When I got back from the Milan Design Fair (Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano), my head was spinning from all the stunning products and concepts I saw there and its taken awhile to go through it all. I was told that in a city used to big extravaganzas, the Salone is the biggest event of all!
The 2012 edition, held the third week of April, was the fair’s 51st. Since its launch in 1961, it has become the largest trade fair of its kind in the world, with over 2700 exhibitors gathered in the Rho area of Milan. Picture a mega-convention centre comprising 22 buildings, and you begin to get an idea. It’s so gigantic, there are moving sidewalks to move visitors through the Fair.
I knew the Fair was big, but I was unprepared for the sheer quantity of things there were to see…and that was just in the Fair itself. In the city centre, all the design showrooms were open as well, launching new products, staging events, and mounting special presentations and exhibitions. And of course, this being Italy, there were many evening galas and extravaganzas as well.
As part of my visit, I spent a day touring the Brera and Lambrate districts of Milan. Brera is well known for its design showrooms, many of which are tucked away. The up-and-coming Lambrate district is an industrial area, and with its lower rents has attracted a mix of showrooms, art studios and the like. The Lambrate Ventura is an exhibition of cutting-edge designers; some of the ones whose work particularly struck me were Lee Broom, the much-lauded young British designer whose exhibit entitled “Public House” featured a range of lighting and furniture; Han Gallery (a design gallery from Taiwan whose creative director is Gijs Bakker, one of the principals from Droog), who had a display entitled Yii, a combination of “art” and production pieces from a selection of different designers; and an exhibit by the ubiquitous Jamie Haydon showing many of his iconic pieces.
In Brera, I visited the showrooms of Wall & Deco, with its original and arresting range of wall coverings, wall murals and textures; Arcade, which creates beautiful glass accessories; and Paolo Lenti’s stunning display of sculptural exterior furniture – their use of colour was breathtaking.
Over in the fashion district, the fashion house Marni’s pop-up showroom featured a display of one-off colourful chairs, each one handwoven from PVC by Colombian prisoners. And one of my favourite exhibits was at Wait and See, an eclectic and edgy fashion and housewares boutique: a fanciful, interesting exhibit entitled Balanced by the Viennese designers Micher Traxler.
Some of the many great companies showing at the Fair included Nomon (from Barcelona), whose beautiful and original clock designs really stood out to me. Their designs, consisting of wire and metal sculptural constructions, are deceptively simple, but real showpieces. I also really liked the work of Magis, which creates furniture designs, including Marc Newson’s moulded plastic rocking horse as part of its children’s furniture line.
And what about the things I didn’t get to see, but wish I had? Droog’s exhibit, called “material matters,” was a concept for a furniture fair of the future, featuring 20 design companies (real and imagined) that might thrive in a changed economic environment that featured a tax on raw materials. There was the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci called “Most,” initiated by design guru Tom Dixon with an exhibit of lighting called Luminosity. And one of my favourite designers, Faye Toogood, mounted a combination performance art/audience participation exhibit involving shaping clay and Nivea skincare products. (Wonder what that was all about?)
Ironically, the biggest yawn of the Fair to my mind attracted the most attention: the collaboration of Philippe Starck with Lenny Kravitz, who worked with six Kartell Mademoiselle armchairs reissued by the Kravitz Design Team, draped with animal skins.
I have to say that the miles and miles of exhibits at the Fair eventually came to exhaust me. I consider my visit this year to have been an act of acclimatizing myself to the sheer volume of the Fair. Next year when I go again, I resolve to really PLAN my time—and perhaps I’ll get to see more than just a small sliver of all the wonderful things there are to see there!