With record numbers attending Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile, its reputation as the most important design fair was confirmed again. Shuttling across the city, Monocle caught up with the key industry players to get an insight into the state of the market, discover the latest products and report on up-and-coming trends. Swarms of buyers, designers, clients and press descended on this year’s Milan furniture fair to do business. Unfazed by the crush, Monocle sent its team of journalists to report on the event (visit monocle.com for our filmed dispatches). We visited the firms featured in our preview, discovering a host of new wonders on the way. “It’s been years since we last saw such a Salone,” said Carlo Giorgetti, president of Italian furniture giant Giorgetti of the event. His stand was so busy that access was restricted at peak times.
In our preview, we tipped Robin Rizzini’s RR01 sofa as a standout piece of design, so we weren’t surprised to see the crowds vying to test it out during the fair. With its all-in-one plastic shell, tubular metal support frame and soft furnishings, the sofa took a year to develop and marks a new style direction for MDF. “We experimented a lot with the shell and cushions, and wanted to create a luxurious feel,” says Rizzini, as he lifts up the upholstery and strokes the frame. The key elements of experimentation and craftsmanship remain at the heart of MDF Italia.
Curious people pick up Stefan Diez’s 404 chair, eager to try it out at Thonet’s busy stand. “I love this chair,” says one passer-by. Diez smiles. “My legs were like jelly and I was nervous about seeing the full collection. You never really know what the actual product will look like,” he says. Philipp Thonet, director of international sales, is equally pleased. “We are really busy. It feels like there is double the number of people this year,” he says, dodging the crowds.
Rodolfo Dordoni is sipping water backstage at the disco-style Cassina stand. It’s hot, and Dordoni has been juggling appointments all morning. But he takes it in his stride: “I am a designer. We work all the time,” he says. His collection of tables and chairs for Cassina, Boboli and Pilotta is understated and elegant. The Boboli table, available in a variety of geometrical bases and tops, has a playful, marine theme. The Pilotta chairs, crafted from open-pore ashwood, are discrete and light. The classic, simple forms draw on the heritage of Italian carpentry. Dordoni believes in the strength of the Italian design industry, despite the threat of prowling copycat artists. “The Italian industry will be forced to develop the quality of the Italian concept,” he says.
President Carlo Molteni sips an espresso. “People learn to come to this fair. The Germans don’t seem to attend so often,” he observes. Molteni has a sharp eye for a good reason. He oversees the company’s four separate divisions: Molteni & C, Dada, Unifor and Citterio. Long term, he wants to strengthen and consolidate the business. “I want each division to meet the same standard worldwide,” he says. Reinvention is Molteni & C’s strength. The Gliss 5th wardrobe system, designed in-house, is an ingenious take on storage. The back support has grooves where shelves can be slotted in as desired, creating up to 30 per cent more space than a traditional wardrobe. “We have made this wardrobe flexible, so that you can change it internally without calling a supplier,” says Molteni.
Around 70 per cent of Tacchini’s business is contract work, but this doesn’t stop the products from being heart-stoppingly beautiful. Eager to collaborate with international designers, Giusi Tacchini, director of the family-run business, has turned for the first time to Swedish design studio Claesson Koivisto Rune to create two new collections. The Misura S/M/L/XL chair system is for hotels. With a fashion-based sizing system denoting their different proportions, the chairs have been designed to fit snugly into any type of public space. The Split table collection has an equally wide variety of forms, making it suitable for any home, office, bar or restaurant. “We have listened to the demands of our market. People want the same product in different sizes and proportions to create a more tailored solution,” says Tacchini. The armchair is also making a comeback. Giving us every reason to recline in style, ClassiCon’s Satyr chair, designed by ForUse, has been updated with a pouf. “I’m always looking for new classics,” says Oliver Holy, CEO of ClassiCon.
One of the most intriguing events was hosted by Japanese property developer Mitsui Fudosan Residential, creator of that Monocle favourite Tokyo Midtown (we’re also pleased to see it is buying property in London). Located in the Triennale, the company presented a prototype, designed by Kengo Kuma, for a new standard of apartments. The softly lit structure, with its handmade bamboo walls, flashed like woven gold, enticing people inside. Managing director Takeshi Suzuki wants to build cultural bridges with this debut. “We wish to present this Japanese concept of living and find out how Europe responds to it. We want to take opinions of architects, designers and the public back with us,” he says. Kengo Kuma agrees there is a strong climate of cultural exchange between Japan and Italy. The enthusiasm with which visitors snatched up the free Japanese toys, handed out by representatives on the Bals Tokyo stand, suggests this is true.
Staying in the Triennale, Artek’s temple-like pavilion, built out of a UPM-developed, wood-plastic composite and designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban offered a moment’s serenity from the city’s hustle. Artek’s managing director Mirkku Kullberg wanted the space to be spiritual and to reflect the story behind the renowned brand. Visitors took their time to examine the pavilion’s intricate structure, its thoughtful proposition typical of this trail-blazing company. Meanwhile, at the Artek stand, Showroom Finland displayed its soundproofing solutions. The Ply wall collection can be mixed and matched for decorative and functional effect.
On the other side of town, Danish soft furnishing company Kvadrat launched its new showroom and office with a design by Alfredo Häberli. The interior sidesteps typical office design in favour of open-plan space that points to a new direction in bureau design. Divisions are created using floating textiles and the manager’s office wall is just a series of drapes. “I wanted to create something feminine, cosy – and show as much of the fabric as possible,” says Häberli, who has also produced his first fabric collection for Kvadrat, set to launch next year. Next door, Flos showed off its latest work in a new showroom, designed by Jasper Morrison. The home office has become chic, with Barber Osgerby’s Tab light collection for Flos.
“Am I at a carnival or a commercial event?”
Ask any Salone veteran to characterise Milan in mid-April and they’ll usually say, “Damp, rainy and generally grey.” This year it was anything but. With temperatures hitting record highs, tens of thousands were treated to what might pass for Europe’s new spring. The sun was hot, the humidity relatively low and daytime temperatures were in the 27C zone. While it made Milan’s new fiera a bit too hot for respectable attire, the weather was perfect for the early evening circuit. By the start of the weekend however, it seemed like all of northern Italy and southern Switzerland had poured into Milan to exhibition hop and sip warm beer or Prosecco. Dancing platforms and DJs in the via Tortona area were a magnet for visiting hen parties from the north of England rather than fans of Marcel Wanders. Organisers might want to address the general focus of satellite activities at next year’s fair.
“Made in Italy? Made in EU? Made in?”
Italy Inc. continues to wrestle with the issue of local provenance and challenged margins. Three years ago, there was much fist smashing and declarations that production would have to stay in Italy. Two years ago, some brands admitted they weremoving some production to Europe’s eastern edges, but the core would stay in Italy. This year, some premium companies were saying that it was fine to move contract projects off-shore, but that production for the core residential ranges would remain in the country. It would be a wise move. Increasingly, brand-savvy consumers in India and China are not happy to pay for a premium label assembled in their own backyard. As one buyer told Monocle, “They wouldn’t like to see Made in Thailand on the Rolex they just paid $20,000 [€15,000] for and they don’t want to see Made in China on a sofa with a $6,000 [€4,000] price tag.”
Why are you here?
Milan is about trends more than the products. I come here to find out about global lifestyle trends.
What are these new trends?
It’s hard to say. I think the furniture industry is very conservative – it tends to be about glass, wood, plastic and aluminium. Fabric continues to be really important and is becoming increasingly special. Mostly, I think people still really like a classic style.
What’s the state of the design industry in eastern Europe?
We don’t have enough big producers, so a lot of our talented designers are leaving the country. We just have cheap manufacturers and distributors who don’t have a high design value. But hopefully, this will change.
Why are you here?
Here, in the EuroLuce [the section of the fair dedicated to lighting], we are on the look out for three or four new lighting companies that we can bring back and represent in the Middle East.
How is business there?
It’s good. There is more of a focus on the decorative side of lighting that is becoming increasingly popular.
What have you got planned during your stay?
We have so many appointments and meetings, but I think we will probably run out of time. There is too much to see and do.