ADVENTURES IN MILAN by Marianne Russell


Marianne Russell and Rodrigo Rodriquez, owner of Material Connexion in Italy and former board member of ADF (Arango Design Foundation).

Adventures in Milan during Salone del Mobile and Design Week 2017.

As owner of arango design store in SOMI, I am often asked: “Where do you find all these beautiful things?”

The answer expresses the joy of visiting Milan, a truly dynamic city, annually hosting Salone del Mobile, an international furniture design fair revealing the most recent concepts and technologies in industrial design.

Milan is best known for its beautiful Duomo in the city center, and the adjacent unique glass covered Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, filled with luxury stores and restaurants. Nearby is La Scala, one of the world’s most famous opera houses.


Front of Memphis store in Milan

No matter where you wander, Milan is filled with historic palaces, gardens, courtyards and quaint winding streets. Strolling Via della Spiga, you might meet Giorgio Armani, one of many industry designers making Milan the fashion capital, as well as the financial center of Italy.

Milan’s neighborhoods are booming with new buildings by “Starchitects”. In City Life area the late Dame Zaha Hadid completed several condominiums, and a mix-use tower is to open later this year. Next door, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki’s elegant office building will be completed by 2018, and there are plans for buildings by Daniel Liebeskind and Renzo Piano.  Near Piazza Gae Aulenti, named for female industrial design pioneer, stands award-winning Bosco Verticale, designed by Stefano Boeri, son of Cini Boeri, another important architecture and industrial design trailblazer. The 2 residential towers of Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forrest) are covered with 17000 trees, shrubs and plants. The lush vegetation filters air, protecting the residents from radiation and noise pollution, while enhancing their quality of life.

Every April, Milan becomes the center of the universe for the global Industrial Design community. Manufacturers, buyers, architects, designers, students and journalists, from 165 countries, attend Salone del Mobile, centered at the FieraMilano fairgrounds, a 25 minute train ride from the city center. The fair hosts more than 370,000 visitors and 2000 exhibitors in 25 large pavilions with over 1.6 million sq feet exhibition space. This year the fair included Euroluce, presenting a special focus on lighting design.

Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri

Covering the entire fair is an overwhelming task. Aside from fair pavilions, over 500 exhibitions and events take place throughout the city. These FuoriSalone or “outside” events are staged in unique venues, combining innovative product design, technology, and art in creative, inspiring, and thought provoking installations. Free guidebooks help visitors navigate the maze.

I planned a week-long trip, including travel time, which allowed 5 full working days. My routine spent days at the fair, seeing outside events in the evenings. It has been estimated that experiencing everything incorporating the fair would require 6 weeks!

My friend, lighting designer, Pablo Pardo exhibited at Euroluce for the first time with a beautiful presentation close to well-known manufacturer Flos, who had one of the largest and best designed installations. Flos featured sculptural LED lamps, by Amsterdam based Studio Formafantasma, and creative new lighting by Michael Anastassiades, Bouroullec Brothers, and Nendo, whose presence was “everywhere”. Jill Sander emptied their entire showroom to host “nendo invisible outlines” a stunning installation that had crowds standing in line for hours. Similarly, crowds gathered for an extraordinary lighting exhibition by Tokujin Yoshioka, sponsored by LG in the Tortona district.

Gaku lamp by Nendo

Big corporations teaming up with designers created spectacular installations on the campus at Università degli Studi di Milano; in a series called Material Immaterial, one wing hosted “Be Brasil” exhibition, with work by a group of Brazilian designers.

American design was well represented by Knoll with a tribute to Florence Knoll, and in the SaloneSatellite pavilion, dedicated to designers under 35, with student work from Rhode Island School of Design.

While FuoriSalone events did not disappoint, “inside” manufacturers were referencing “safe” mid-century furniture representing “good taste”. These designs are fast becoming “generic” and boring. Philippe Starck, who 20 years ago exclaimed, “the world does not need another chair” naughtily titled a new piece for Kartell “Generic Chair”. Although elegant clean interiors were still prominent, there was an underlying message: “minimalism is dead“, and a search for “something new and different”. Velvet covered sofas and chairs were courageously shown in bright colors with clear reference to the 1980’s Memphis movement; 2017 is also the 100th year since the birth of Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass the founder of Memphis.

There are many temptations for a buyer in such a large market, and one is fortunate to discover products that truly represent the best industrial design, yet this is only a beginning. Design presented at the fair may or may not evolve to production, and there can be disappointment when strong concepts fall short of expectations. Still each year I cannot wait to return to Milan, if only to feel the strong pulse of creativity at Design Week and the Salone del Mobile!


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