Mohawk in Milan – The Best of Salone del Mobile 2018
Ever wondered where designers find their inspiration? Mohawk Group’s A&D Design Director, Royce Epstein, takes us behind the scenes at Milan Design Week, where the premiere international exhibition Salone del Mobile takes place, as well as notable design exhibits and events that showcase products, materials, and ideas from around the world.
This past month I traveled to Milan, where the world’s largest and most important design fair takes place each year. My companions for this trip were Jackie Dettmar -our VP of Design and Product Development –and Victoria Hemelaer, our Director of International Sales Operations.
Our goal was threefold: to observe and be inspired by all the new design trends for 2019, to represent Mohawk at important design industry events, and to engage with the new concepts that are driving design practice and theory.
It was an action-packed week that even included a tour of our Marazzi porcelain tile factory in Sassuolo, Italy. Here are my thoughts about Milan Design Week in a day-by-day synopsis. I hope you are as inspired as we were!
Monday in Milan
We arrived in the afternoon on Monday, and the main furniture fair –Salone del Mobile, and the other 2000 events around town which comprise Fuorisalone, were not open yet, so we used the day to get settled, recover from our long travels, and go see the Duomo, which is the main cathedral of Milan and an iconic building of design from 1386! Then we organized ourselves for the next few days because you must do that when there is much to see and not enough time.
We did stop by our first event, a beautiful exhibit organized by 1st Dibs, who is adding new designs to their roster of vintage auction pieces. Here we ran into friends from Brooklyn, including Fernando Mastrangelo, who designed and made a new bookcase from sand and crushed glass. It was stunning, especially set in a classical palazzo in the center of Milan.
Seeing contemporary design in old (and often ancient) settings is one of the best things about Milan Design Week. This juxtaposition of the old with the new really gives you a sense of the bigger picture, and how what we are creating today fits into the history of design.
Tuesday in Milan
Being the first full day that everything was open and ready for the 435,000 visitors that descend on Milan, we were off and running. Our first stop was at Ventura Centrale, a curated series of exhibits located behind the main train station in old vaulted storage rooms. Most of these exhibits were sponsored by manufacturers who commissioned designers to create new things using their materials. There were a few exceptions, and each exhibit was interesting and eye-catching.
Our favorite was WASTE NO MORE, an exhibit put on by Eileen Fisher and our friends at Trend Union. The exhibit showcased the excesses of textile waste in the fashion world, and how new textiles can be created from fabric waste. It was incredibly powerful and set the tone for a big theme in Milan, which is the exploration of sustainable materials.
Afterward, we went to Ventura Future, a new series of shows organized by the Ventura Centrale team. Here the focus was on students and emerging designers, spread out in three large buildings. The students were present, and I loved being able to discuss their projects and ask questions. Seeing this type of work is most important – it really does indicate the future of design, as students are often at the cutting edge of working with new processes and materials.
Afterward, we headed to Isola, a small design district that holds the important Dutch Invertuals show. A design collective in Holland, this show too dealt with new materials and design objects from plastic waste. We met the curator and felt an immediate kinship– after all, Mohawk makes nylon fiber from recycled plastic bottles, so we know a thing or two about creating materials from waste.
After Isola, we visited two gorgeous exhibits, both set in classic Italian spaces: a villa, and a church cloister. Doppia Firma (which means Double Signature in Italian) was an exhibit pairing designers with makers at the grand Villa Mozart. Mindcraft, an exhibit of Danish design –much of it textile-centric –was set in the cloister of San Simpliciano.
We visited two more exhibits and then hosted a fantastic IIDA Savor Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental. Cheryl Durst of IIDA led a wonderful discussion about “unity” and how we can come together to design a better world. This was the topic our guests pondered over a meal on Fornasetti plates (so perfectly Milanese).
Our guests included an international roster of designers working in architecture, interiors, and product design, as well as design press.
Wednesday in Milan
After a few hours of sleep, we were back at it, tackling the main fair, the Salone del Mobile. This is the giant trade show that one heads to Milan for, where commercial and residential brands all showcase new products and ideas. My favorite part of the fair is Salone Satellite, a large area dedicated to emerging designers and students. It was great to see so many countries included and represented, including designers from Africa and Latin America.
After this, we visited the main halls for commercial furniture, seeing all the big brands such as Vitra, Cappellini, Moroso, etc. The fair took all day (you could spend the whole week just here), and we took the train back to the city center exhausted, yet exhilarated.
We still had a big evening ahead of us, as we were invited to a very special dinner at Rosanna Orlandi’s – she is the grand dame of design in Milan. The dinner was for 100 guests in her spectacular courtyard, honoring Google’s new project and exhibit called “Softwear”, where tech and human touch interact. It was a memorable evening, especially as we sat with the CEO of Illy Coffee, he was so lovely and even personally made espresso for us at the in-house coffee bar.
Thursday in Milan
We took the train about an hour and a half south of Milan to Sassuolo, the porcelain tile capital of Italy. This is where Marazzi, our sister company, is located.
We had an amazing tour of the design center, showroom, and factory from marketing director Giulia. As a materials nerd, I was really excited to see how porcelain tile is made. We had a great day learning more about Marazzi and exchanged a lot of information about trends and product development. It’s nice to know we have kindred spirits in Italy as well!
After our day in Sassuolo, we took the train back to Milan and had a quiet dinner at one of Milan’s new fashionable restaurants, Ceresio 7, which was designed by Studio Dimore. We had a great view of the city from the balcony, showing how Milan has transformed over the last decade with new skyscrapers sitting next to older industrial buildings.
Friday in Milan
Jackie and Victoria both departed Milan in the morning, so I used Friday to catch up on all the things I missed seeing earlier in the week. I also managed to do two very special things: meet one of my design and art heroes, and then visit the studio of another.
My first stop was at the studio of Nathalie du Pasquier, who was one of the founding members of Memphis Milano. Her textile design, pattern and color work, design objects, and now paintings are some of the most influential in my own life and it was very special to be able to visit her. I met her boyfriend George Sowden, who is also a Memphis alum and extremely important designer living and working in Milan as well.
After that, I visited the studio of Achille Castiglioni, which anyone can do by appointment. It was there that I met his daughter, Giovanna, who led a wonderful tour of her father’s old studio and gave much insight into his design process. It was the 100th anniversary of his birth (he died in 2002), and there was a great exhibit of everyday objects that were sent by today’s most respected product designers.
Besides those two special visits, I headed out to visit the Triennale Design Museum, and then also go to Brera and Tortona, two different design districts so I could see more exhibits. I visited the Kvadrat “Really” exhibit, where they are making new materials from textile waste, and the Wallpaper Magazine Handmade show, which celebrated Wellness through a large series of design objects related to the mind and body.
Vitra also had an impressive retrospective of their work held at the Palestra, an old gym where they placed all the products on a yellow platform. At Tortona, I saw the best thing in all of Milan, which was the exhibit by Envisions, a Dutch design collective that made new versions of MDF.
They collaborated with FInsa, a Spanish MDF manufacturer, to reimagine what the material could look like through color, pattern, inlays, etc. This was my favorite thing last year as well, so Envisions is doing something right!
I also visited Moooi, the Dutch furniture/lighting/rug company headed up by Marcel Wanders, and the Norwegian Presence exhibit. The Norwegian textile and furniture designers that I met were so kind, they all invited me to come to Norway to experience Scandinavian design first hand.
After my long day running around the city and dinner in Tortona, it was time to go back to my hotel and pack as I left on Saturday morning.
It is bittersweet leaving Italy, I always cry when I leave because I feel so connected to the people, the history, the language (I have worked hard to keep my college Italian still functional!), the art, and of course all that amazing design.
While it is an exhausting week with more walking than you will ever do anywhere else, I left feeling very enriched, inspired, and ready to bring new insights about the design world back to my work and home life.
So, look to us at Mohawk Group in the coming months to start unveiling the new cultural trends that affect design. We have much planned to share with you via CEUs, trend lectures, and of course, it will be interesting to see how this affects our product development with new launches that are relevant to what is happening in the world. Until then…. ciao for now….