It’s a short leap from wisteria to bathing caps, don’t you think? And from there to rain boots, rubber tubing, textured floor tiles and file cabinets. Perhaps this seems a stretch to you, but in the world of all-things-rubber, stretchiness is a given. I’m talking generally about the merchandise of one of Milan’s more amusing types of specialty shops—the rubber store—and more specifically about the king of them all, Moroni Gomma.
The first rubber store I ever laid eyes on had one ancient mind-boggling window display of brightly colored gum boots, rubber slippers for walking on the sea bottom and garden hoses. I didn’t make the connection. I asked my boyfriend: “What kind of store is this?” His reply—ever to the point: “Rubber.” Hmmm. Okay. “But this isn’t the best one,” he said, warming to his theme. “That would be Moroni Gomma, in Chinatown.”
Some time later, I went there, and was instantly enchanted. The store sits unglamorously at Via Giusti 10, simply filled with things that serve a rubbery or plasticky purpose. And like many Milanese stores that are nothing if not “true to themselves,” it convinced me after 5 minutes of browsing, that although it wasn’t glamorous in the conventional sense of the word, there was something terribly chic about it. Design and functionality being at the heart of most of the products, the lack of ambience quickly fades into insignificance. It’s just a fun place—what can I say?—though the people who work there tend to take rubber seriously.
If the Via Giusti store, much like a hardware store, fascinates me into wanting things that serve a technical purpose I can’t even identify, the new, flagship store in Corso Matteotti, 14 appeals to the fashionista in me. It too places an emphasis on design and function, but it is filled— floorboards to rafters—with items of a much less technical and more domestic nature. They’ve also allowed themselves to wander out of the realm of rubber into all other materials. It’s beautiful, chic, clever, expensive and worth a gander. But my heart belongs to the other store. Everyone and their brother sells “a little bit of everything,” but few are distinguished by focusing their efforts on products made from the sap of a tree.