requested to ensure powerful consistency between design, budget and investment profitability, with strictly defined limitations, which I always find stimulating. Designing the layout for large spaces fascinated me. I interpreted the process as 3D writing because spaces were made up of modular elements with organised paths and areas and a study of the overall context, design, colours and materials». To document this extraordinary season of rebirth and development experienced by the Department Store, we propose a selection of photographs, preparatory studies, sketches and excerpts of dossiers with handwritten notes for interior décor projects implemented by La Rinascente from the 1950s to the 1980s.