People often remark that you can tell a “good” Salone by the weather: rain might make for wet feet but often coincides with a good show; sun and blue sky, though an altogether more appealing prospect, spells bad news on the design front. There’s little the design world can do to direct the elements in their favour and so it was with some caution that day one of the 49th Salone del Mobile began, with blistering, if blustery, sunshine over Milan.
True to prophetic fallacy it was a slow start and wandering around the various satellite districts everything felt rather sluggish. Indeed, by mid-afternoon, when the circus should have been in full swing, the prevailing mood was that no one quite wanted it to start. And who can blame the design world, really? It’s been one of the worst years for manufacturers and designers on record, so the pressure to put on a good show this year was immense. The good news is that by 16.00 the clouds descended, the heavens opened and things began to look up. And here’s what got people talking thus far:
Following last year’s focus on expert craft rather than spectacle, it made sense for European manufacturers to look East for a safe bet as they set their cogs in motion again. And Japanese designers and design were to be found on every corner. Naoto Fukasawa led the way, with new products on show for DePadova, Artek, Maruni and Plus Minus Zero. In fact he has 13 different projects on show during Salone – a demand he puts down to brands wanting to rediscover their core: “My work is about finding the essence of simplicity. What I create is more than simple. Everyone is asking me the same things, ‘please find the centre of my brand’.”
Estd by Established & Sons
Always a crowd-puller, Established set-up show again in La Pelota, the cavernous former gymnasium with an unapologetic display of products, old and new, arranged on brightly lit terraces for all to see. “Last year we created a maze of wooden rooms, which felt right given the general feeling,” explained Alasdhair Willis. “This year, we wanted to do the opposite.” The big news, aside from new designers Martino Gamper, Konstantin Grcic and Stefan Diez joining the fold, was the launch of an entirely new label – Estd by Established & Sons. Anonymously designed by its stable designers, this range of smaller items will be sold through yoox.com for accessible prices – a move Willis explains isn’t driven by business panic but rather follows the way consumers are buying.
The Charme Group
A second showing away from the main fair in Tortona’s Milano Design Village added more clout to the ailing Tortona district again. Poltrona Frau reissued Guglielmo Ulrich’s Willy chair of 1937 in a range of surprisingly bright colours and Cassina reissued Franco Albini’s Canapo rocking chair from 1945. Looking forward as well as back, Cassina also launched Cloth by Jehs+Laub – an intriguingly simple and comfortable fibreglass armchair with leather upholstery. Giulio Cappellini hit the nail on the head saying, “The most important thing in design right now is innovation,” and his brand’s own show of unfeasibly constructed aluminium bar stools by Todd Bracher and Raw Edges’ “crumpled” wooden stools and benches proved he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is.
Nowhere was innovation, craft and simplicity more evident than at Mattiazzi. The 40-year-old Italian producer, whose second turn as manufacturer with Sam Hecht at the helm, was responsible for a quietly spectacular chair design. “Branca”, inspired by branches, was created using the company’s technological prowess – CNC machinery and an 8-axis robot – together with expert hand finishing. The resulting ash chairs, exhibited amongst their namesake branches were, in Hecht’s words “a labour of love”. Hard labour they may have been and love them we certainly do.