Tucked down a side street in the Brera district was this visual and olfactory feast, a welcome respite from the microscopic scrutiny of product after product. Milanese studio Piuarch literally stopped designophiles in their tracks and made them consider the flowers. Landscape architect Cornelius Gavril strung 2,000 aromatic flowers – including roses, lilies, thyme and lavender, all grafted onto potato plants for longevity’s sake – over the facade of a building in the heart of Milan, creating a multicoloured, vertical “flower embroidery” that explores a new multi-sensory way of decorating surfaces.
A highlight on the fairgrounds at Euroluce was the booth GamFratesi built for Louis Poulsen to show off the brand’s latest offerings. The architectural structure was inspired by Japanese paper art and featured cut-outs, sharp lines, M.C. Escher-style staircases and boxes of all sizes, highlighting the power of shine and shade. A prototype of the Danish studio’s super-slim Yuh lamp also received much fanfare.
The Spanish designer installed a jewel box-like pavilion inside Napoleon’s former pied-à-terre Palazzo Serbelloni. Tribal masks and clown faces were rendered in 40 different colours of quartz and stained glass and framed by metalwork. The fun continued with playground roundabouts, free to take for a spin below the colourful patterns the motifs projected onto the walls and arched ceiling.
One of the most impressive new products on show at this Euroluce pavilion was Onn: a collection of ceiling and wall lamps made with the Spanish designer’s proprietary silicone mesh. Evocative of sea world flora and fauna, the unusual shapes of the easily manipulated luminares just begged to be touched.
This Italian lighting giant sure made its presence known at the fair this year. Inside its 1,000-square-metre booth were new creations by such heavy-weight designers as Michael Anastassiades, Barber & Osgerby and Philippe Starck. The knockout launches: Formafantasma’s Blush (left), whose counter-weighted prism is illuminated by an LED wand hung parallel to it, and Konstantin Grcic’s totemic Noctambule (right), cinched by its light source.
Versatility is a mantra of this Italian furniture manufacturer and working with Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto on this bookcase, a deliverable. The airy casegood with integrated reading chair would be right at home in an office or family home. Constructed of wooden fibre panels, the compact two-in-one’s poetic design was inspired by the relationship between architectural space and the human body, and the relationship between man and book.
The brand’s sprawling booth was a fun-loving experience for visitors. Bawdy wallpaper was the backdrop for its Aplomb pendants and getting through the pavilion was a bit choose your own adventure. New additions were hands-off, however, including Filo. Andrea Anastasio’s deconstructed table lamp was locked in a display box for good reason: The motley assemblage of Murano glass parts and fabric-wrapped wires really shouldn’t be toyed with.
When it comes to wowing in Milan, Moooi never fails. This year’s football field-sized pavilion saw every conceivable room in the home lavishly outfitted against a backdrop of larger-than-life prints of insects by photographer Levon Biss. There was a restaurant, bar, boutiques featuring eyeglass and body-care collaborations, and the who’s who of designers circulating. Twenty-one novelties were shown, including luminaires by Marcel Wanders and, shown above him here, Perch Lights by Umut Yamac.
The biggest draw to the Brooklyn manufacturer’s display was its two introductions, so new that patents are still pending and tweaks are well underway. Jason Hogan’s Coax pendants (left), ephemeral yet textured bodies of steel, glass, and light, are awesome feats of engineering. And Kazimir by Ladies & Gentlemen Studio (right), a geometric composition of glass, steel and aluminum suspended by aircraft cabling, is a photogenic wonder.
Interni’s annual festival at Università degli Studi di Milano evokes such unbridled excitement that the event was heard from blocks away during Milan Design Week 2017. Thousands of visitors course through the halls and courtyards; they drink on the staircases, dance in the streets and take innumerable selfies. Overlooking it all was Spyre, a towering mechanical arm with a video camera at the top of its crowd-responsive, worm-like head. Made in collaboration with illy, the seemingly random movements of Spyre‘s Corten tubular parts suggests a celebration of free will but, as it dips and careens towards its audience, incites theories about tracking and surveillance.
Collaborations between big brands and style makers have become commonplace, but the partnering of Tom Dixon with Ikea is a big win for design democracy. Here we have a top-drawer British designer championing flexibility and affordability, and a mammoth manufacturer espousing quality and transparency. The tangible takeaway is Delaktig, a sofa bed with hackable configurations. Especially impressive was the introduction of the partnership: Cinema and Galleria on via Manzoni was filled with Delaktig set-ups to accommodate a variety of designers whose podcast-like interviews were shared with the auditorium and, further encouraging the interactivity of the public, attendees were invited to peruse the vignettes as these conversations took place.
London duo Studio Swine inserted a six-metre-tall structure in the centre of a 1960s decommissioned cinema. The fantastical tubular “tree,” made from recycled aluminum, emitted mist-filled bubbles that, when they burst upon contact with skin, filled the air with three distinct perfumes. It was a delightful scene to watch visitors, who were given gloves in order to handle the bubbles, play with one another.
Situated inside a sort of town square created in the formidable institution, Italian designer Paola Navone was given free reign to express the 60-year use of laminate materials created by Abet Laminati. The lighthearted exhibit celebrates such icons as Alessandro Mendini’s Proust armchairs (1970s) and the Carlton bookcase by Ettore Sottsass (1980s). The display that resonated most with the work-weary of Milan Design Week 2017 was the wine and coffee drips.
The Vancouver brand’s booth, like its latest collection, was certainly atypical. Visitors ducked under dropped ceilings to enter a darkened space in which long lengths of glowing glass greeted them head on. For some it was a Willy Wonka experience, the fixtures resembling stretched taffy, or, for the more nature-inclined, a trip to a stalactite-filled cave. This fluid product is called 87 Series: microfilaments, after much folding and stretching, give the piece a pearlescent optical quality which an LED light source gently exaggerates.
This slim installation glowed in comparison to the hulking and ornate institutions of the Brera district. Hollow and seven metres in height, the exterior walls composed of wood and metal, this “instrument of observation” paid homage to the spires on the landmarks around it but also provided a gateway to get above, inside and below it. Three viewfinder-like windows offered a look onto a mirror below, which captured the colours of the sky, a maze of cogs and hardware components made from various metals, and yourself, viewing it all as the light changed.
The Italian giant Cassina was in full force celebrating 90 years of furniture making. Among the new collaborations in their 2017 lineup is with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullecs, who were on hand to launch their elegant Cotone dining chairs, with pillow-soft upholstered interiors, and the T-shaped Baleno wall shelving, which doubles as wall art.
The most significant designer of Salone is easy to name: Oki Sato, director of the impossibly prolific Japanese studio Nendo. Rarely has one designer been so consistantly able to push their work past the expected. For Invisible Outlines, a multi-layered exhibit of abstract objects led viewers to an open room of all white, where arched rods rose out of the floor like bent willows. Visitors were compelled to walk among the bows in solemn awe. Milan Design Week is such an intense and competitive festival that it’s almost a shock to your system to find yourself impulsively slowing down to absorb the ambience of beauty and meditation.
DSR’s canopy suspended in the baroque courtyard of Palazzo Litta was met with shock, awe, and then laughter. Using various types of hooks and cables, the New York firm hitched together 200 pairs of skinny jeans stuffed with leg-shaped inflatables to create a sail-like canopy strung from one corner of the courtyard to the other. In an interview, Elizabeth Diller explained the firm’s choice in the unusual material. The pants, she said, provided a natural sense of human scale in relation to the built environment. We loved its campish wit.
The latest area to be designated a design district is called Ventura Centrale, and it is comprised of a row of cavernous spaces adjacent to the city’s central train station. Maarten Baas used one of the arched, dark and musty environs to show off his 101 Chair for the Dutch contract furniture company Lensvelt. The installation, May I Have Your Attention Please?, featured a circular grouping of megaphones that amped whispering voices that were too muffled to be understood. It was more about the effect of conservations happening everywhere. Petite 101 Chairs were scattered about, showing off what is unique about the chair: that no two are the exactly the same.
The London designer is one of the most significant maestros of lighting of our times, but he is also wildly adept at building furniture out of marble. For Salvatori, he has crafted a minimalist collection of dining tables that celebrate the uniqueness of every quarried slab.
Ages ago, everyone had a stereo cabinet in their living room. Now that music devices have shrunk to the scale of earbuds, that particular piece of furniture has pretty much disappeared. Which is why we loved Miniforms’ take on the long-gone household item. Run via Bluetooth, Caruso’s exaggerated amp is a playful reminder that it’s still important to sit down, take a break and listen to some good music.
When London designer Paul Cocksedge found out he was being evicted from his studio to make way for a new condo development, he decided to use the building as material. For months he drilled holes into the concrete floor, excavating tubular forms, which he then turned into structural elements to build tables and bookcases. One particularly appealing piece is a glass table embedded with thin round disks of the old studio floor. Ultimately, though, the installation was a critical comment on the cost of urbanism and rising real estate prices. The show was also one of the best of Milan Design Week 2017.
It was a brave move for Patricia Moroso to forgo using her via Pontaccio showroom to display furniture during Salone del Mobile. Instead, she devoted the space to SOS Save Our Souls, a project initiated by 16-year-old Achilleas Souras. The high school student has been exploring ways to turn the thousands of life jackets left on Greek shores by Syrian refugees into temporary shelters shaped like igloos. At Moroso, one igloo dominated, and was large enough to enter. The exhibit was deeply moving and a stark reminder that the Syrian crisis is far from over. That reality was especially poignant set against the richness of design week.
It’s been a year since Zaha Hadid passed away, but so many of her ideas and projects are still being realized posthumously. One of her ongoing collaborators is with Italian manufacturer Sawaya & Moroni, and most of the company’s via Manzoni showroom was taken over by the Pritzker-Prize winning architect’s designs, including this wood-carved table called Trie. Like her buildings, her furniture is beautifully devoid of any hard edges.
Each year, Wallpaper magazine pulls together an impressive exhibit showcasing one-off designs by leading talents; many of them already well known, but just as many unfamiliar names that seem destined for discovery. This year, Holy Handmade! was a non-denominational exploration of religious and spiritual icons. With attendees dressed in monk robes, the exhibit was presented more like a museum of artifacts, with objects by 35 designers presented on white plinths. Among the objects was Tom Dixon and Paper Factor‘s concept for a sustainable sarcophagus. The rooms eventually led visitors to the profane: a Seletti Toilet Paper bar next door where crowds partied ’til dawn each night.
Germans Ermics was born in Latvia in 1985, and began his creative career in graphic design. Since launching his own studio in Amsterdam in 2014, he has turned his attention to constructing furniture out of coloured glass. At Spazio Rossana Orlandi, his Ombré chairs were pure eye candy – a poetic cross of brilliant hues mixed with nods to the minimalist aesthetics of Donald Judd and Shiro Kuramata.
Selections by Tory Healy and Catherine Osborne.