If the wisteria is blooming in Milan, it must be time for the International Furniture Fair. Once again, Interiors brings you the highlights.
LAST APRIL MARKED the 40th anniversary of the Salone del Mobile, better known as the International Furniture Fair. It wasn’t always a global event. In 1961, when the fair opened in Milan, 328 Italian exhibitors touted their goods in 14,000 square feet. Not until 1967 did foreign manufacturers participate, and the numbers grew to operatic proportions. In 2001, the fair encompassed 2,500 exhibitors from 35 countries, spread out over a foot-wearying 2 million square feet. This is more area than any one person can cover in a mere six days, so Interiors once again descended on the fairgrounds in a pack, led by product editor Melissa Feldman, who wrote the journal of our adventures in the pages that follow.
According to Feldman, the 2001 fair revealed a superabundance of carved foam rubber, the enduring cult of plastic, a fondness for anything squishy, and retrograde shades of pink, especially ’50s faded roses and ’60s electric fuchsias. Sloth appeared to be a major theme, translated into a startling variety of chaise longues and beds. And curiously, considering the havoc wrought in Europe by mad cows and hoof-and-mouth disease, there was a preponderance of bovine references, from chairs with steer-horn appendages to cowhide upholstery.
9:30 I’m in Milan at the Diana Majestic Hotel, having breakfast with Cliff Brown, marketing director for Shaw Carpet. We discuss jet lag, cashmere, Venice, and the new carpets Shaw will be releasing later this year.
16:15 On via Tortona, where Cappellini is hosting a press event in a former warehouse compound, gas-filled mylar lights designed by Philippe Starck float above the furniture and crowds. Somehow I spot the bald, grinning head of French designer Jean-Marie Massaud as he stands near his Outline chaise longue, a piece as slender as an apple peel, with a fiberglass body upholstered in fabric and a satin-finish stainless steel base. Nearby, Massaud’s countrymen, Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, show off Glide, their fabric-upholstered divan with attached shelf. Toward the back, I can make out the Medusa curls of the Italian designer Fabio Novembre, whose Org table features 171 flexible rope legs and 6 inconspicuously rigid ones that support the glass top. Other eye-catching products are jasper Morrison’s Three Sofa Deluxe, a wavy daybed combo upholstered in felt; Carlo Colombo’s sprawling King bed; Patrick Norguet’s Rive droite armchair in Emilio Pucci fabric; and Hella jongerius’s Long Neck and Groove Bottles, two halves of glass and porcelain bound together with packing tape inscribed with messages such as “FRAGILE.” I manage to take off before the crowds burst through the gates.
20:00 At Sawaya & Moroni’s showroom on via Manzoni, I find British designer Matt Sindall seated on Neil, a prototype bench he designed with Alova, a foam material used in hospital beds. Named for astronaut Neil Armstrong, the violet-colored piece is grooved in a way that suggests moon craters and Chesterfield upholstery. William Sawaya is perched on his stackable Calla chair, designed for Heller and made of injected molded fiberglass with reinforced polypropylene.
21:00 On to Milan’s design museum, the Triennale, and the opening of “Made in Italy: 1951-200l” an exhibition presenting five vignettes spanning 50 years of Italian design. For one vignette, called “Memoria” (memory), architect Gae Aulenti and theater director Luca Ronconi composed a display with the playful illustrations of graphic designer Bruno Munari, magazine ads for Moschino, Fiat car sketches, and Memphis furniture. Meanwhile, designer Gaetano Pesce and television journalist Andrea Pezzi arranged “Sapori” (taste/smell), as a visual and olfactory celebration of Italian food. Towers of fragrant pizza slices shared the scene with armchairs modeled out of spaghetti. No couch potatoes here. Just couch pasta.
9:30 The fair’s about to open, but I have to rush back to via Tortona to shoot Dutch prankster Marcel Wanders and products for MOOOI, Wanders’s new company. (The name means “beautiful” in Dutch, with an extra o dropped in for emphasis.) I covet the designer’s Flower chair, a floral-patterned web of chromed steel on a tubular frame.
12:00 Kartell’s booth, a stylized European garden carpeted in Astroturf and lined with obelisks, is filled with the company’s trademark plastic furniture, including the BOEM collection of stools designed by Philippe Starck. Modeled after classical vases, the stools come in six translucent colors. Starck’s Ero/s/, a bowl-shaped transparent or glazed polycarbonate armchair with a swivel base in polished aluminum, appeals to one’s nesting instincts. Its playfulness is matched by Maarten van Severen’s LCP chaise prototype, a single sheet of clear polycarbonate folded and pierced with two fat springs.
14:00 Patrick Jouin, formerly of Philippe Starck’s office, is out on his own and burnishing his name with Fold, a–yes–folding chair for French manufacturer XO. Fold features a polypropylene seat and back with a slight curve that conforms to the body and a tubular steel frame. It will be available in ivory, oxblood red, and deep brown.
15:00 It’s a big year for names that capture the essential qualities of products. Flexy, a chair designed by Denis Santachiara for Zero, is a flexible wave of clear metacrylate propped up on a minimal metal frame.
18:15 Hundreds of offsite events breed a sense of desperation. We head for the Dilmos showroom where a glamorous version of Francesco Binfare’s Flap sofa, designed for edra, is on display, encrusted with 750,000 Swarovski crystals. The seven “flaps” are adjustable and the piece sparkles in the dimly lighted space. We can’t take our eyes off it.
19:30 Post Design is where Johanna Grawunder from Sottsass Associati is debuting her Lowrider furniture, a collection of chairs, tables, and sofas, including her Stunning LeMans hanging lamp with two laminated PVC curtains in bright yellow.
21:30 Ingo Maurer presents a spectacular display of lighting, including his signature aluminum dome lined in fluorescent orange, strategically placed in the courtyard of Spazio Krizia. Inside the dim, cavernous space, we meet Mark McKenna, who worked in Maurer’s New York showroom. He is twirling Blamesid, a glowing green silk-lined nylon umbrella with rechargeable fluorescent light that he designed with Jason Klimoski.
21:00 At the Galleria Gio Marconi, we see an exhibition of new work by Ron Arad, where we find the designer dressed in his signature hobo chic, with crumpled felt hat and torn pants. His new globe-shaped lamps toss out projections of letters, sprinkling the floor with a luminous alphabet soup, while his organically styled stainless steel furniture pieces reflect surreal video displays against their mirror finishes.