MILAN – The Italian furniture and design industry has embraced Milan Furniture Fair two years after the pandemic with unapologetic, lavish statement pieces, multipurpose furnishings adapted to small spaces, and sustainable creations by young designers pushing the industry toward a greener path.
After the sudden surge of pandemic redesign, the industry is looking to an uncertain future. There is a shortage of raw materials, high transportation costs, and general economic uncertainty resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Italian furniture sales jumped to 16 billion euros (about $16.7 billion) in 2021, an increase of 16% over 2019 and 25% more than in 2020.
Despite the hazy outlook, the world’s premiere furniture and design fair, known in Italian as Salone del Mobile, kept the focus on innovation as it posted a rebound in attendance during six days of previews that concluded on Sunday.
“Attendance was above expectations,” said Alicia Capello, Milan’s chief economic development officer, with around 400,000 at both the salon and side events that extended to the city. Two-thirds of them are from abroad.
Eye-catching novelties included an oversized gilded frame NFT; Benches that convert into workstations or shaded beds for the homeless; An elegant and dignified pedestrian whose purpose conceals its sculpted form.
Alana Stevens, President of US Furniture Manufacturer Knoll, said: “It has been great to be back at Salone del Mobile. More than just a gallery, it is a gathering of an amazing global community of those passionate about design. The intersection of designers, artists and design work has been inspiring.”
German fashion designer Philipp Plein has unveiled his inaugural furniture collection in collaboration with Dutch brand Eichholtz, which has furnished several Plein private homes in Europe and the United States.
Blaine’s entry into home design closed a circle for the designer, whose first project was designing dog beds. Conveniently, the new collection includes a leather dog bed on a gold frame for a well-appointed dog.
“It’s ultra-luxury, and people want it now,” said Robin Guijmans, Eichholtz’s chief operating officer.
Jet-setters who aspire to a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic can settle for a curved velvet sofa with gold inlay. They can enjoy their wardrobe on a marble pedestal clothes rack suitable for the singer, and their collection of sneakers in a stand-up box with an interior mirror. The marble table doubles as a ping-pong table, and the unique NFTs are transformed into logoed mirrors.
Plein is the latest fashion brand to enter the world of furniture design starting in the early 1990s, often via home collections that feature bedding, pillows, and towels close to their textile roots.
“At a certain point the fashion world realized that design was able to capture the popular imagination in a way that was also very interesting for clothing brands,” said Marco Samicelli, Director of Design at the Triennale Design Museum.
On the sidelines of the Salone, Sammicheli curated a show at the Triennale of the Memphis Group, a postmodern design movement founded by Ettore Sottsass that made its world debut at the Milan Furniture Fair in 1981.
The movement pushed the boundaries between commercial and artistic tensions that still exist between the trade fair, with its commercial objectives, and countless side events where the focus is often on technical data.
“Memphis is the example that gives the best interpretation of Italian design after Olivetti and before Alessi,” Sammicheli said, referring to the Olivetti business machine manufacturer known for its typewriters, cutlery and decorator Alessi.
Alessi celebrated its centenary at Salone in collaboration with the late Off-White stylist Virgil Abloh. She held an exhibition examining the family-owned company’s journey from a metalworks factory to a design lab, and a dinner where invited guests included some of the 300 designers who have worked with the brand in recent decades.
Dubbed the “Occasional Object”, the Abloh three-piece flatware set features an industrial design reminiscent of a mess kit, with a carabiner to slice the pieces together and on the body as a fashionable extension that can easily be paired with the popular Off-White 200cm industrial belt.
Nigerian designer Lani Adeoye won first prize at the SaloneSatellite event with the walker she designed for her grandfather, who rejected the standard medical-looking versions. The interwoven arch that represents the unit gives it a sculptural character, and ropes made of water hyacinth connect local art with sustainable materials.
The 32-year-old designer said, “He’s a decent guy, who’s worked in the bank for many years, and finds it embarrassing to come up with a treadmill. You can have it in your environment, and it looks artistic. .No one knows it’s a walker.”
Salone president Maria Borough said the satellite is open to designers under the age of 35, and aims to help them develop relationships with manufacturers and find ways to realize projects developed “totally freely, without having to take into account production processes.” .
The natural empowerment of the younger generation for sustainable materials and processes is also a challenge for the broader industry. Larger brands often advertise sustainable materials.
This has included recycled plastic in the latest iterations of the iconic Louis Ghost chair from Kartell by Philippe Starck, as well as the Re-Chair collaboration with illy made from discarded coffee pods, easing somewhat the guilt of the capsule consumer at home.
Knoll introduced an oak chair, stool, and series of stools by Antonio Citterio called Klismos. The lumbar tendon is woven into a seat giving a slight pliability, and the wood is grooved together, so it does not need glue, usually obtained from petroleum products. Leather cushions filled with optional vegetable fibers.
Borough said that while responsibly sourced materials are important, the real challenge for the industry is to reduce its energy footprint, doing things like replacing electric light with natural light and producing in order rather than creating stock. To this end, the Federlegno Association of Italian Furniture Manufacturers joined the United Nations Global Compact committed to responsible business practices during the 60th Salon last week.
“We need sustainable production, that’s the real challenge,” Borough said. “It’s a matter of culture.”