Massimiliano Fuksas’s 211,500 sq m Fiera, in the Rho Pero suburbs of Milan, is where the vast majority of the business action takes place during Salone. It’s a gargantuan structure that hosts over 2,500 exhibitors for six days, each showing their new designs and consequently it feels like a microcosm of the design industry for the year ahead.
Yesterday’s opening day at the Fiera felt quieter than in previous years. Though the walkways were lined with people in suits and the stands were far from empty there were, refreshingly, very few queues. Interestingly though the Chinese were present in droves with notebooks and big entourages. Besides the Chinese, here’s what we found:
Manufacturers are thinking laterally, investigating other industries and plundering their technical expertise to experiment with new materials and techniques. Echoing Giulio Cappellini’s words in yesterday’s report, Roberto Gavazzi of Boffi said, “We need to combine the future with the present.” So Boffi has developed a patented hinge mechanism that’s been two years in the making for its new Solferino wardrobe system. Karimoku explored bent wooden feet on a new chair using aeronautical engineering. Meanwhile Bitossi developed a new technical ceramic material for a lighting range with the Bouroullecs called “allubit”, which looks and feels like porcelain but is as strong and durable as diamond.
“Simpler than simple,” is how Naoto Fukasawa described what the consumer is after right now and he’s not the only one. The man himself has designed a dining table and chairs to match for Thonet that are so simple you’d swear you’ve seen them before (that’s his secret, he says). Sofas have taken a retro turn for the better, with simple feet and expansive leather upholstery, the finest being by Damian Williamson for Zanotta. Jean-Marie Massaud has reinvented the office chair for Arper, stripping it back to its roots and creating a range of leather seats on castors that wouldn’t be out of place in any room.
Very few young names
It’s been noted by many that there’s been an absence of young designers joining the stables of the bigger manufacturers this year. Rodolfo Dordoni explained this in plain terms: “When things are tough for the big companies, it makes sense to turn to designers who people are familiar with – seasoned designers have more experience and hence there’s less risk involved.” Less risk perhaps, but this might explain why many of the stands felt either a bit stagnant or repetitively populated by the same designers.
The one area of Salone where youth is in abundance is Salone Satellite – the dedicated hall for designers under 35. What struck almost more than their designs though (which for the large part were very accomplished) was the high level of branding each small stand displayed. Logos, brochures and outfits were coordinated to such an extent that Satellite felt like a mini fair within the fair and, far from first-time exhibitors, these were fully fledged brands on show. What makes for a very neatly curated exhibition might just be what is putting the bigger manufacturers off wanting to work with them – more naivety may be needed to lure them in perhaps…