Mohawk In Milan!
Each April, about 300,000 people descend on Milan, Italy to attend Salone del Mobile, or the Italian Furniture Fair. The fair is enormous and is held just outside the city in an exhibition complex with multiple halls devoted to different kinds of furniture, kitchen and bath, and lighting. I attended the fair with Jackie Dettmar, our vice president of design and product development in search of the latest trends in color, pattern, and materials. You see, not only is Salone a great place to see the latest cutting-edge designs from established Italian and International manufacturers, it also features a smaller fair called Salone Satellite, showcasing emerging design talent from around the world.
The Salone del Mobile constitutes only a small part of Milan Design Week, however. The entire city participates, with pop up events, design exhibits, and industry parties in every nook and cranny in Milan. We spent one day at the fair, and the rest participating in what’s called FuoriSalone, which literally means “Outside Salone”. There are three prominent neighborhoods that do a great job at organizing and promoting 1200 events and exhibits: Brera, Lambrate, and Tortona. There a several other smaller neighborhoods that also participate, and with too many options and not enough time, it is a challenge to choose what to see. Luckily, there are a lot of sources to help plan your trip to Milan and make good decisions about how to spend your time. Here’s what we chose to do:
We arrived late in the afternoon so only had time to do one cool thing (and many things were closed Monday). We chose well with a visit to Fondazione Prada, which is a contemporary art museum designed by Rem Koolhaus’ firm OMA. The facility is amazing, with art and installations spread out in a series of buildings that was a former distillery. The collections house artworks by Lucio Fontana, Gerhard Richter, Victor Vasarely, Brice Marden, Francis Bacon, and many others. The breath of work and scale of space was impressive. Our trip to Fondazione Prada wasn’t complete without a stop at the museum café, called Bar Luce, designed by American filmmaker Wes Anderson. It was a highlight of the trip, with the Italian mid-century influenced design, gelato pastel color palette, and stylized display of sweets.
We spent much of Tuesday at the Triennale museum, in Parco Sempione. They had a whopping six exhibits on site, not including the additional ones added just for Design Week (so we saw an additional six). There were so many inspiring and thought-provoking things here:
Neo Prehistory was a powerful and emotional exhibit, showing 100 objects in an historical timeline, each assigned with one verb. All of these objects reflected society’s design advancements used for survival, good or evil. It was provocative and took our breath away.
The Women in Italian Design exhibit was rich with design objects but our favorite was the “Interweave” room of textiles, showing innovation with fibers and techniques.
The Takeo Paper Show was a display of art and design objects made from paper, showcasing how design and technology can advance such a simple medium. Some of the pieces were mind blowing, using techniques of laser cutting and perforations to create layered depth and pattern.
The Korean Handicraft show was also impressive, presenting exquisite hand crafted design objects from 28 artists. Themes observed among these artists are nature and biophilia, textile and fiber manipulation, and maximizing texture within a minimalist framework.
And lastly, the most fun and engaging exhibit was Stanze (Rooms in Italian), a look at how people interact with interior space. Ten designers each got one “room” to create an installation that showcases new living concepts, all with an attention to sensory experience.
After our visit at the Triennale, we headed to an offsite exhibit called New Craft. Held in an old factory called Fabbrica del Vapore, this exhibit examined something we discuss a lot at Mohawk – the merging of craft and technology. On display were hundreds of functional and design objects that were made with a hybrid of hand and machine. Many new materials and textile innovations were also on display.
Another fantastic exhibit that also dealt with similar questions of technology, design, and craft was the What’s the Matter show curated by FRAME Magazine in the Brera design district. We got a personal guided tour by the Managing Editor Tracey Ingram, and met several of the designers on display. This exhibit was very interactive and experiential, and Jackie got to experience some of the designs first hand (literally!).
At the end of the day we went to Tortona to go to a Biomimicry lecture, and then check out Dutch design manufacturers Moooi. They always have a large display with room vignettes showcasing their furniture, lighting, rugs, and accessories in an immersive fashion. The venue is designed with a dark envelope and then bright, almost baroque lighting to create a sense of drama.
On Wednesday we tackled the big fair, Salone del Mobile. We walked (and walked) the halls of contemporary furniture most suited for the commercial market, and had many favorites. At this show, we specifically looked for color and material trends, since manufacturers are all displaying en masse in one place. An immediate trend spotted was the use of very warm, rich, monochromatic palettes. The most prevalent colors we saw over and over again are terra cotta and salmon. It was everywhere. Greens and blues were also important.
My favorite part of Salone is the Satellite exhibit, showcasing student work and emerging designers. It’s a wild card what you will see, but there is much innovation and work in different media and materials, so it’s very inspiring. It’s also good to see where design education is headed, and how young designers are challenging the establishment.
Each year, my favorite area to explore during Milan Design Week is Lambrate. This neighborhood hosts a curated show called Ventura Lambrate, which showcases 160 exhibitors in all types of galleries and warehouse spaces. In my opinion, this is where you see the most cutting edge designs and concepts from schools and designers from Australia, The Netherlands, Mexico, the UK, Sweden, Norway, and everywhere in between. There is also a focus on process and the art of making.
There was a lot to see, but there are clear favorites. The Structure exhibit of Norwegian contemporary crafts and design was beautifully done, with a consistent color palette and minimalist bent. Another fantastic show was Touch Base, put on by the Design Academy in Eindhoven. This exhibit explored themes of tactility in materials and everyday objects. There was much experimentation of natural materials and extreme textures, all culminating outside with a real petting zoo housing sheep and goats.
Prior to heading to Lambrate, we stopped at a very cool exhibit put on by Nike called Nature of Motion. They rented out a huge industrial space, organized into distinct areas showcasing different aspects of design innovation. The first area had works from ten designers that explore motion. Several used soft materials from Nike, like Flyknit textiles. My favorite was by Bertjan Pot’s installation of inner tubes covered in shoes laces and other straps and webbing.
The next areas showcased Nike’s shoe design experiments, which was extremely impressive and solidified in our minds Nike’s position as a leader in technology, materials, and design.
Sadly it was time to return back to the States, where preparations for NeoCon are awaiting the design and development team. We left Milan with amazing amounts of photos, inspiration, new friends, and immeasurable respect for the design industry, which continues to grow internationally and reminds us that we are all in this together.
Milano, ci veddiamo l’anno prossimo! Ciao for now…
Royce Epstein, Director of Design Segment, Mohawk Group
View more images from Royce’s trip to Salone using #MohawkinMilan