Business as usual at the Salone del Mobile 2010 – despite the volcanic ash cloud.
Back to business, which is, of course, what the Milan Furniture Fair is all about. The global recession has softened since last year’s fair, and the industry was, if not more confident, at least less nervous about the outcome this year. The market is still considerably weaker than in its glory days before the credit crunch, but there has been an improvement.
When the recession struck, there were fears that manufacturers would do what they had done in past downturns, and play it safe by commissioning conservative pieces from established designers, rather than experiment with new names. Many companies introduced fewer new products than usual and made them less technically ambitious, thereby reducing development costs
2009 was an “annus horribilis” for the Italian furniture sector: in 2008 the credit crunch had just begun to bite, especially with the particularly tough final quarter, but in 2009 it all went sky-high.
We have never experienced such a swinging, prolonged and universal crisis before. Some markets have literally evaporated and the data is there to prove it. Turnover for the entire Italian furniture industry fell by 18.2%, to 32.4 billion Euros. The excesses of international finance came to roost and the outcome has been drastic: a sector that has shed almost 20% of its production value.
The future still looks complicated. At an average 4% growth rate 2007 levels, would be returned in 2014, 3% would mean waiting until 2016 and 2% would mean waiting until 2019. Recovering the same levels of productions is not just a national ambition: it means defending a sector that has done so much for Made in Italy, but it also means defending jobs. So far Italian furniture businesses have been tightening their belts, but how long can that go on?
The designs shown at the Salone are very important, because they likely will filter down to the mass marketplace, influencing high-end offerings and low-cost knockoffs. But lest anyone worry that practicality would spoil the party, rest assured: Innovation, inspiration and a touch of the avant-garde were still present at the fair. As always, Milan was a smorgasbord of the wonderful, the weird and the “wonder why they even bothered”. And, as always, it was impossible to see everything on the “must” list, let alone see it all.
Looking forward the annual Saloni is a good barometer of international business and consumer confidence….in this regard Cosmit recorded that …. “The Saloni 2010 have been a huge success with 297,460 accredited sectoral operators – +7% up on last year. 56% of the operators came from abroad, confirming the fair’s international appeal. These figures are further bolstered by the 32,103 members of the visiting public who attended the Sunday opening – making a total of 329,563 attendees – plus the 5,791 communications operators, including 5,110 journalists from all over the world.”
The abundance of events and products on view, whilst undoubtedly enthralling, can leave the visitor quite exhausted. It’s virtually impossible to see everything on offer during the week over which Il Salone is held. It seems the Salone Del Mobile event becomes bigger and bigger with each year that passes. The 2010 edition boasted even more side-shows and feature-events than last year’s edition, each of which showed off a fantastic mix of products. A little extra was all the aperitifs and feasts – if you could get to them early enough!
Milan’s centre got into the mood and was transformed into a landscape of giant lampshades, plus all manner of other funky objects, many of which helped direct visitors around the city towards the plethora of supporting events. A sort of design treasure trail. There was something for everyone, no matter what their interest in design.
Via Napoleoene – Fabric Lamps
The event was well organised and involved the whole city. The Salone also acts as reliable indicator of market trends, and companies go to great lengths often spend thousands on promoting their latest and greatest products. The more companies invest, the brighter the future looks.
Whereas in the last couple of years the Salone was, perhaps, not that inspirational design-wise, a consequence crisis-induced budget-tightening, the experimentation has continued. Indeed, it was the designers and manufacturers which dedicated some time towards looking to the future that gained the most from this year’s event.
We also need wit and humour in our lives (and that’s even when the economy is good). And Milan always has plenty to poke the po-faced in the eye.
Following the financial crisis, which left its mark on the major manufacturers, too, the consolidation phase has begun not just on the economic but also on the design front. So much the Salone del Mobile 2010 revealed. The preference for things decorative does not yet seem to have come to a halt. On the contrary: As regards the ethno-Pop of recent years, elements of different cultures are still being happily remixed and sampled. And yet the designs created by the leading lights all show that this year they have opted for a new form of seriousness and solidity. “Form follows fun” is no longer an option.
It’s been noted by many that there’s been an absence of young designers joining the stables of the bigger manufacturers this year. Rodolfo Dordoni explained this in plain terms: “When things are tough for the big companies, it makes sense to turn to designers who people are familiar with – seasoned designers have more experience and hence there’s less risk involved.”
By the time the celebrated Milan furniture fair closed, the hottest style to emerge from the world’s premier showcase for home design wasn’t supremely minimalist, elegantly baroque, technologically dazzling or glamorously chic. The look of 2010 was simply “Sober”.
“We felt it was time for something gentler and quieter,” Ronan Bouroullec explained. “I heard a French perfumier talking about how 30 years ago, women wanted powerful scents to announce their entrance to a room, but now they prefer them to be subtler. I feel the same way about furniture. I’m so bored with the showoff stuff.”
The manufacturer representatives, designers, store buyers, journalists and design aficionados who attended the Salone Internazionale del Mobile saw fewer spectacles conceived to land on magazine covers. Instead, exhibition halls were loaded with furniture that consumers might actually want in their living rooms: thoughtful, practical and, in some cases, less expensive.
As demand has plunged in the last two years, smart manufacturers began listening – closely – to the demands of the few customers they still had. The result, on display here, was less couture and more high design aimed to sell.
At parties held around town in conjunction with the show, some concerned talk centered on the perceived lack of artistic ambition put into the 2010 collections. But after years of glorious excess, the sense of restraint and the focus on the customer felt refreshing to others.
The upshot of the recession may be death – or at least a coma – for the limited edition, the art piece that had increasingly become a cash cow for many in the industry. Limit production of a brilliant chair or table to, say, 50 or 100, and in better times sellers could drive up the price and still find plenty of buyers willing to pay a premium. With that population of consumers having significantly dwindled, sellers now face a decision: Create a one-off original so phenomenally beautiful or technologically groundbreaking that a museum or rich patron will pay a monumental sum to own the single piece, or design furniture smart enough to sell by the thousands.
The 2010 Milan Furniture Fair will be remembered within the Industry for one thing — the after-effects of that volcano, and how everyone finally managed to get away
It was unusually sunny in Milan, although a little cool. Everything seemed to be proceeding as usual, until the ash from Iceland blew in. Invisible, unnoticed. The Scandinavian were the first to talk about the cloud mushrooming out of the Eyjafjalla volcano and already fast spreading out across all of Europe. On Friday, it was to bring air traffic almost to a complete stop. When on late Thursday evening the queue in front of established & Sons La Pelota hall grew longer and longer, the general nervousness was drowned in music and vodka. To no avail. Many people were stuck in town.
All intentions to see everything new in design and disseminate the latest trends changes to thoughts of changing hotel rooms – no easy feat in a city stuffed to the gills – and working out how to get home. There are certainly many worse places one could be stranded in.
As Alice Rawsthorn said …” Little did I know when I began this column a week ago by suggesting that the most sensible question for anyone to ask at the Milan Furniture Fair — “Does the world need another chair?” — was that it would soon be ousted by something more urgent: “How can we get out of here?”
Those dystopian clouds of volcanic dust stopped thousands of people from flying in or out of Milan at the worst possible time — the busiest week of the city’s year. No sooner had the first flights been grounded than the talk at the fair turned from furniture to who was or wasn’t stranded; whether so-and-so had managed to nab the last seat on that flight from Rome; and the going rate to be driven to Paris.
Surprisingly, this year in Milan, the way that design has replaced art as the leading aesthetic medium was visible not only in the objects available; the locations where designers presented their products also played a role. There was still plenty of excitement to be found away from the fairground in the city’s showrooms and the new design district, Lambrate.
Throughout the city, showrooms of firms who had stayed away from the hubbub of the Fiera were packed. Companies looked back to the essence of their brands, in turn re-evaluating what they stood for.
“We have gone back to our old values and updated them. We have teamed up with Carlo Colombo and Naoto Fukasawa for the first time to give us a reinterpretation of what we are,” said Corrado Gattoni of De Padova. The two designers have created new sofas for the company.
Knoll also referenced its archive in a new lounge chair by Jehs & Laub – a striking design with a nod to the firm’s mid-century modernist pioneers Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia. Knoll’s Justin Pratt said, “I think this is the most important thing we’ve done in the last 10 years.”
Zona Tortona is the biggest satellite design event area outside the gigantic fairground at Rho, which started up nine years ago as an alternative location for emerging designers to showcase their work. Since then, Zona Tortona has become extremely popular with many of the big names and established designers now showing their work in this popular design hub during the design week.
Apart from countless showrooms, galleries, basements and courtyards full of design exhibitions and installations, this buzzing area is also well known for huge street parties which run till early hours of the morning. Zona Tortona pulls the largest crowds. There was lots of experimentation, plus a healthy does of new products. Some of the installations on show left visitors in awe. The only thing lacking was space to move around and time to see everything on show. With so much to see it was all quite bewildering, yet many of the items were memorable.
Nowadays, Zona Tortona with the super studio Pui reveals itself to be commercialized but not in a particularly good way. Here, too much is now just down at heel and the few powerful manufacturers displaying here are increasingly going to the dogs. This does not mean that everything that the Zona Tortona has to offer is necessarily bad, but you simply encounter too many decorative goods, too many copies and too much chichi.
Somewhere among all the hustle and bustle you nevertheless come across outstanding design. eg Tom Dixon’s innovative product directions and Flos innovative lighting offerings.
Triennale and the University of Milan
Alessandro Mendini, co-curated a magical exhibition of his personal take on Italian design at La Triennale Design Museum. Some 700 objects ranging from a replica of Michelangelo’s “David” to corkscrews, espresso machines, pieces of pasta, original models of E.T. and a giant bottle of Campari were jumbled on plinths as if at a flea market.Shamelessly kitschy and often puzzling, the results were also thoughtful, witty and poetic.
Another maestro, Enzo Mari, achieved a similar effect on a smaller scale with a wonderful show of 60 paperweights he has collected over the years at Kaleidoscope, an indie publishing house. Chunks of concrete, wood and marble, bits of machinery, old ink bottles and crystal shards perched on musical scores, notes scrawled in Mr. Mari’s spidery handwriting and his drawings.
A five-minute taxi-ride away, the gardens of the University of Milan were more inspiring. The lawns were filled with over-sized installations by architects including Kengo Kuma and John Pawson.
A new design district in the north east of the city was a welcome respite from Zona Tortona’s malaise. “We had to create a new zone as designers didn’t want to exhibit in Tortona any more – it was becoming too commercial and too expensive,” said Margriet Vollenberg, one of two Dutch women behind the ambitious project.
The area’s carefully curated mix of young designers in industrial spaces – Lambrate used to be a key industrial area after the war – was a breath of fresh air in a Salone that has become saturated with big brands that are unrelated to design, including car companies and even make-up brands.
“Ventura Lambrate”, an industrial estate where old and new company sites, workshops and new buildings alternate with giant wastelands and the charm of abandoned industrial buildings drenched in sweat and oil mixes with the glamour and chic of the cutting-edge, it is primarily small labels, academies, galleries and craftsmen that present their ware. This is in line with the logic of gentrification
We need the brave and unconventional, even if it isn’t always pretty, to keep exploring and challenging the boundaries of design. Without those fresh ideas nothing would move forward. And that’s why it was worth making the trek out (way out) to the very unglamorous working-class area of Lambrate, which is being reinvented as the hub of cutting-edge design – thanks largely to the pioneering efforts of the Dutch: Maarten Baas, Droog and Design Academy Eindhoven and others such as the R.C.A UK
Zona Tortona needs to reassess its values and focus less on teaming up with big-name sponsors and more on providing the key design firms in the area such as Poltrona Frau with neighbouring exhibitors worthy of their weight.
In the case of Ventura Lambrate it is first and foremost academies that are returning to former production sites and are taking advantage of their special atmosphere. This has its charms, but is also dangerous, because the reason: such locations are interesting in themselves means that the relationship between atmosphere and exhibited object, i.e., between the frame and the picture, can be quickly reversed. The location becomes the most important thing and what is on assumes a subsidiary role.