Another year another design show, another negroni, another stiff espresso the morning after. Salone del Mobile is the world’s greatest design fair – at least in the number of exhibitors, attendees and land mass covered. Having just returned from the mayhem of Milan’s metropolis, whose streets are busier than ever with upwards of 290,000 visitors and 7,000 press, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on what went well, what didn’t and why it should change.
The name, Salone del Mobile, refers to the furniture fair – the Fiera – which exists on the outskirts of the city. Much scorn has been poured on this side of the event: much of it fair and due. When halls are filled with products for trade fairs, they instil dread in most rational minds, but as a means of exhibiting the most products one can possibly squeeze into the aircraft hanger equivalent, perhaps it’s the most efficient mechanism around. Or perhaps not.
The design districts of Milan tell a different tale. Brera, Rossana Orlandi, Ventura Lambrate and the new cultural district 5 Vie are offering alternatives to the clammed up annals of the exhibition hall of the Fiera. In the words of iconic British industrial designer Sir Kenneth Grange, who I met during my time in Milan, the Fiera and the event more broadly represents the worst and the best of design: there is great stuff there but you have to scrum to find it.
So return to the city and stroll the streets of Brera; or pop into the space of British collective, Design Junction, for a more accessible showcasing of carefully selected designers and new products. But while the city centre provides a more curated feel to events, the holistic Salone experience tells the tale of tired marketing babble and overhyped, commercialised products. There’s something defeating and fragmented about the size of it. Inevitably the better experience is one that finds you chancing upon well structured exhibits that allow you to take in a 360 of the design, without being hassled along by the hoards or struck into submission by the bluster and champagne of crowds about town.
Design is, and should be, a buzzword but peeling back the often thin veil of bluff to find authentic, aesthetically brilliant and functional design in Milan is a rare joy in 2014.
Aled John is a producer for Monocle 24.