A Fashion Designer’s Classic Milanese Aperitivo

In Milan, there’s one unofficial but very important entertaining rule: Never throw a party on a Saturday night. Monday through Friday, the city is brimming with creative people — the quiet engines running the design and fashion industries — but, when the weekend rolls around, they tend to leave for the nearby Swiss Alps or the Mediterranean coast. Weekdays are when the Milanese gather and the aperitivo, a postwork, pre-dinner cocktail hour, defines the city’s social life. “The Milanese are very busy,” says the fashion designer Damir Doma, 42, a native of Croatia who was raised in Germany and has been living in the northern Italian city since 2016. “Aperitivo brings everyone together for a short moment to have a drink and a chat.”

Doma believes that an aperitivo may also be a time to celebrate. It was a cold Thursday evening in early this year when Doma invited his friends and collaborators over to his apartment, located in the Porta Nuova district, to toast his two-year old label, Diomene. Many of the 30 or so guests are also members of what he calls his “Aperto” group — a network who meet regularly for early evening events he organizes in local bars with his friend Stephanie Barth, a creative director.

Doma, who moved to Milan eight years ago, never imagined how closely his personal and professional life would be intertwined. He’d made the decision to relocate from Paris — where he’d lived for nine years and founded his namesake brand in 2006 — strictly for work. In Paris, he’d become one of the youngest and most closely watched designers on the fashion week schedule and his concept-driven collections and deconstructed garments had won him a global following. Moving to Italy, he figured, would allow him to collaborate more closely with the people who actually produced his clothes — an aspect of the fashion industry he considered increasingly interesting. He has also established his personal life in Milan. He met Charlotte Rondeau Doma in 2016, and they have two children, Achilles (5 years) and Balthus (2 years). He began the next phase in his career by launching Diomene, in 2021. This was a year after he closed his previous label due to the economic turmoil of the pandemic.

The new line, which is quieter, more refined, and less impulsive than the first, features a collection of perfectly tailored shirting, embellished with flowers hand-stitched in Croatian embroidery inspired by his mother, and boxy, padded coats, filled with recycled Cashmere, instead of goosedown. “The goal is not to make something avant-garde, as I used to 15 years ago,” he says. “Then, I really tried to push my own boundaries and the boundaries of what was actually wearable.” Now, he says, he is more concerned with the quality and construction of a garment rather than how it might look on a runway.

He avoided the runway when he was first establishing the brand. Instead, he’d invite friends and a few select buyers into his living room where, sipping prosecco, they’d thumb through racks of clothing, seeing the handsome craftsmanship up close and getting a feel for the technical fabrics that he and his team developed from scratch. This week, during Milan men’s fashion week, Doma will finally inch back into the spotlight with a low-key presentation in an ex-industrial building close to Fondazione Prada, where he will launch the brand’s third collection, as well as a collaboration with the Venetian footwear brand Marsèll. “The project is growing, and there’s a limit to the amount of people I can invite to my house,” he says.

Even with the small group of guests, there was ample room to spread. Just before guests began to trickle in, the furniture designer Grace Prince arrived with a gift: a maple, soapstone and stainless-steel vase that Doma had commissioned for his wife’s birthday and planned to surprise her with that night. Many of the guests had become friends with the couple because they worked together in similar ways. Hugh Findletar of Jamaican descent, for example, was creating a Venetian Glass wall-hung Mask for the couple.

Early in the evening, guests mostly huddled in the dining room around the marble-topped Florence Knoll table, snacking on classic aperitivo fare — including springy balls of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced prosciutto and raw vegetables — and sipping Negroni Sbagliatos that Maurizio Stochetto, the current owner of Bar Basso, where the Sbagliato was invented in the ’70s, had swung by to mix for the group. Also on offer was a Ski Wasser cocktail, a tart mix of lemon juice, gin, seltzer and sweet raspberry syrup that the hosts often order après-ski while on holiday in the French alpine resort of Chamonix.

As the night wore on, the tapers flickering in splatter-painted candlesticks made by Doma’s mother burned down, causing the half-filled cocktail glasses to shine with a rosy glow. Guests shifted between the living room, where they lounged on Doma’s vintage Carlo Scarpa-designed sofa set, and the balcony, which overlooks the neighborhood’s dense grid of Rationalist-style high-rises. Aperitivos are never too late. The guests usually leave around 9 or 10. A few may stay around for a while longer. As it happened that night, only a few friends remained until 11pm to help with the clearing of plates. The rest went off into the evening. Doma gives his tips on hosting a classic Milanese cocktail party.

Doma and Barth merely inform the WhatsApp group of over 100 people dedicated to their Aperto event in order to rally guests. “Everyone really enjoys the fact that it’s so easy,” he says. “You come, you don’t come — it’s not a big deal.”

Doma and Rondeau Doma hired Bar Basso’s team to serve cocktails at their reception for their wedding in Geneva. Years later, they still consider Maurizio Stachetto to be a good friend. When they organize an aperitivo, he’s been known to show up with a stocked bar, just for fun.

At several points in the evening, Doma and Rondeau-Doma’s sons sneaked out of their beds to run laps around the party. The younger son managed to run faster than his parents despite being in a sleep sack with animal prints.

When hosting his regular Aperto nights, Doma often chooses artists to create what he calls “little souvenirs” that guests can purchase as a memento of the party. Past items included printed T-shirts and collaged key chains. “It doesn’t have to be complicated and shouldn’t cost more than 40 or 50 euros,” he says. “Everyone should be able to afford it.”

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