Crowds have returned to the Milan Furniture Fair after a 2-year hiatus

The Italian furniture and design industry has embraced the Milan Furniture Fair after a two-year pandemic delay with over-the-top and unapologetic statement pieces, versatile furniture suitable for small spaces and enduring creations from young people designers pushing the industry towards a greener path.

After a surprising boom in pandemic decoration, the industry is looking to an uncertain future. There are raw material shortages, higher transportation costs and general economic uncertainty generated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Italian furniture sales jumped to 16 billion euros (about $16.7 billion) in 2021, up 16% from 2019 and 25% from 2020.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the world’s leading furniture and design fair, known in Italian as Salone del Mobile, kept its focus on innovation as it recorded a rebound in attendance for six days of previews which ended on Sunday.

“Attendance exceeded expectations,” reaching some 400,000 people at both the Salone and the side events that spread across the city, said Alessia Cappello, Milan’s top economic development official. Two-thirds came from abroad.

Eye-catching new features included an oversized gold-framed non-fungible token (NFT); benches that convert into workstations or shaded beds for the homeless; and an elegant and dignified walker whose purpose was disguised by its sculpted form.

“It was fantastic to be back at Salone del Mobile,” said Alana Stevens, president of American furniture maker Knoll. “Much more than a trade show, more of a gathering of an incredible global community of design enthusiasts. The intersection of designers, artists and the design industry was inspiring.”

Carpet and furniture creations by designer Martino Gamper are displayed as part of the ‘Innesto’ installation at the Nulufar gallery, during the Design Fair exhibition in Milan, Italy, June 9, 2022.

German fashion designer Philipp Plein unveiled his first furniture collection in collaboration with Dutch brand Eichholtz, which has furnished many Plein homes in Europe and the United States.

Plein’s entry into interior design closes a circle for the designer, whose first venture was designing dog beds. Fittingly, the new collection features a leather dog bed on a gold frame for a well-appointed pooch.

“It represents exaggerated luxury, and people want it right now,” said Eichholtz chief operating officer Robin Goemans.

Jet-setters aspiring to Plein’s rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic can settle into a curved velvet sofa adorned with gold studs. They can admire their wardrobe on a marble pedestal rack worthy of a diva, and their collection of sneakers in a free-standing trunk with a mirrored interior. A marble table doubles as a ping-pong table, and unique NFTs are scanned into logoed mirrors.

Plein is just the latest fashion brand to enter the world of furniture design from the early 1990s, often through home collections featuring bedding, pillows and towels close to their roots. textiles.

“The fashion world understood at a certain point that design was able to capture the popular imagination in a way that was extremely interesting also for clothing brands,” said Marco Sammicheli, director of design at the Design Museum of the Triennial.

On the sidelines of the Salone, Sammicheli curated an exhibition at the Triennale of the Memphis Group, a postmodern design movement founded by Ettore Sottsass that made its global debut at the Milan Furniture Fair in 1981.

The movement pushed the boundaries between the commercial and the artistic, tensions that still exist between the salon, with its commercial aims, and the myriad of collateral events where the emphasis is often more on artistic statements.

“Memphis is the example that gives the best interpretation of Italian design after Olivetti and before Alessi,” said Sammicheli, referring to the professional machine manufacturer Olivetti, best known for its typewriter, and the brand of tableware and Alessi decoration.

Alessi celebrated its 100th anniversary at Salone with a cutlery collaboration with the late Off-White designer Virgil Abloh. It hosted an exhibition on the family business’s journey from a metal factory to a design lab, and a dinner where guests included some of the 300 designers who have worked with the brand over the past decades.

Abloh’s three-piece cutlery set, dubbed “Occasional Object”, features an industrial design reminiscent of a mess kit, with a snap hook to clip the pieces together and onto the body as a fashion extension easily paired with the popular Off- White 200 centimeter industrial belt.

Nigerian designer Lani Adeoye won the top prize at the SaloneSatellite event with the walker she designed for her grandfather, who rejected the more standard, medical-looking versions. An interlocking arch that represents unity gives its walker a sculptural touch, and water hyacinth cordage connects local art to sustainable materials.

“He’s a dignified man who worked in the bank for many years and finds it awkward to go out with a walker,” said the 32-year-old designer. “You can have it in your environment, and it looks artistic. Nobody knows it’s a walker.”

Satellite is open to designers under the age of 35 and aims to help them develop relationships with manufacturers and find ways to carry out developed projects “in complete freedom, without the need to take production processes into account”, said Maria Porro, president of Salone. .

The younger generation’s natural attachment to sustainable materials and processes also presents a challenge for the entire industry. Big brands advertise sustainable materials more often.

This included recycled plastics in the latest iterations of Kartell’s famous Louis Ghost chair by Philippe Starck, but also the Re-Chair collaboration with illy coffee which is made from discarded coffee pods, easing consumer guilt somewhat. homemade capsules.

Knoll presented a series of oak chairs, benches and stools by Antonio Citterio called Klismos. The cotton rope is woven into a seat with a light elastic, and the wood is notched together so that it does not require glue, usually made from petroleum products. Leather cushions filled with vegetable fibers are optional.

While responsibly sourced materials are important, Porro said, the real challenge for the industry is to reduce its energy footprint, doing things like replacing electric light with natural light and producing to order instead of create inventory. To that end, the Federlegno Association of Italian Furniture Manufacturers joined the United Nations Global Compact in committing to responsible business practices at the 60th Salone last week.

“We need sustainable production, that’s the real challenge,” Porro said. “It is a question of culture”.

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