A molded-plastic model of Aldo Rossi’s unfinished San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena, Italy, sits in a vignette in the Kartell booth.
Andrea Mariani/Courtesy salone del mobile.milano A molded-plastic model of Aldo Rossi’s unfinished San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena, Italy, sits in a vignette in the Kartell booth.

Emmanuel Plat, the director of merchandising for the retail division at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, mentioned over drinks earlier this week that he has been to Salone del Mobile more than 20 times over the last two decades and change, missing scarcely a single installment of the Milan design fair in that time. The mind fairly reels—with sympathy, certainly, for the cumulative exhaustion, but with envy, too. Perhaps with that kind of experience, it would be possible to put this year’s edition into the proper perspective.

Alas, for those of us slightly less seasoned, there is simply too much. Here instead is a much abbreviated, willfully subjective set of tips and takeaways—pertinent questions, impertinently answered, all about the biggest, baddest furniture-and-fixtures event in the world, which continues through this Sunday.

Are there trends this year?
Aesthetically, no. Instead, for every stylistic action, there is an equal and opposite reaction: In the Moroso booth, for example, German industrial designer Ingo Maurer’s new Luce Volante pendant light fixture flies bravely over a hip selection of furniture designed by London-based studio Doshi Levien, making a little scene of mod sophistication. In the same booth, Maurer’s outrageous Festa della Farfalle (Festival of the Butterflies) pendant is making its debut alongside colorful seating designed by Amsterdam-based by Edward van Vliet, a cri de coeur against all things abstract.

Kartell, marking its 70th anniversary, is loudly and proudly showing off its futuristic cred, with its new AI chair by Philippe Starck that was designed using Autodesk’s generative design technology; meanwhile, one of the brand’s booth vignettes pays nostalgic homage to the PoMo past with a model (in Kartell’s signature molded plastic, naturally) of Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena, Italy.

Pallavi Dean (left) and friend with one of the Interweave lighting fixtures Pallavi designed for Artemide.
Ian Volner Pallavi Dean (left) and friend with one of the Interweave lighting fixtures Pallavi designed for Artemide.

Carl Hansen & Søn conscripted London architecture firm SevilPeach to create a serene setting for new editions of such 20th-century classics as Frits Henningsen’s Coupé sofa. And across town at a party at the Artemide showroom earlier this week, Dubai, U.A.E–based interior designer Pallavi Dean threw one of her just-unveiled, ultra-contemporary Interweave lights around a friend, declaring that “it’s just irresistible—you want to play with them.” All is havoc.

A photo of Philippe Starck in front of his La Plus Belle lighted mirror for Flos.
Ian Volner A photo of Philippe Starck in front of his La Plus Belle lighted mirror for Flos.

How about industry trends?
Ah, and now we pass through the looking glass. (Or, if you like, Starck’s La Plus Belle lighted mirror at Flos.) At the Visionaire booth, the company’s representative for India, Sanam Rajani, explains why photography is forbidden to all but officially registered media, and why this year that policy is more strictly enforced and more pervasive than ever before. “It’s due to copying,” she says: Knockoffs have become an ever-greater threat, especially for contract-based furniture makers. Designer Edward Barber (one half of London-based industrial design studio Barber & Osgerby, in Milan to unveil his firm’s On and On chair at Emeco) rumbled darkly about the current pressures towards consolidation and increased production.

The Barber & Osgerby–designed On and On chair for Emeco.
Ian Volner The Barber & Osgerby–designed On and On chair for Emeco.

The penetration of big brands into the marketplace seems everywhere in evidence—perhaps nowhere more so than in the sprawling mega-booth of Luxury Living, the fast-growing umbrella licensor for fashion-branded furniture including Fendi Casa and Bentley. Luxury Living installed a meditation area inside the Fendi space, with a bacteria-driven air freshener system and a movie that shows pictures of trees and invites you to “find your forest.” One day, perhaps, all of Salone will be like this. Maybe the whole world.

Are there architects?
Actual product collaborations seem less prevalent this year—strange, perhaps, given the tendency toward brand-ification, though probably only a cyclical anomaly. Daniel Libeskind, FAIA, is on hand, touting a new collaboration with furniture maker Turri; so is the Italo-Anglo-American team from New York–based Bonetti/Kozerski Architecture, again for longtime fashion client Tod’s; and Suchi Reddy of New York–based Reddymade rolled out a curious project, co-organized by Google, that gauges the biometrics of visitors as they pass through different environments. The idea is that individuals can learn what kind of design helps them think, grow, feel; “We want people have control their own destiny,” Suchi explained.

Tadao Ando, Hon. FAIA, was in town, but not on business (a show of his work opened at Giorgio Armani’s compound in Zona Tortona) as were David Adjaye, Hon. FAIA, and Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s Shohei Shigematsu—though only for a Lexus-sponsored design competition (and to dance like the wind at a late-night party for artist Olafur Eliasson).

One of Arper's neo-cubicles.
Ian Volner One of Arper's neo-cubicles.

So is anything … good?
Yes! At the fairgrounds, Arper is striking a blow against the open-office plan with ingenious neo-cubicles from Barcelona-based design studio Lievore Altherr and others. At Ventura Centrale—a three-year-old showcase of international design studios installed in the warehouses by Milan’s Central Station that seemed to truly catch fire this year—San Francisco–based interdisciplinary design firm Rapt Studio’s offering is intended to be what CEO David Galullo calls “a sanctuary.” (And it is one, especially for footsore journalists.)

Rapt Studio–designed space at Ventura Centrale.
Ian Volner Rapt Studio–designed space at Ventura Centrale.

And every now and again, just when the 2.5 million-odd square feet of design showcase threatens to overwhelm, the clouds part and through the north-facing windows of the giant Fiera complex that Salone calls home, you can see the beginnings of the Alps in the far distance. The hills, as advertised, really do seem alive.

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