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INTERNATIONAL FURNITURE FAIR IN MILAN

Substance gives way to spectacle

Design companies, under constant pressure to churn out fresh goods, gun for photogenic displays

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Louis Vuitton's latest Objets Nomades collection at Palazzo Serbelloni, a palace where Emperor Napoleon once spent several months with his first wife, Josephine.

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Sigi Ahl, the creative director for clothing brand Eileen Fisher, showed ghostly clothes plastered to a surface, inspired by the 1980s paintings of David Salle.

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Alessandra Roveda in a display made by Missoni, the Italian knitwear label.

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Italian designer Paola Navone created chairs plucked from second- hand shops and wrapped in playful, resin-coated bandages.

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Conde House, a Japanese furniture maker, showed an upholstered oak chair called Nupri that looks like an airplane seat in the age of the Jetsons.

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Pietro Sedda, a Milanese tattoo artist, created a set of botanical-themed plates and other designs for the German dinnerware company Rosenthal.

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Mosaic tile flora bloomed on the walls of Bisazza's new flagship store in the Brera District. Renowned Italian architect and designer Carlo Dal Bianco designed both the patterns and the space.

Milan

THE winding staircase of the Palazzo Serbelloni was jammed with visitors photographing the bulbous Venezia lamps that Marcel Wanders designed for Louis Vuitton. The designers at the International Furniture Fair in Milan have long figured out that the 386,000 who attended this month are a tiny slice of the real audience, who live on Instagram.

Under continual pressure to pump out fresh goods, design companies now rely on eye-popping displays to mask the distinction between old and new products. Substance is giving way to spectacle. And if that doesn't bode well for innovation, it does make for a heck of a party.

Upcycle chic

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A persistent paradox of the design fair is the creation of so much stuff in a world overburdened with waste. Some designers met this challenge by turning castoffs into high-end products. Paola Navone, an Italian designer, teamed up with Corsi Design to create One Off chairs that were plucked from curbsides and secondhand shops and wrapped in playful, resin-coated bandages. (From 1,000 euros (S$1,518); corsidesign.it)

Eileen Fisher, the clothing brand, which turns unsold garments into lush wall hangings and pillows, showed work by the project's creative director, Sigi Ahl, with ghostly clothes plastered to the surface. It was inspired by the 1980s paintings of David Salle. (8,000 euros; eileenfisher.com.)

Carbon copies

Iconic designs were remade in more earth-friendly materials. The Emeco 1006 Navy chair, originally made 75 years ago in aluminium because it didn't rust or sink, now comes in wood. (Available in May, US$700 to US$1,000; emeco.net)

Kartell's Camponobili storage unit, introduced in 1969, has a new life in bioplastic. The plant-based polymer is biodegradable and comes in pastel colors. (Available in May, US$290; kartell.com)

Misshapes

Not since the 1990s have we seen so many biomorphic shapes. Even Molteni, an Italian company known for its clean contemporary lines, has joined the fun with Surf, a blob-shaped couch designed by Yabu Pushelberg. (Available in July, US$9,745 for the version shown; molteni.it.)

Free-form designs spilled onto rugs. Joost van Bleiswijk, a Dutch designer, creates Dadaist carpets inspired by ripped-up paper fragments. (nodusrug.it)

Looney tunes

Designers also adopted cartoonish shapes that vied for attention. Mattiazzi, an Italian firm, showcased Fronda, a collection of chairs and stools that channel chunky primitivism. (mattiazzi.eu) Conde House, a Japanese furniture maker, showed an upholstered oak chair called Nupri that looks like an airplane seat in the age of the Jetsons. (condehouse.com)

Plant-based wares

Plants and floral patterns were spotted throughout the fair. Pietro Sedda, a Milanese tattoo artist, created a set of botanical-themed plates and other designs for the German dinnerware company Rosenthal (Cilla Marea plate for US$100; rosenthal.de).

Mosaic tile flora also bloomed on the walls of Bisazza's new flagship store in the Brera District. Carlo Dal Bianco designed both the patterns and the space. (bisazza.it)

Mining the 1970s

The glamour of 1970s Art Deco is having a moment. Consider the UpTown floor lamp designed by Ferrucio Laviani for Foscarini. This disco tower of tricolour glass evokes the Empire State Building. (US$3,953 to US$5,908;foscarini.com).

Likewise, the tubular chrome and leather Coda chair by Atelier Troupe recalls 1970s Hollywood by way of the machine age. (From US$8,000; atelierdetroupe.com.)

More Memphis

Designers continue to draw inspiration from the 1980s. Six, a design gallery in Milan, paid tribute to Ettore Sottsass, the father of the Memphis movement, with totemic ceramic sculptures. (Available in the fall, 650 to 890 euros, bitossihome.it.)

Alchemy

Designers are mixing and matching materials that defy traditions. Apparatus, the New York studio, showed armoires, tables and lamps made from hand-dyed eel skin, Carpathian burl, Patagonia marble, shagreen and beaded embroidery on brass mesh. (Interlude collection, pieces starting at US$32,000; apparatusstudio.com.)

Knitting factory

Our desire for cosiness knows no limits. Missoni, the Italian knitwear label, yarn-bombed a house worth of vintage items, including TV sets, a double bed and chandeliers, under the direction of Angela Missoni.

Asked how long it took to crochet everything, Alessandra Roveda, the artist, said she didn't think in terms of days or years but in "television series". (Objects for sale at Galleria Paola Colombari.)

Is this Fashion Week?

Fashion brands have become an unmistakable force at the fair. Hermes took over a former jai alai court in the Brera District with jungly wallpaper and a giant brick maze. Marni built a dystopian playground with slides and colourful furniture.

Cos 3D-printed a lacy outdoor pavilion. Versace turned its mansion on Via Gesu into a tropicalia fantasy. And Louis Vuitton unveiled its latest Objets Nomades collection at Palazzo Serbelloni, a neoclassical palace where Napoleon once spent several months with Josephine. Maybe you've seen it on Instagram? NYTIMES