The artisan vocation has always been deeply rooted in the Isola neighbourhood. Nearby factories and manufacturers of combs and soap required electricians, ironmongers and mechanics. Development of the district and commercial activity in the neighbourhood safeguarded traditional trades, which have been passed down to this day.
The Isola district is scattered with old workshops and walking along via Pastrengo or via Borsieri, you encounter historic ironmongers and carpenters, along with artisan workshops such as the Tintoria Pellami leather dying works in via Carmagnola, dating back to the ‘70s.
Here, old and new go hand in hand, and on via Pastrengo, in the courtyard of an old casa di ringhiera apartment building, is the workshop of two young luthiers: Gerardo Centonze and Daniele Bannino. Specialising in plucked and bowed string instruments, respectively, Gerardo and Daniele have founded a workshop infused with creativity and artisan expertise, with instruments everywhere, some part built, others under restoration.
Next there is Via de Castillia, home to Simona Colombini, who has created her showroom, Colombini Manufatti, in another evocative casa di ringhiera block. Employing ancient techniques reimagined with a contemporary touch, Simona creates faux-tapisserie wall decorations, fabrics and furnishings. Here, an old rubber roller can find a new lease of life, central in the creation of a collection of artisan fabrics to upholster furnishings matched with wall decorations.
You simply cannot visit the Isola district without a stop at Stecca 3, the new hub for the area’s artisans. Here you can find the Bricheco Falegnameria Sociale “social carpentry” project and the Ciclofficina bicycle workshop, both high-profile enterprises managed by expert volunteers and accessible through a membership scheme. These collaborative spaces welcome anybody wishing to build or repair furniture or bikes, respectively. There is a fresh, creative and inclusive spirit, with a keenness to learn.
Another must-see for those with a passion for craftsmanship is Ernesto Shop, located in the courtyard of local bar, Frida. This space contains Italian artisan products selected personally by the owner, with emerging brands, ceramics, tote bags, illustrations and jewellery, ensuring a visit is always engaging.
If you happen to be around during the Frida Market, a hugely popular event dedicated to all things handmade, you certainly won’t return home empty handed!
The Isola district welcomes you in but doesn’t reveal everything at once, and to properly discover it you should explore at a slow pace, getting lost amongst the buildings and courtyards, perhaps following the purple flags of the Isola Artigiana project, for an authentic itinerary far from the typical fast pace of Milanese life.