Milan Design Week

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From 9-14th of April, Milan, the fashion and design capital of the world was dazzling under the 58th edition of Salone del Mobile. French Fries stopped by the six days event to bring you the highlights from Milan Design Week as well as an overview on trends for 2019.

Places of everyday conversation, family portraits, domestic interiors that have told the story of Italian life so well from the postwar period to today: in designing their new collection, MMairo drew inspiration from the noblest of rooms, the living room – a place of gathering and conversation, of study and collecting. The perfect inspiration for furnishing accessories to be placed side by side with the iconic furniture that inhabits it almost from a literary point of view. Ivan Colominas, Michele Chiossi and Karen Chekerdjian have designed new and vibrant pieces, partnering with acclaimed American designer Bec Brittain and Niko Koronis who, with studies in London, Milan and Cardiff, offers a classic approach resulting in pure design.

 was born in 2016 in Carrara (Tuscany), international  capital of marble, in the steady embrace of the Apuan Alps, where MMairo oversee the quarrying and processing of this pure gift of nature. The Apuan Alps’ heritage is beauty and MMairo has been able to harness the area’s deep roots to build relationships with local manufactures and artisans, sharing dust and sunset: because expertise on the subject is the first step towards artistic creation. 

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One of the dominant trends 2019 is  Building on the Past. Equally, the idea of genuine re-editions, i.e. dredging the archives in search of forgotten pieces, continues to be a totally dominant trend, harnessing the safety of déjà-vu to ‘treat’ a feeling of anxiety around the new, increasingly evident among buyers. Given that this year marks the centenary of the legendary Bauhaus, there had to be a powerful reminder of the most important pieces produced by the Weimar-Dessau movement, and therefore also of Knoll International, which has always held a controlling share, and has come up with a winning hand. Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the famous art school, shut down by the Fascists in 1933, is being referenced in particular. Of the stylistic homages to Bauhaus, Nicola Gallizia’s Lullaby chair for Porro stands out. Denmark is another focus of interest and renewed study, illustrated by the work carried out by Carl Hansen&Son culminating in the revival of the iconic CH30 chair, designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1954, and Børge Mogensen’s Contour chair (1949), characterised by the unusual combination of solid wood and bent veneer. Fredericia 1911 has, on the other hand, delved into the archives of the Danish designer Jens Risom, who died at the age of 100 in 2016, revisiting some of his forgotten masterpieces such as the small but figuratively complex Magazin table

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While on one hand Fritz Hansen continues its philological work on the legacy of the American designer Paul McCobb (1917-1969), untouched since the 60s but now newly presented with pieces of declared rationalist stamp (see the Planner shelves), it surpasses the criteria for re-editions, with a wholly new concept of reinterpretation or rather re-reading: Jaime Hayon has worked on the classic figures of 50s Danish design, specifically Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl, gently expanding their original lines and turning their chairs into comic strip characters. 

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The manufacturers’ attention has recently also turned to the rehabilitation of Italian design figures. Poltrona Frau continues to explore the designs of Gianfranco Frattini, showcasing a bookcase with a revolving middle (Turner, previously Model 823, 1963), which is a true typological invention. 

In general, the vogue for re-edition tends to apply to later designs, such as the JK easy chair, designed by Jun Kamahara in the late 90s, which Ritzwell has brought back into production, with its voluminous cushions atop a slender metal frame designed to ‘age’ with the passing years, acquiring a precious patina along the lines of the Japanese furubi principle. The iconic Todo Modo modular seating system harks back to 1993 (it seems only the other day, but 26 years have gone by!), designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte for the Louvre, now re-edited by Tecno.

Overcoming formal balance 

So what are the directions this much longed-for ‘new’ is being required to take, as its ‘twin’ world of fashion design would appear to dictate, rather than mass production which, now seems to ‘duplicate’ each and every new product in real time? Of these new directions, the trend towards neo-primitive stands out. It is a crosscutting movement that transects different typological and goods sectors, given to using stone of particular provenance and texture (dark, veined, crushed), raw heavy wood, hand woven fabrics (like tricotage), cement coloured with pigments and wax-finished. Basically, a world in which luxury, for people who have already have and seen it all, is interwoven with the myth of the primeval cave. This can be observed more specifically in the world of textile coverings, but Analogia Project has hollowed out a block of Plexiglas, like the erosion of an ancient iceberg, for the newly established brand JCP (Glacoja centrepiece), while Sam Baron has hung a small copper oxide cup onto an onyx cube (Aboram flower vase/candlestick). Paola Navone has come up with Gervasoni, a classic chair (Next) with a continuous pierced cast aluminium backrest, a technique usually employed in sculpture or for small parts. 

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It’s but a short, and almost automatic, step from imperfection to the valorisation of a ‘dissonant aesthetic’, found in all periods of history similar to our own and therefore marked by an accentuated aestheticism (think of the transition from the Renaissance to Mannerism). Here too, recourse to the work of past masters helps the public through the acceptance process. A perfect example of such a device is the wall-mounted Calvet Hanger, named after the client for whom they were designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1899, now re-edited by BD Art Editions. 

A Lot of Brasil’s Amazonia bench collection pays homage to the great, recently departed and much-missed Alessandro Mendini, the undisputed leader of a trend towards aesthetic desecration. Mendini’s instant elevation to sainthood is clearly also supported by William Sawaya’s credenzas decorated with optical inlay for Sawaya&Moroni, entitled Alessandro I, Alessandro II and Alessandro III. There is no lack of literary or fairy-tale figurations in more technical sectors either, just look at Pinna, a zoomorphic protuberance that can be wall or ceiling mounted, made of anacoustic material by Caimi Brevetti to a design by A+B Dominoni Quaquaro. Andrea Ruggiero has dreamed up a forest of (upholstered) columns, Soundsticks that can be used as original spatial dividers. 

The ecological lesson 

We are steadily becoming more accustomed to an alternative aesthetic, thanks to increasingly frequent incursions into the realm of recycling. 

Design has acquired a new ecological and environmentally aware conscience, along with a certain fascination with the rough, the unfinished and the apparently casual, which has, in fact, led to the systematic rehabilitation of materials that have already been used. Emblematic in this sense is Jorge Penadés’ project for BD Barcelona’s Remix Vol3, which uses coloured extruded aluminium profiles, unfinished components created for products no longer being sold, joined together to create the articulated Piscis collection of vases. It is worth noting that part of the furniture design scene has been influenced by the theme and apocalyptic message of the XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature, which underscores the irredeemable loss of harmony between man and nature. 

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To sum up, the 2019 design products present us with two contrasting hypotheses: on one hand the idea of comfort and luxury persists, often informed by the 50s and arranged into seamless and sophisticated decors. These are put together not with the accent on the design of single pieces but on building an overall ambiance, furthering the great Italian tradition of interior decoration. In this sphere, the companies (such as Giorgio Collection, Annibale Colombo and Baccarat La Maison) sharing the xLux pavilions are perfectly at home, with each detail, each fabric carefully selected to convey an overall feel of luxury and sophistication. 

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On the other hand, as described above, fresh value is being attributed to imperfection and to artisan processes (craftsmanship is undoubtedly one of the most cited words of all). The only thing both trends appear to have in common is recourse to gold. All shades of this precious metal are allowed, from aged brass to a more pronounced gleam, from hand-applied gold leaf to bodywork painting, what matters is that one can talk about gold. Even outdoors (see the Solanas collection by Daniel Germani for Gandia Blasco) gold suddenly becomes a benchmark colour. 

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The hybridisation of spaces 

Financial considerations, such as the overwhelming spread of an extremely high-end market for contract design, and psychological considerations, such as the need to build ‘nest-rooms’, totally coordinated and geared to welcoming and ‘cocooning’ people, are leading to the potential hybridisation of different environments and, consequently, a move from designing individual pieces to designing entire spaces. 

Few people these days, and we don’t just mean end users but also designers, are still capable of carrying on with ‘assemblages of differences’ in interior architecture (including furnishing masterpieces). Decorative schemes now appear have become indissoluble wholes: the flooring is reflected in the wall finishes, the upholstery and the paint, all of which are set off by sophisticated atmospheric lighting. The chosen shades have immediate continuity with the textiles used for the upholstereds (there is a significant increase in research in the fabric sector). Objects are no longer used to give character to the spaces once they have been put together, but have become fundamental mouthpieces for taste and culture, developed contemporaneously with the design. Craftsmanship, especially where objects are concerned, takes on a fundamental role (demonstrated, for example, by the artisan masters who work with clay at the Atelier Vierkant in Ostend in Belgium). 

Great fluidity of design marks out the spaces, prompting multiple uses and finishes for living and kitchen areas, sleeping areas and water/relaxation spaces (absolutely not to be referred to as bathrooms, and especially not ‘washrooms’, particularly when the saunas – see Yoku by Effegibi – have the same level of finish as the furnishings. As we have seen, outdoor spaces belonging to buildings (be they homes, hotels or offices) have acquired the same dignity as the internal spaces and, thus spending on outdoor furnishing is mounting at an astonishing rate. Basically, we are suddenly having to take note of the fact that people’s consolidated hierarchies of values and purchasing priorities, which remained entrenched for generations, have undergone a definitive change. 

We are also seeing designs that straddle different dimensions. The first and most obvious is the crossover between the collective spaces market and the domestic market, with office and living environments constantly colliding. Take Raffaella Mangiarotti’s Ghisolfa upholstereds for IOC with their enveloping, soundproof lines which would undoubtedly prove useful in public co-working situations, as well as in the more recent realm of co-housing; exactly like the Ponto tables presented by Lammhults and designed by Troels Grum-Schwensen. Giuseppe Bavuso’s Self display unit for Rimadesio seems to aspire to the sort of milieu where home and extremely high-end boutique meet. 

While on the subject of increasing crossovers between disciplines, Teatro by Piero Lissoni for Lualdi (a wall that pivots and rotates 360° to become a bookcase, masking the entrance to a ‘secret room’) goes beyond the realm of furnishing to become interior architecture. Equally, the word ‘bookcase’ seems inadequate to describe Jean Nouvel’s Super Position for MDF, which is more of a ‘volume within a space’. 

Straddling the line between furnishing and sculpture, another two spheres that have rubbed shoulders for years, or perhaps since art-design really took off is Eoos for Walter Knoll: the flowing wooden lines and bronze base of the Tama worktable are reminiscent of the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi’s absolute forms. Lago’s capsule collection, XGlass Home, references the world of haute couture with its transposition of high-end materials onto glass. 

To finish off with a smile, there is one final hybridisation that should be flagged up at this moment in time when gossip is playing an ever greater role, and which straddles design and personal life: Danish designer Johannes Torpe’s Heartbreaker sofa for Moroso, its armrests in the shape of broken hearts, which openly narrates his sorrow over a woman who left him on the eve of their marriage! 


Aside from furniture, surfaces 

The real revolution for 2019, if we can put it that way, concerns surfaces rather than objects in their volumetric identity. What might well be described as ‘an aesthetic of surfaces’ has really taken off. This a two-dimensional design approach, in which the more traditional and consolidated materials such as white Carrara marble, quarter-sawn oak and neutral varnish, have been decisively overtaken by a proliferation of veins, breccia, marks, oxidisations, grafts and intarsia: surfaces are striking out with the opulence of their finishes. This is a trend that started a few years ago, but has recently exploded. De Castelli’s Alchemy side tables by Stormo reference the ancient alchemical techniques for transmuting base metals. 

There is a need to stress the fact that this ‘Renaissance workshop transported into the 30th century’ attitude (the present does not appear to exist: the past looks directly to the furthest-flung future!), has had an extremely positive effect on the retrieval of well-nigh forgotten artisan and productive techniques, in the rehabilitation of ancient quarries and types of wood, in the rediscovery of traditional materials such as, for example, rattan (see the work of the well-established Spanish company Expormim), and on e innovative research into surface finishes with three-dimensional effects (see the world of ceramic coverings, and that of laminates and Cleaf’s pyramidal faced panels). A wealth of superlative skills underpin the firms involved with weaving. Both Dedar and Rubelli have carried out in-depth archival research and incursions into the magnificence of the past, whilst endowing their fabrics with the sort of technological performance that would have been unthinkable until a short while ago. Velvet has triumphed for some time, in sumptuous palettes of autumnal colours: shades of red (from powder pink to terracotta and oxblood), shades of yellow (Marsala, honey), shades of brown, shades of green (khaki, sludge and sage). 

Apart from ‘digging around’ for natural materials, we are also seeing a shift towards the creation of original solutions, such as the coloured resin christened Cristal Mood by Antonio Lupi, and Marmor Natum, marble, but taken apart and then put together again in minuscule inlays by Gwenael Nicolas for Budri. With its Smart Wood collection by Philippe Starck, Kartell is managing to turn wood, an ancient material, into a high-performance industrial one. 


From designer to art director, from art director to stylist 

Concentrating design work on materials means that once research carried out in study centres and technical offices has been completed, often the presentation of the results, which obviously calls for hugely precise combinations, is entrusted to stylists rather than designers. In turn, designers find themselves, in 2019, having to change from being from designer-inventors, as has been the case since the end of World War II, to art-directors. This altered state of affairs has persisted for some time, and we should now to try and codify it as we wait to see its real outcome and how well it lasts. Another consequence of this step change is the evident re-assessment of so-called design-stars: brand and company skills are taking on an increasing importance, regardless of the signature and personal self-promotion of designers. This latest development has taken only a few companies by surprise, but not the others, which have always been used to a correct brand/designer balance. An example of this sort of balance is the Japanese film Maruni, which quietly manages to amalgamate the vocabulary of two such giants as Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa. In a similar ‘anonymous’ vein, although declined in rather more vernacular terms (see the solid wood tables and benches) are Denmark’s Muuto and Finland’s Nikari, with the essential Akademia chair designed by the duo Kaksikko. Last, but not least, is the American firm Emeco, which has always been at the forefront in the quest for a fundamental ‘design silence’ along with tremendous focus on the environment (see the new On & On collection by Barber&Osgerby, 70% of which is made from PET plastic bottles). 

Alina Ferraro