We were walking through the Zona Tortona—the old industrial district of Milan, where dozens of exhibitions pop up during the city’s frenzied Design Week—when a colleague started playing a dance tune over his mobile phone. The song was featured in La Grande Belleza, a recent Italian film about the country’s compulsive party lifestyle. “Just getting in the right mood,” he said.
The pulse quickens, the heads swims, the gall rises: Milan is in full Salone, as the international design fair takes over the towns with hundreds of exhibitions, countless new prodects, and a full complement of events for the eager design enthusiasts that descend on the city. Like a steaming plate of carbonara, it scarcely matters where you start, since you’ll never finish. We kicked things off at the Triennale Design Museum.
Along with an elaborate glass and lighting installation from Blackbody and well-crafted shows from Korea and Hong Kong, the real show stopper was the retrospective "Italian Design Beyond the Crisis," a look at how the field has fared amidst the peculiar historical conditions confronting the country over the last seven decades. Austere desks and renderings by Gio Ponti; the compellingly enigmatic work of Gaetano Pesci; and heaps of pieces by lesser lights demonstrated design’s response to Italy’s changing politics and its alternating cycles of boom and bust.
From the Triennale it was down to Tortona, where the old loft spaces accommodate the kind of immersive installations that won’t fit in the narrow booths of the Salone proper out at the Milan fairgrounds. Studio Job’s wacky floor-to-ceiling wallpaper was so charming we felt bad walking on it; lighting specialist Lasvit’s "Emotions" show, with work from Daniel Libeskind, AIA, Jakub Nepraš and others, was soothingly meditative. But as ever, the crowd favorite was Moooi, where the always charming Marcel Wanders was greeted guests with a specialty cocktail of his own invention: a gin and ginger beer combo that proved to be as light and insouciant as its creator.