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- 26 Apr 2011
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The Verdict from Milan: Adventurous Design by Restrained Firms

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A Macaone table by Alessandro Mendini from 1985, reissued by Zanotta


The global design community spent last week digesting the tens of thousands of exhibits that were on display at the recent design week in Milan which ended last Sunday. Besides the headlining luxury event, Salone Internazionale del Mobile, up-and-coming furniture, design and interior studios were aplenty at the Fuorisalone fringe expos while the Public Design Festival bedecked the city with some unusually avant-garde concepts and creations.

Judging by the post-event figures provided by Cosmit, the organising company behind the Salone, there is some room for optimism in the high end of the sector. Carlo Guglielmi, Cosmit’s president, told Dezeen that the number of visitors (321,320) was up 2% on 2009, the last time that the Salone included the Euroluce pavilion, and suggested that business was brisk.

 We are well aware that substantial challenges lie ahead, and the need to keep striving for “quality” first and foremost 

“We are delighted with the way things have gone for this 50th edition of the Saloni. These results are a just reward for the commitment and dedication following 50 years of hard work. We haven’t the slightest intention of simply resting on our laurels now, however these figures are a spur for looking to the future and to future editions of the Saloni,” he said.

“[But] we are well aware that substantial challenges lie ahead, and the need to keep striving for “quality” first and foremost. This is a major challenge, one that not just the exhibiting companies, but we ourselves as organisers, have to face head on. We need to be ready to tackle it in the same spirit and with the same determination to succeed as we have shown over the last 50 years.”


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A bench by Tengbom & Gemla at ‘Swedish love stories’


Alice Rawsthorn, the International Herald Tribune’s esteemed design critic, was understandably more cautious in her assessment.

“The furniture companies, which come from all over the world to show at the fair, are equally fragile after three bruising years of recession,” she said. “There were 2,720 exhibitors in the “official” fair in the labyrinthine Rho fairground last week, up from 2,499 in 2010, according to the organizers Cosmit. Encouraging though this seemed, the underlying mood was restrained,” she wrote.


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Piero Lissoni’s chairs for Living Divani


Rawsthorn continued: “You might not have guessed it from the hordes of people thronging the Rho halls, or the carnivalesque booth of Kartell, one of Italy’s flagship furniture groups. Giant neon signs spelled out cheerfully trashy slogans like “Fresh Production” “Try It” and “The New Kartell Stars.” “Oh my God, it’s the Las Vegas Strip in Milan!” exclaimed one American visitor. But many major manufacturers had cut costs discreetly by introducing fewer new products than usual, in favor of extending their existing ranges.”

Characterising the event as one with a lot of “bravura”, she suggested that rather than a trade fair focused on sales “the fair has since become a global marketing bacchanal.” Rawsthorn did concede that one promising trend which came out of the latest edition was the rebirth of smaller family firms which have been assertive in developing new products in the face of a decline in their old markets . She cited Azucena from Italy, Maruni from Japan and the Dutch furniture maker Arco as examples of such companies worth commending for their R&D and designer collaborations.


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Bala tables by Jaime Hayon for Sé at Rossana Orlandi


As far as broad trends are concerned, the New York Times’s correspondent, identified a few that are worth mentioning. First that there are a number of upcoming designers to watch from the Balkans, in particular Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. She also cited “extreme upholstery”, sustainable materials and “totems”, but above all else a sense of nostalgia – partly thanks to the 50th anniversary of the Salone itself.

“[Exhibitors] revived works like Rafael Marquina’s widely copied 1961 oil and vinegar cruets (the Spanish company Mobles 114 is now manufacturing an authorized version). And they cast a new eye on pieces that were technologically ahead of their time, like Joe Colombo’s 4801 armchair (Kartell, a pioneer in high-end plastic furniture, is finally releasing it in plastic 47 years after first producing it in plywood)… Thanks to the Italian company Magis, Alessandro Mendini’s exuberant Proust armchair of 1978, which originally featured a baroque carved wood frame and hand-painted multicolored upholstery, is finding a life in plastic that will make it suitable for outdoor use,” she wrote of the retro trend.


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The Veliero’ bookcase, designed by Franco Albini in 1939, and put into production for the first time by Cassina now


Referring to exhibits by the likes of Baccarat and of Hermès’s new furniture collection (designed by Enzo Mari, Antonio Citterio and RDAI Studio), the author’s conclusion was that “this fair made it clear that after three years of skulking in the corners of a global recession, luxury is out and about [but that] the Hermès designers exercised extreme restraint, producing perfectly executed pieces with conventional lines and magnificent materials.”

 After three years of skulking in the corners of a global recession, luxury is out and about. 

Women’s Wear Daily featured an interesting report on the health of the homeware divisions of fashion brands such as Armani, Versace, Blumarine, Missoni, Ermenegildo Zegna and Missoni. Another piece in WWD outlined some of the standouts at the wider Milan design week including a few off the main event site and in fringe venues. Sebastian Brajkovic, Laurens Van Wieringen, Lala Lab, Jarrod Lim Design, Living Divani, Anne Kieffer, Tuyo Design Studio and VIJ5 were among those tapped for exceptional products this year.


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Baccarat’s ‘Candy’ lights by Jaime Hayon

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A lounge chair from Hermès Maison


And finally, Wallpaper’s editors saw fit to dedicate some precious column inches to the winners of this year’s W Hotels Designers of the Future Award, which they call “the annual accolade given to the most mould-breaking, discipline defying and conceptually vanguard creatives working in non-industrial or limited edition design”. The three winners were Asif Khan (London), Studio Juju (Singapore) and Mischer’Traxler (Vienna).

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‘Entre-deux’ by Konstantin Grcic for Azucena

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‘Husk’ by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia