Design, Identity, Community: Milo Occhipinti and Unseen

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In 2016 I came back to Milan, after a working experience in London. I went on to be part of bar teams such as MaG, 1930, Eppol and contributed to the opening of Dhole, in the Porta Romana district. Running my own bar had always been on top of my bucket list, until 2018: believe it or not, I literally dreamt what the layout of Unseen would have been. I woke up, drew what I had dreamt on a piece of paper, and that was the beginning. And to be honest, very little changes happened from that moment: I had originally thought of it with a secluded booth for eventual guests looking for some intimacy, instead of sharing the big central table. But I got rid of it before opening in 2020, because it would have meant compromising. And Unseen does not compromise on anything. 

Unseen represents my ultimate idea of what a night place should be. Sharing, socialising, hosting, all merging into their maximum possibilities. Plus, the wow effect, that many bars are equipped with, but only very few can express. I did not invent anything from scratch, I’m just valorising some aspects that bars already have. It’s a brutal concept, somehow extreme, with no shortcuts or grey area. If you pop in for a visit, you have no other choice but diving into the place’s ideology: you can’t be on your own, as the only seats available are around one shared table; you can’t drink classics, as the drinks on the menu are your only options. 

I strongly believe in the zodiac. I’m a Gemini, which means I hide multiple personalities. Unseen is one of them, the underground, niche, alternative side of me. I experienced exclusion in my life and having reached my maturity I thought of my diversity as something to embrace. When I designed Unseen, I was fuelled by that feeling of wanting to be different, to create a space that could host whoever feels they don’t belong. I wanted to outline a place, a community for people that feel at the edge of society, for whichever reason. Unseen is something different, that aims to include anyone who feels different.

And on top of that, the experience stands out, in a market that influences the never ending clash between what something looks like, and what something actually is. I know Milan quite well, it’s an environment where form is essential. I myself, as a professional, deeply care about the final product, and grew into appreciating both aspects equally. My nature pushes for aesthetics, my experience pulls towards content: Unseen strides for both, providing superior quality in unique design, like a present box that carries a gem.

On the other end, I’m aware it’s not a place for everybody: I cannot please one hundred percent of the people that come in, but on that big majority of the crowd that like Unseen, it has an explosive effect, much more powerful than what a place trying to meet anyone’s demands might have. It leaves an unerasable mark on you, if you get in the mood and accept to be part of it, you come out of it with some urge to tell everyone about it, to come back.

My guests are exactly the ones I was expecting, during the creative process before the opening of Unseen. I profiled my average guest and designed the environment around it. Unseen is a meeting place for extremely creative human beings, operating in fashion, music, visual arts, design; that’s exactly what I wanted. It’s not exclusive to them, but similar personalities tend to stick together, it’s the whole concept of community. Unseen’s brand has been designed to perfectly fit and work together with other creative minds. I try to apply to hospitality what’s already established amongst fashion brands: a collaboration that completely merges two concepts, into a final product. A contamination. I did that with my beer, my packaging. It means transcending our operational environments and reaching a broader audience.  

And it covers the whole experience here. Unseen’s drinks are aesthetic, graphic, and visual. Flavours are not conventional, everything is absolutely coherent with a retro-nostalgic feeling about the early 2000’s, and you can see it in coasters, garnishes, music. It’s the message that Unseen communicates in every way, from walls to social media: a positive notalgia, that makes you feel like you are familiar with it, triggers a positive emotional reaction. More than anything else, as the name discloses, it’s what you don’t see, the real point. Unseen is the exact question the guests should ask themselves: when they don’t recognize any traditional bar landmarks (I have no bottles, bar, labels), their brains start working, they are caught off guard. But that stall only lasts seconds, then we come into play and make them feel comfortable in this new setting, which has its own rules. 

A lot of my activity revolves around social media, Instagram specifically. I’ll run the risk of sounding arrogant, but I think I’m the smartest social media user, when it comes to bars in Italy. I’m exploiting the platform’s power, creating constant hype, without showing drinks or anything related to a bar: cocktails are actually not going to be the final product I’m offering, so why post about it? This philosophy is coherent with the bar’s mood, is unconventional and puts the whole bar, with its truly unique bathroom, lights, videos, at the centre of guests’ attention, as it should be. I really don’t see why other bars didn’t do the same before; but it’s probably for the same reason no other bar removed bottles and labels, so far. 

I opened Unseen in Italy, but that’s actually one of the most hostile environments I could have ever thought of: my country has not been that open to the idea, I spent two tiring years waiting for mainstream to digest this new way of hospitality. Italy is a conservative nation, not compatible with me nor Unseen, as I experienced in the past and I still am now. As soon as I had a glimpse of the anglo-saxon market, through guest shifts and events, my concept was immediately understood. So next Unseen will be abroad: it’s not another dream this time, it’s a plan. 

Milo Occhipinti