Wednesday. 8/9/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Fair chance

Founded in 1961, Salone del Mobile began life as a fair showcasing the work of Italian furniture-makers before growing into a massive global marketing event for the entire world of design. In 2021 its emphasis on Italian manufacturing returned and this can be felt at its trade-fair element, dubbed “Supersalone”.

The event is usually held every April but was cancelled last year and this year’s event has been moved to September 2021 due to the pandemic. Any brand involved this month should be congratulated for both taking a gamble on whether this showcase would actually go ahead and persevering through Italy’s ever-changing restrictions. It is largely domestic companies that took the leap and they now have the unique opportunity to present work in front of the press, designers, aficionados and architects from across Europe and the US.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

The audience is glad they have made the effort. People have flocked en masse to Milan Design Week, with crowds packing the city’s Rho fairgrounds where Supersalone is held. For the first time the event has been overseen by a curator, architect Stefano Boeri, and it is a slick, focused affair. The gigantic display booths and utterly confusing layouts that typically define the trade fair have been done away with and now, across neat rows, brands debut new designs on pared-back timber display canvases that will be recycled after the event wraps up. The food options are still terrible and it is still possible to get lost in the immense showcase but Boeri and co have made the experience much more manageable and enjoyable. I hope that many of the ideas in this stripped-back Salone (including a comprehensive design graduate showcase) will return in April next year, along with what I imagine is a pretty envious set of non-Italian design companies that didn’t book for 2021.


Lounge act

For a furniture brand, standing out in a trade hall is tough – and so is reissuing the work of one of the 20th century’s most prominent designers. But Molteni & C has deftly done both at this year’s Supersalone, rereleasing Gio Ponti’s Round D.154.5.

“We have access to these big archives of his work and so choosing the right product to re-release can be risky,” says Marco Piscitelli, CEO of Molteni & C. “But what guides us is considering whether the design – its curves and finishing – is still contemporary.” And the “soap bar” back and seat of the Round D.154.5 certainly is. Made famous by its presence in Alitalia airline lounges in the 1950s, it is now available from Molteni & C in ash wood and a range of textiles and leather finishes.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

As for standing out in the trade hall? Well, to celebrate this history with Alitalia, Molteni & C has turned its display space at Supersalone into a “Gio Ponti airlines” plane cabin. Here, a galley space is furnished with Round D.154.5 chairs, accompanied by simulated windows with views out over clouds and onboard announcements. It’s well worth seeing and, with Supersalone wrapping up on Friday, you don’t want to miss the final call.


Intelligent design

Monocle is back in Milan with a special-edition Salone newspaper. Developed in Zürich, edited in London and printed in Konstanz, it was published on Saturday and is currently sitting front and centre on newsstands across Milan and beyond, as well as in the hands and tote bags of design aficionados at Salone del Mobile.

With a refreshed format and coverage of the fair, plus a wider commentary on the design and furniture industries, it’s the essential guide for those who want to be in the know. Copies are still available to buy online here.


Space race

Milan’s Brera Design District is buzzing with visitors. Cafés and restaurants are full and surprisingly, considering the effects of the pandemic on the sector, so are the shops. That’s why securing a big showroom was no easy task for Ryutaro Yoshida (pictured, centre), founder of Japanese furniture company Time & Style. To get the venue he wanted, he had to fight off competition from several international design brands.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

The high-ceilinged space, which wraps around a characterful courtyard, has now been filled with Time & Style’s handsome furniture, designed by the likes of Yoshida and starchitect Kengo Kuma. The temporary showroom’s slightly rough-and-ready, industrial feel provides a fine counterpoint to the polished pieces on show. After Salone, the retailer will close for a full revamp in preparation for the next iteration of the event in April. We look forward to coming back.


Necessary virtues

Christian Elving is the co-founder of furniture, lighting and interiors brand Karakter. Known for melding Scandinavian sensibilities with a global outlook, its current exhibition at Salone del Mobile includes a selection of lamps and accessories, a sofa by Michael Anastassiades and a collaboration with Lyngby Porcelæn. We caught up with Elving to find out more about his brand and why he feels being back in Milan for its design week is important.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Karakter is based in Denmark but it feels very international. Why was it important to leave behind a specifically Danish identity and look outwards?
A big focus of New Nordic design is the possibility of having affordable luxury. But what we want to do, and what the world needs, is just good design. That’s it. We don’t want the brand to have the restrictions of being New Nordic, focusing on mid-century Danish architecture. We want something with no constraints that’s all about the designs. So the designers are the stars of the show, not the story behind the brand or being New Nordic.

One of Karakter’s key pieces at Salone del Mobile is by Michael Anastassiades, a Cypriot designer based in London, with pieces made in Italy but under your brand label. How did this come about?
Michael and I have known each other for years and it was interesting for him to work with a brand that really had no nationality. Michael is a designer and it’s very much about a project feeling right for him. He has been doing his own thing, not looking too much at what the market wants and instead going with what the design needs to be. So it was a perfect match.

Let’s talk about Milan Design Week as a whole. Why is it so important that it’s back and what does it mean to you?
We have this thing in Denmark that we call “skin hunger”: we need to see people again and feel this creative energy that has been building up inside. It’s important for us to show, talk and engage with people. That’s how you normally work in furniture. If you do it all from your office or online, a lot gets lost. This Salone feels better than it has for many years because you really feel people wanting to go out and experience things again.


Chair index

There is perhaps no kind of furniture with as constant a presence in our homes, offices and public realm than the chair. It’s a ubiquity that Italy’s Association for Industrial Design has recognised with its most important prize, the Compasso d’Oro, which has been awarded to chairs 30 times since its inception in 1954. These chairs – and 100 others that have received honourable mentions from the association over the years – are being celebrated by Salone del Mobile this year, with an exhibition called Take Your Seat.

Divided among the four pavilions of Supersalone, with a complementary display at the city’s ADI Design Museum, the exhibition tracks shifting social and cultural attitudes through the design of the chair by showcasing the likes of Joynt by Harry Owen for Lago Studio (pictured, top) and Ghost by Design Acropoli for Caimi Lab (pictured, bottom). With video installations and poems displayed throughout the exhibition, it’s the perfect place to pull up a seat and reflect on how good design can reflect our personal and social ambitions and tastes.


Space shuffle

Not every exhibition at Salone del Mobile is a massive spectacle and at Japanese retailer Muji’s space, a selection of small designs says a lot about the future of the home. Muji has teamed up with ECAL, Switzerland’s respected design university, to give students an opportunity to create space-saving furniture and objects suitable for small homes. The Paper Wall Pocket was our favourite answer to this brief. Designed by student Lucie De Martin, it’s a simple storage structure made from sturdy laminated paper, which can be easily attached to walls and contains slimline stitched pockets.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto
Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Part of the clever idea is to offer the design in Muji shops on continuous rolls, where customers can cut off a length that’s the right size for their home. With the students given the opportunity to put their work into production if enough interest is generated, we’d bank on the Swiss smarts of this space-saver to make a compelling case for Muji shops the world over.


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