When it comes to sheer numbers, media coverage, creative thinking and financial input, Milan Design Week has topped the charts for a long time. It began 57 years ago with Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a furniture fair now held at the city's Rho fairground, which received some 400,000 visitors in 2018. During the last six decades, the fair has been at the heart of a week-long celebration of all things design, with solo and group installations, and exhibition districts including Tortona, Brera, Lambrate and now Isola.
This year, Milan Design Week ran from April 17 to 22 and, as always, was the launch pad for countless new collections. Perspective travelled to the Italian design capital to report on the newest trends, products, talents and installations that wowed the crowds.
The designs, collections and exhibitions at Milan Design Week provided a glimpse of what's to come. Common themes at this year's fair soon became apparent
Shades of blue
Along with warm ochre reds and brilliant mango yellows, jewel-like blues were a strong feature at this year's Design Week. Portuguese brand Munna presented chairs in cobalt and teal velvet; Sé's Eos table stood out in ultramarine blue; Cassina showcased its limited-edition Taliesin armchair by Frank Lloyd Wright in a deep, almost midnight blue; and then there was Marc Ange's giant Le Roi installation clad in a popping, royal blue.
A material world
There weren't many innovations in terms of products or engineering at the fair, but many brands showed existing products in new hues or novel materials. Indeed, materials were the subject of real exploration by both old houses and new names. Architectural graduate Silvia Ariemma and her newly established Turin-based studio Editamateria focused on playing with different kinds of wood, using entirely natural oils to colour them black, red and pink. The effect was striking, letting the grain shine through while giving each piece a lovely wash of colour. Timothy Oulton explored natural vegetable dyes; Hugues Chevalier experimented with glossy rosewood. Etro Home, ClassiCon and Glas Italia chose to mix and match various materials for an eclectic style.
Marble was everywhere at Milan Design Week and, livening things up a little, the stone was anything but white: green, blue, earthy red. It added a fine finish to a dining table by Piero Lissoni at ClassiCon, and chic style to a coffee table by Philippe Starck at Cassina. Citco, a marble supplier, celebrated its product in a variety of colours and forms through works by Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid Architects, Daniel Libeskind and Ora-ïto. The stone was also a star of the show at Gianfranco Ferré, Salvatori and Roberto Cavalli Home.
Two’s a team
Design is often a collaborative process, where teamwork sparks creativity and exciting new ideas. Various brands working with out-of-house designers and even architects has produced some memorable results, as have those that have worked with suppliers of new and unusual materials. At Bottega Veneta, creative director Tomas Maier continued his collaboration with Italian designer Osanna Visconti di Modrone, introducing three cylindrical lights, made using a lost-wax casting technique. Meanwhile, Kartell collaborated with print maestro JJ Martin, founder of La DoubleJ, to give its existing pieces a whole new look. Eye-poppingly patterned textile-clad chairs and tables took on a whole new dimension. French art deco brand Hugues Chevalier also presented pieces that were the result of a fab French collaboration with textile brand Lelièvre and designer Reda Amalou.
Salone del Mobile is all about business; a place for brands to showcase their products and new technologies. But it was on Milan's streets and palazzos where the real magic happened. Here, furniture makers, fashion houses, architectural practices, design firms and automobile companies flexed their creative muscles. Perspective explored some of this year's most eye-catching and imaginative exhibitions and installations
Colourmorphosis at Hermès Maison
For 2018, the French luxury brand went polychromatic, putting the emphasis on its longterm relationship with colour through a vibrant installation at the Museo della Permanente. Conceived by Charlotte Macaux Perelman, deputy artistic director at Hermès Maison, and curator and publisher Alexis Fabry, the display presented the brand's new home collections within 'houses' whose walls were clad in Moroccan zillege tiles in shades including magenta, teal, mango and celadon. Elsewhere in the city, Hermès took to the streets, with street artists decorating the pavements of Milan with works inspired by patterns drawn from the new Hermès Maison wallpaper collection.
Lasvit’s Monsters Cabaret
Czech glass brand Lasvit went all playful, exhibiting a collection of fantastical glass creatures conjured up by some of the design minds the brand works with. The 19th-century Teatro Gerolamo provided a dramatic setting for the Monster Cabaret exhibition, which included Outer Space Monsters by the Campana Brothers, Something Underneath by Nendo, BHSD by Maarten Baas, and Maurizio Galante and Tal Lancman's mirror covered with teeth, scales and eyes. Scary!
Stranger pinks by Artemest
In partnership with TED Milano, online Italian craft platform Artemest hosted an enchanting exhibition of artisanal pieces in a beautiful 1930s villa. Titled Stranger Pinks, the exhibition featured one-of-a-kind creations from vases and wallpapers to dressing tables, everything in a variety of pinks.
Noble Souls by Timothy Oulton
British furniture brand Timothy Oulton presented Noble Souls as part of Brera Design Week, a Fuorisalone event hosted by Brera Design District. Beginning with a 250-million-year-old rock crystal and a bespoke spaceship finished in leather, fur and alabaster, the installation moved on to two short films about makers and making. The inner sanctum was the brand's 'Indigo Cathedral', where the craft-driven Noble Souls collection of deliciously comfortable sofas, hand-blown lights and reclaimed-timber tables offered a heavenly retreat from the noise of the city.
Le Roi by Sunbrella and Marc Ange
Le Roi was on show at Wallpaper* Handmade, taking pride of place in the garden. This installation was a collaboration between designer Marc Ange and Sunbrella, and consisted of Ange's Refuge lamps and Les Araignées (spider) chairs standing attention in front of a giant, sad, teddy-bear king. Ange's tearful, 4m-high bear was clad in cobalt-blue Sunbrella fabric, which stayed brilliant and bright, despite the fierce sun that beat down on Milan Design Week 2018.
The Diner by David Rockwell + Surface
During Milan Design Week, The Diner popped up in a deserted warehouse underneath Milan's Central Station. David Rockwell, Surface magazine and studio 2×4 worked together on this concept, creating a vibrant , temporary restaurant that celebrated the optimism of the American diner, looking at the forms it takes from the East to West Coast. Various design brands contributed, too, including Bisazza, Electrolux and Cosentino, which made the curving, 14m Silestone bar, and Design Within Reach, which supplied furniture.
Strip it to its roots and design is, essentially, about people. It's important, then, to pay attention to those behind the designs. We look at some of the names who made waves at this year's show – from the established to the new and noteworthy
The Spanish designer's work was everywhere at Milan Design Week this year. Cassina, Kartell, Louis Vuitton, Swarovski and Cappellini were just some of the brands showing new pieces by Urquiola, both at the fair and elsewhere. Moroso in particular has a long-standing relationship with her, stretching over 20 years. A new sofa, Chamfer (below), celebrates their relationship. "We decided to work on a simplification of a series of echoes from projects done in the past, linking up for example to Redondo and other sofas, which for us represented a sort of cradle or nest," says Urquiola.
Nada Debs hails from Beirut, but spent much of her life living in Kobe, Japan, which has given her a one-off world view and a delicate design sensibility. She made her Milan solo debut at Galleria Rossana Orlandi with Up Close & Personal, where she demonstrated her dedication to contemporising craft. "Today, the discussion around craft and craftsmanship is as loud as ever, but too often it's taken too seriously. I want to begin a new dialogue around craft that has room for playfulness and joy too," she says.
Ini Archibong is truly a global citizen: born to Nigerian parents who immigrated to the US, he lives there as well as Singapore and Switzerland. He studied at ECAL in Switzerland, the ArtCenter College of Design in the States, and has taught at the National University of Singapore. Perhaps that is why Archibong is fascinated by world religions (alongside mathematics and philosophy), something that comes through in the exquisitely crafted Below the Heavens collection for Sé, where elements of Greek mythology come through in pieces such as the Circe sofa and the Athena table lamp.
London-based Australian designer Brodie Neill once again brought his passion for natural materials to Brera Design Week with additions to his simple yet distinctive Made in Ratio collection, including the Focus tables made of smooth slate and carved oak. He is perhaps best-known for using recycled plastic pulled from beaches and the ocean to make what he calls "ocean terrazzo", which he uses in the stunning Gyro table. His efforts have seen him being sought after by the the United Nations: he recently spoke at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and UN Environment's Sixth International Marine Debris Conference.
This is an excerpt from "A week in Milan”, a feature article from the June issue of Perspective magazine.
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