Milan Design Week has returned to form. From the Salone del Mobile – the MDW’s anchoring behemoth – to hundreds of offsite exhibitions and events, the itinerary seems to have returned to pre-pandemic fullness. Or, more like bursting at the seams: There’s a tinge of trepidation mixed in with the excitement of embarking on the annual design spree. How to build in enough time for the massive halls of Salone, then hit up all the design districts, from Brera to Isola to 5Vie and beyond, and make sure to carve out enough time for singular delights like Nilufar and Fondazione Prada (which is featuring a creepy exhibition in collaboration with body-horror master David Cronenberg)?
While we may be back to full on FOMO mode this year – as there are more events than can possibly fit into any one person’s calendar – below we outline a few sure bets for getting the most out of the event, which kicks off next weekend.
All roads lead to the Salone. For the first time since before the pandemic, the Salone del Mobile is taking place again in April – the perfect time, and weather, to welcome thousands of visitors to the Rho fairgrounds. The show is a must-visit for anyone heading to Milan Design Week; it brings together the biggest design manufacturers across Italy and Europe, as well as key players in North America. Brands to check out: Living Divani, Gebrüder Thonet Vienna (showing new pieces by India Mahdavi, below, as well as Luca Nichetto), Nanimarquina and many, many more. Euroluce also returns this year, and in an entirely new format that prioritizes the visitor experience.
One of the most fascinating Salone features is SaloneSatellite, which is devoted to design schools and emerging voices. This year, Stefan Diez leads his students at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in an exploration of utopias of sustainable living in the Austrian city, for instance. The platform Belgium is Design, meanwhile, features an array of talents, like Misses Brown (below left) and Tim Somers (below right), to provide a snapshot of that country’s design talent.
Arguably the most popular offsite happening of the past two years, Alcova moves locations from an eerie old military hospital to an even grittier venue: the abandoned abattoir in Porta Vittoria. Curators Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima (pictured below) have their pulse on what inspires the masses, and this edition – besides its new digs – will be no different. Look out for the main bar, designed by Vancouver’s A-N-D (formerly ANDLight), stunning new lighting by New York’s Lindsay Adelman, and the group feature This is Denmark.
Plus, an immersive installation, Interna_Mente by the Venetian company Materica (below), will transform one of the rooms into a chamber of mirrors.
Hitting the showrooms is always a must for design lovers who want to get a more up-close-and-personal experience with designers and brands. The Milan flagships often serve up more conceptual fare than the new collections they present at the Salone. Some brands, like Agape, Moroso and Moooi, are prioritizing the showroom over the fair: those are ones certainly not to miss. And Bocci, the renowned Canadian lighting brand, opens its first-ever Milan showroom during MDW 2023 – a must visit.
Porro, meantime, inaugurates its new flagship on Via Visconti di Modrone (its Via Durini spot now closed) with an immersive three-colour installation (above) accompanied by a narration that travels through time and space, designed by Piero Lissoni.
Anyone who has ever made the trip to MDW knows how crucial it is to set aside a nice chunk of time for Rossana Orlandi. The Italian maven has created an entire design realm unto itself with her galleries (with one in Sardinia), restaurant and awards program. On Via Matteo Bandello, the gallery is accessed via a dreamy courtyard that makes for a great place to sip a Negroni while being immersed in beauty – the exhibitions begin al fresco, then continue throughout the labyrinthine galleries.
Among the features this year is a focus on collectible design that includes sustainable editions from the Knockout Collection (above) by Marie Aigner, which won Orlandi’s Ro Plastic Prize a few years back.
Manufacturers make a big splash at Interni’s annual showcase – where they spotlight the more experimental and ecological strides they are making in larger-than-life installations that fill the grounds of the Università degli Studi di Milano. It’s a marvel to walk through – and a rite of passage – especially after dark.
This year, for instance, the shipyard Sanlorenzo illustrates the future of yacht propulsion in a work by Piero Lissoni (above) that interprets its relentless pursuit of technological solutions aimed at reducing yachting’s environmental impact.
Tortona is on the up. A veteran among the many new design neighbhourhoods clamouring for visitors, the stalwart district of design is seeing a resurgence this year with bold experimental displays as well as big brand names (like Lexus, presenting the finalists of its annual competition, IKEA and Yoox). Among its features is Superdesign at Superstudio Più, which includes Other Horizons (below), an installation by students of ISIA Firenze using Mirabili Design furniture to explore the second life of furniture and objects.
Also in Zona Tortona is Tortona Rocks!, another collective platform focused on how to transform existing designs. It includes features like Unwanted Furniture (below), a project by OpenDot and AMSA – Gruppo A2A that’s all about the importance of reusing furnishings: It takes the shape of a catalogue designed to provide people with 10 easy-to-implement circular strategies for extending the lifecycle of old, broken or outdated items.
Nilufar’s Nina Yashar shows us the “Bright Side of Design” during this year’s MDW at both of her tremendous locations: Nilufar Depot at Via Lancetti 34 and Nilufar Gallery at Via della Spiga 32. The roster of exhibitors is a who’s who of design eminences and includes Maximilian Marchesani, Draga & Aurel, Objects of Common Interest, Michael Anastassiades, Maarten De Ceulaer, Lola Montes Schnabel, Allegra Hicks, Khaled El Mays (below and top of article), and many more.
Anything involving Formafantasma is a must: The duo reprises its curatorial role in the Prada Frames talks series at Teatro Filodrammatici – which includes contributions by Beatriz Colomina, Veena Sahajwalla, Alice Rawsthorn, Paola Antonelli, Fiona Raby, and Hans Ulrich Obrist. And it’s also releasing new designs, including a rug for CC Tapis (above).
Okay, it’s not really part of Milan Design Week. But if you’re in the city, it’s definitely something to check out during the last day or so, when the intensity dies down a bit. “Cere anatomiche: La Specola di Firenze | David Cronenberg” is an exhibition conceived in collaboration with La Specola (part of the Museum of Natural History and Museum System of the University of Florence), which is renowned for its anatomically correct wax bodies. On show, a selection of 18th-century ceroplastic works and 72 exhibition copies of anatomical drawings are presented in vitrines. Resembling Sleeping Beauties or Raphaelite sirens, the wax models were originally created for scientific study. But the show pairs them with a new short movie, David Cronenberg’s Four Unloved Women, Adrift on a Purposeless Sea, Experience the Ecstasy of Dissection, that emphasizes the creepy eroticism factor.
A group show with Rick Owens, FAINA, Studiopepe, Draga & Aurel and more? Sign us up. Desacralized, hosted by Galerie Philia at a deconsecrated church at San Vittore e 40 Martiri, presents works by 20 designers each invited to give their personal interpretation of the notion of desacralization. They took inspiration from objects which formerly had religious associations but that are now just quotidian, functional pieces. The only other stipulation: produce your reinventions in tones of white. Willem van Hooff presents the Trophy (below) and Owens has crafted the Tomb Chair (bottom).
This year, Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone are back in full force. Here are our best bets for doing the most at Milan Design Week 2023.