Three Trends at the Forefront of Milan’s Design Week
Design professionals and enthusiasts from around the globe have just started to catch their collective breath as Milan’s annual mega design fair, Salone del Mobile, comes to a close. Over 300,000 buyers, retailers, interior designers, architects, and more visited the fiera last week to scout the latest and greatest from 1,363 international design brands specialized in mass-market products. (Think Vitra, Moroso, and Knoll, to name a few of the most recognizable.) But it’s FuoriSalone (literally, “outside Salone”) that attracts those on the lookout for the unconventional and cutting edge. Hundreds of smaller scale, guerilla-style exhibitions mounted across the city offer a concentrated view of the work of emerging and experimental designers, small-scale producers, galleries, and institutions. This, perhaps more so than at the fair itself, is where the pulse of the design world is taken every year.
FuoriSalone has so much to offer (no one person can physically see everything!) with each edition presenting a variety of approaches, with varying degrees of success. This year, though, the most memorable projects told a story of renewed engagement with sculpture and craft. Rich materials—copper, brass, bronze, porcelain, blown glass, marble, fur, enamel, and lacquer—bold and sophisticated color palettes, and striking, confident forms abounded, often produced through traditional craft techniques, with a recurring tension between the civilized and the natural. Without dismissing the wealth of novel, researched, and visionary concepts, one of the biggest takeaways from this year’s crop of talent is an elevated and refined attention to detail that embraced the very materiality of the work. Whether conceptually or functionally driven (or neither), these standout objects delivered, in sum, a delicious feast for the eyes.
Multiple designers are exploring new expressions of archetypal, geometric forms marked by an astounding blend of the simple and the luxe. Arts & Crafts & Design—without question, one of the best shows of FuoriSalone 2015—is a perfect case in point. Each of the 12 expertly handcrafted objects on view was created through a collaboration between a Swiss artisan and a student from École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL), with art direction provided by the ever-talented Studio Formafantasma. With both functional and decorative pieces—all highly sculptural, and many delightfully kinetic—the collection balances the minimalist aesthetic for which the school is known, with the rich heritage of traditional techniques and materials. Highlights include the dreamily hued Natura Morta glass composition, the Decrescendo “music box,” the Explosion Printanière flowering automaton, and the enigmatic Eclipse lamp.
Two Milan-based galleries, Fragile and Secondome, each launched a new collection that echoed this visual vocabulary. “Ossimori,” by the Italian rising stars at Studiopepe, was displayed in one of Fragile’s smaller rooms, but the intimacy of the setting only heightened the impact. Every object in the collection is a studied and tranquil composition of marble, copper, and glass geometric solids, all industrial remnants put to good use.
Clear blown glass and metal came together quite wonderfully in Secondome’s “I’m Not Weird, I’m Limited Edition” collection, produced in collaboration with Padiglioneitalia, for a new take on old-timey mechanical wonders, such as a spinning globe, a tilting carafe, a rotating hourglass, and a self-extinguishing candleholder. The retro gadgets are made contemporary through their chicly reduced forms.
Other designs of note: Norwegian studio Kneip’s “Weathered” series, which includes a seismoscope and sculptures that “record” the weather; and German studio Boch & Engelhorn’s “Zartes Laut” (Tranquil Loudness), which responds to sounds in the immediate environment.
Dramatic, sophisticated colors combinations and bold patterns permeated FuoriSalone as well. Think explosions of electric blues, happy pinks, and metallic accents mixed with more subdued colors, alongside fearless pattern on pattern, evident in everything from glass and ceramics to furniture, textiles, and more. The hallmarks of the Memphis Group were decidedly still present—both in allusions to the postmodern revolution (through hue, motif, and even form) by younger designers and in new works by Memphis-era masters like Alessandro Mendini, whose playful, stretched, origami-esque Deriva lamps (2015) at Fragile evoked pure, polychrome joy.
Atelier Biagetti’s “Body Building”—a tongue-in-cheek, super-luxe gymnasium-inspired collection—paired delicate pinks and tans with brash blues and yellows, alongside unapologetic neon, metallic, fur, and leather for one of our favorite moments of the week. We also loved the moody maroons, mauve, and neon pink of Pierre Marie Agin’s Fioritura Mimetica 2 rug (2015), and the wine-colored, coral- and enamel-topped tables in Massimiliano Locatelli’s “Tavolo Atollo” (2015) range at Nina Yashar’s new Nilufar Depot. Erastudio Apartment-Gallery’s sensational Nanda Vigo installation, Look Back, featured neon blue and green works by the Italian architect in fluorescent LEDs, neon, crystal, steel, glitter, wood, and aged mirror, plus Mendini’s Il Ponte tra impresa e Cultura sculpture and plaster sculptures by The Bounty Killart.
Several other, delectable bursts of color are worthy of mention: another Mendini piece, the riotously patterned credenza Magico 3 (2010) at Dilmos; Nendo’s ethereal pink and blue Soft tables for Glas Italia; Brunno Jahara’s rainbow-colored, upcycled plastic “Multiplastica Domestica” (2012) and jewel-toned, aluminum “Batucada” (2010) collections at MADE; as well as the plethora of patterned textiles on display with Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran’s daringly angular sky blue, pink, and gold “Palmador 2015” furniture and lighting at Dimorestudio.
Nature That Nurtures
Perhaps the freshest thread we identified around Salone, however, was a celebration of the natural world. Flowers and succulents embellished myriad presentations, and there was an almost dizzying number of purely beautiful, plant-inspired objects. Two notables: Dossofiorito’s “Epiphytes” collection of suspended, white ceramic vases put both plants and roots on display; while Boris Design Studio’s wall-mounted Planet Mirror is framed by an ambient, dimmable LED rim and a self-irrigating succulent garden.
Among the most exciting projects in this realm were experiments in often unexpected, nature-derived materials inspired by sustainability and shifting perspectives on the everyday, overlooked, and discarded. With “From Insects,” French-born, London-based textile designer Marlène Huissoud explores the products of the common honeybee and the Indian silkworm. Huissoud (who comes from a family of beekeepers) uses propolis, a bee-made biodegradable resin that seals honeycombs, to create her dramatic Propolis Vessels. She applies the same material as a varnish to Wooden Leather, a robust material composed of discarded silkworm cocoons with applications in furniture, fashion, and surface design.
Meanwhile, for “Hidden Beauty – Inner Skins,” Germany’s Studio gutedort transformed offal from a local slaughterhouse into ruddy, leather-like jewelry and accessories—including a set of especially lovely, hollow vessels formed from pig and cow bladders and topped by gemstones. Other honorable mentions include Danish designer Cecilie Elisabeth Rudolph’s “Velbekomme” (“Bon Appétit”), a food-based textile series incorporating natural-dyes, laser-engraved fish skins, vegetable peels, and more; Brazilian studio Cultivado em Casa’s loofah and brass armoire, Bucha Soberana (2014); and Chp…?’s Make it chp…?, a flower-focused collaboration with Minale Maeda and Make it LEO that provides data for users to create unique, 3D-printed orchids, the look and shape of which are determined by individual users’ specific time and location.
—Wava Carpenter & Anna Carnick