Two and a half years into the pandemic, Italy’s — and the world’s — design capital was ablaze with creativity once again. The fairgrounds themselves were fully activated: Rather than the abbreviated experience of last September’s Supersalone, every padiglione at Salone del Mobile 2022 was full as leading furniture companies, from Living Divani and Poliform to the kitchen brands showing in EuroCucina, returned to erect massive stands.
The feature attractions — like Mario Cucinella’s “Design with Nature” and the reinvigorated Salone Satellite — were also immense and inviting. Design is Milano is design. That was how the city branded itself during the 60th edition of the Salone. Another mantra is also possible: Design is Milano is culture.
And the profusion of off-site happenings, the 800-plus events of Fuorisalone, drove this message home. Some of the most evocative installations felt directly tied to the height of contemporary Italian culture. To mark the public launch of his interior design studio, filmmaker Luca Guadagnino presented “By the Fire,” a series of domestic scenes (with fluted-wood wall panelling, mid-century-inspired furniture and artistic rugs by La Manufacture Cogolin) as compelling as those in his beloved movies.
The director also designed a lamp for FontanaArte and posed for the brand’s ode to numerous Milanese cultural heroes via an in-showroom photography exhibition by Roselena Ramistella. In it, he shared the stage with the likes of Teatro alla Scala prima ballerina Nicoletta Manni and design matron Nina Yashar, whose Nilufar Gallery and Depot showed some of the week’s most daringly conceptual works.
At Alcova, arguably the most popular venue of Fuorisalone, the former military hospital’s various edifices were replete with mind-expanding wonders. These included SolidNature’s monumental homage to stone (a bathtub by Sabine Marcelis assembled from blocks of pink onyx; a majestic set of furnishings by OMA) and Refractory’s “Holotype” exhibit in an attic space, where the Chicago furniture brand’s sculptural pieces were sensorially augmented with mounds of fragrant spice.
Alcova might be what Superstudio used to be — but even Superstudio returned in full swing with an ambitious Ikea festival, one of many cerebral symposia throughout the city, led by such luminaries as Formafantasma and Stefano Boeri.
Meanwhile, the big manufacturers made big romantic gestures. Moooi brought a dreamy flora-and-fauna-inspired exhibition to the Salone dei Tessuti (yet Piro, its quirky dancing lamp–diffuser designed in collaboration with IDEO, was the undeniable fan favourite).
Foscarini revived the Garden of Eden and presented a collaboration with Andrea Anastasio that deconstructed icons of Renaissance art, including the Madonna and Child, into provocative light works. And Cassina devoted the second level of its showroom to a bright orange display of the late Virgil Abloh’s Modular Imagination series.
At Flos, which took over Fabbrica Orobia (across from the Fondazione Prada), the artistic perspective was just as pronounced. In a whitewashed installation, the lighting company showed off a new limited edition of its iconic Arco with a crystal base. “It’s a masterpiece,” said Roberta Silva, Flos CEO. But the more pragmatic offerings were just as mesmerizing, not least Michael Anastassiades’s My Circuit, a flexible track system that can be used to create swirls on the ceiling from which to suspend poetic fixtures — a half-dome pendant, a flat luminous disc.
Since joining Flos in 2019, Silva has worked to merge Flos’s architectural and decorative divisions in order to bring the best of both to each new product. “It’s not only about beautiful design but also technology, new materials and craftsmanship — a new way of producing. Every technical detail is so curated.”
Yet Salone 2022 and Milan Design Week wasn’t just about those rarified moments (at almost €10,000, the crystal-based Arco comes with an NFT for authenticity). It also exemplified a reassuring evolution in the high design world’s approach to sustainability. In years past, the attractions devoted to the subject, like Rossana Orlandi’s “Plastic-Master’s,” focused on green design’s more esoteric possibilities: big names commissioned to recycle plastic into furnishings more akin to artworks. This year, the ethos of recycling was mainstream as brands from Kartell (which launched a line of chairs made from recycled Illy capsules) to Nanimarquina integrated recycling into their overall processes.
At his installation at the Salone del Mobile, architect Mario Cucinella (whose impressive new HQ for Unipol was topping off in the city’s Porta Nuova district) showed off novel materials that still felt gritty, including vegetable leathers and flooring made from coffee grounds. Are clients ready to use them in their projects? I asked him. “It’s a new aesthetic that we need to be open to,” he responded. “The concept of beauty will change with the culture. And architecture needs a new aesthetic.”
He’s optimistic that people have become more willing to embrace an alternative way of doing things in light of the growing challenges of climate change. “If we want to live with less resources and energy and to reduce our waste — we did that already, for many centuries. We need to study history; there was a knowledge there and we just need to make a new interpretation of it.”
Perhaps the biggest impression made on this front was also the most subtle: In a quiet showroom exhibition, Carl Hansen & Søn presented its iconic Wishbone chair in nine inspired colours by Ilse Crawford. “The process of arriving at a set of colours that you can really throw yourself behind takes an incredibly long time,” said the designer, who based her palette (including Pewter, Terracotta, Slate, Clay and Seaweed) on hues rooted in nature. The process, which included buy-in from Hans Wegner’s children, took nearly four years. It hints at the thoughtfulness required to reinterpret what already exists rather than constantly forging something new.
“You want to keep them relevant for larger audiences, but it has to be done respectfully and in a subtle way that brings a freshness to the chair without overwhelming it,” Crawford said. It’s part of an overall ethos that sees the Danish manufacturer buying back used chairs, restoring them and reselling them. Maybe the most important cultural contribution Milan – from Salone del Mobile 2022 to the city itself – made this year was by bringing this timeless wisdom once again to the fore.
How the Salone del Mobile and the Fuorisalone were reborn in June — including 15 moments that showed us, once again, that design is culture.