There is something paradoxical in the kaleidoscopic extravaganza that is Milan Design Week (MDW), the design world’s most popular and distinctive annual celebration of style, creativity and innovation. The more talent it attracts and the more venues it colonizes, the more difficult it becomes to navigate it in its entirety and hence to sort out the best of the ever-multiplying treats it has to offer. To phrase it differently, the richer a dining buffet becomes, the easier it gets to become full without having had the chance to taste everything. Leaving aside the vast grounds of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Fiera Milano, where visitors, just like Alice in Wonderland, step into an immersive landscape of sleekly designed trade booths, MDW takes over the city for one week with an insane number of exhibitions, installations, pop-ups and events that spill out of stately palazzos, pristine galleries and abandoned factories onto courtyards, gardens and plazas.
Faced with such an overload of sensory stimuli and a geographical sprawl that extends from the Ventura Centrale and Porta Venezia in the north-east to Tortona in the south-west, not to mention the long queues and occasional rainstorm, it’s only natural for visitors of “Fuorisalone” to feel overwhelmed at some point. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely love the visceral excitement of experiencing MDW in all its messy glory; we wouldn’t miss it for the world, and not just because we feel the need to pick out the best of what it has to offer. Of course, for our readers, our annual Best of Milan Design Week is reason enough, so with no further ado here is our take on this year’s event which this year took place from the 9th to the 14th of April 2019.
What is most exciting every time we visit MDW is discovering venues that have been ingeniously re-purposed by artists and designers and this year’s event did not disappoint. Take for example the debut of Dimoremilano, a new brand by Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci, the creative duo behind Dimorestudio, which was showcased in a former cinema on Via Mascagni. Comprising furniture, fabric, objects and outdoor collections, and featuring a glossy palette of lacquers, brushed and polished steel, bronze and laminated surfaces, Dimoremilano couldn’t have been presented in a more fitting location than the glam rock ambience of the ex-Cinema Arti. Perched on a steel grating platform and washed in neon lights, the stylized furniture set-ups conjured a darker version of Studio 54, whereas a sequence of small, shabby-chic rooms in an adjacent building allowed visitors to see the new fabric collection in a more subdued environment alongside evocative photos by Andrea Ferrari, part of the new catalogue, hung on the crumbling walls.
Another ingeniously repurposed venue we adored was a former goldsmith workshop in Porta Venezia where Studiopepe. presented “Les Arcanistes”, the third Manifesto project by Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto, the creative duo behind Studiopepe, whose concoction of bespoke new designs, re-editions of historical pieces, artworks and installation rooms, interspersed with cryptic symbols and arcane iconography, dazzled us with its mystical elegance. The descent down into the blinding, all-white basement, where the sound of crushed salt accompanied us as we walked about, was probably the closest to a mystical experience that we happened upon in Milan, although the colour-washed, ecclesiastical ambience of Untitled, a site-specific installation conceived by Dan Flavin for the Santa Maria Annunciata in Chiesa Rossa (Fondazione Prada), and the neon and pastel infused wonderland of the Versace Home Collection in Via Gesù by interior designer Sasha Bikoff and artist Andy Dixon also came close.
As fate would have it, LOCAL MILAN another exhibition that stood out, was also housed in a former goldsmith’s workshop, albeit a more upscale atelier at 5 Vie district. Curated by Emma Elizabeth and LOCAL DESIGN, the exhibition, now in its 4th edition, brought together 44 Australian and New Zealand designers in a formidable showcase of playful sophistication and effortless innovation. Taking advantage of the light-filled, two-storey palazzo, Emma curated the exhibition as the home of an eccentric collector, emboldened by splashes of yellow on the walls and a spectacular floral installation by Australian-born, Berlin-based florist Ruby Barber cascading down from the central skylight.
One of MDW’s attractions that combined a truly enchanting venue with a trove of head-turning exhibits (a magical combination not as common as you’d expect) was Alcova’s abandoned panettone factory in NoLo. Developed by Space Caviar and Studio Vedèt, Alcova is a platform for designers, institutions and galleries steeped in the spirit of the avant-garde whose goal is to activate forgotten locations and the people who inhabit them. Just some of the things that caught our eye amid the poetic abonnement of Alcova’s repurposed industrial facility were the “Non-Objective tables”, a series of tables by Morgane Roux of Atelier Avéus* inspired by Suprematist paintings, the Hacker collection of marble objects by Manuel Coltri and DWA Design Studio (aka Frederik De Wachter and Alberto Artesani), whose colourful checkerboard and stripped geometric patterns belie the use of audacious artisan techniques, and a series of objects by ODDNESS whose innovative manufacturing techniques are matched by their elegant quirkiness. But perhaps what best encapsulated Alcova’s drive to revitalize the venue was “Caffè Populaire”, a six- day concept restaurant by Lambert & Fils and DWA Design Studio that offered visitors a chance not only to take a break and have a hearty meal but also to talk to each other. At the end of the day, “design cannot exist without dialogue”.
We were also impressed by the uncanny furniture collection by Design Academy Eindhoven graduates Schimmel & Schweikle, whose colourful playfulness was juxtaposed with the factory’s discarded machinery at ALFA.brussels’ exhibition space, and the unsettling sexuality of the anthropomorphic chairs of fellow graduate Anna Aagaard Jensen, part of the same installation, as well as the enticing weirdness of “DISSOLVING VIEWS”, an installation by morph collective, at Alcova Sassetti (the platform’s second Milan venue located in a former 1930s cashmere mill in Isola) which tiptoed between the oneiric and the nightmarish.
For every run-down industrial venue that opened its doors to the design-savvy public during MDW19 there was a baroque palazzo or stately mansion awaiting to dazzle its guests with its ornate splendour. Examples abound: Louis Vuitton presented its latest Objets Nomades Collection in Palazzo Serbelloni, interior designer Katrin Herden introduced 6 contemporary designers against the backdrop of the Neo-Renaissance setting of the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum at Palazzo delle Meraviglie, Dutch designers took over Palazzo Francesco Turati as part of the "Masterly- the Dutch in Milano" exhibition, Belgian decorateur Jean-Philippe Demeyer reflected his brand’ whimsical flamboyance in Palazzo Clerici, while Chilean architecture duo Pezo von Ellrichshausen installed their Echo Pavilion at Palazzo Litta’s courtyard. As spectacular was the setting for the “Formations” exhibition at the historic building of Circolo Filologico Milanese whose imposing atrium was populated by 24 geometric totems by Note Design Studio showcasing Tarkett’s new iQ Surface vinyl flooring collection.
Produced using recycled materials, Tarkett’s new product range joins a growing list of eco-friendly projects at “Fuorisalone” confirming the emergence of sustainable design as a major trend in the design world – with last year’s MDW manifesto calling for innovation and sustainability providing further impetus. We were particularly impressed by the eye-popping blue colour of the latest version of Christophe Machet’s Pipeline project at Alcova Sassetti, the primordial finesse of JOIN by Norwegian Presence in the Tortona district, and the ambitious boldness of Swiss backpack brand QWSTION whose installation at Alcova introduced the world’s first ever waterproof fabric made from Banana plants. Developed in collaboration with a Taiwanese yarn specialist, the fully biodegradable fabric aims to replace the plastic fibres that dominate the market, which is certainly good news for our planet – after all, the textile industry is the second largest polluting industry – as is pineapple wool, a vegan alternative to wool by Nathalie Spencer which we spotted as part of “Material Futures”, a show by Central Saint Martins graduates, and part of Ventura Future at Base Milano.
Once again this year, the exquisitely curated shows mounted by household names like Six Gallery, Galleria Rossana Orlandi, Wallpaper*, Nilufar and Dimoregallery did not disappoint. Wallpaper* Handmade’s 10th anniversary at Salone dei Tessuti swept us off our feet with its love theme (including love for gay erotica, courtesy of Tom of Finland wallpaper by Michael Reynolds and Hoffman Creative in collaboration with Flavor Paper, based on archival illustrations by Tom of Finland), as did the Mauritius-based brand Cypraea and New York-based designer Anna Karlin, who both presented their inaugural furniture collections at Galleria Rossana Orlandi. Speaking of things we fell in love with, the new “Feathers” collection of rugs by Maarten De Ceulaer for CC-Tapis was an absolute delight to both look at and touch. Hand-knotted in Himalayan wool and silk, each carpet is an abstract composition of vivid colours and graphical shapes that draws from the illustrations of John James Audubon’s Birds of America and John Gould’s Birds of Australia.
Over at Six Gallery, we got a chance to preview The Sister Hotel, the new venture by Mauro Orlandelli, which will be opening this autumn. Curated by architects Quincoces-Dragò & Partners (David Lopez Quincoces and Fanny Bauer Grung - the creative duo behind Six Gallery), the new boutique hotel shares not just the gallery’s 16th century monastic complex but also its affinity for mixing periods and styles, a talent which we also encountered at Nilufar Depot where curator Valentina Ciuffio of Studio Vedét seamlessly married vintage pieces with contemporary furniture designs for “FUR”, an exhibition languorously spread over the venue’s three-storey atrium among (and inside) a series of inflatable bubbles by Space World Air®.
Equally adept at combining the new with the old, Dimoregallery’s exhibition at Brera was a visionary elegy to iconic Milanese artist-designer Gabriella Crespi, showcasing a special edition of iconic Gabriella Crespi pieces from the 1970s, made exclusively for Dimoregallery in collaboration with Gabriella’s daughter Elisabetta Crespi. Introduced one by one in an immersive sequence of rooms that ranged from intimate domestic scenes to dreamlike settings full of sand dunes and mirrors, the pieces were not so much exhibited but rather exalted.
Two apartment installations at the same Brera location at Via Solferino offered different but equally enchanting interpretations of urban living. For “Perfect Darkness”, creative directors and founders of H+O, Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer and Elisa Ossino, designed an apartment full of subtle geometric patterns, nuanced colours and an eclectic selection of curated and bespoke furniture, with each room featuring a different kind of tile by Danish company File Under Pop (whose creative director is Hoffmeyer), while next door, Constance Gennari, founder of The Socialite Family, created her own personal Parisian apartment.
Last but in no way least, three immersive installations blurring the line between art and design made a lasting impact. “Human Code” by Italian artist and designer Roberto Sironi at SIAM poetically abridged the most important stages of human evolution through ten autobiographical artefacts, “I Think Therefore I Was” at Venture Centrale by Dutch designer Maarten Baas conjured a sonic maelstrom by blasting the words “I think” from hundreds of TV screens, courtesy of random YouTube videos, while “The Accursed Hour” by Mexican artist Carlos Amorales at Fondazione Adolfo Pini managed to inundate the Fondazione’s majestic interiors with a flock of 15,000 life-size black butterflies made out of paper. Gracefully uncanny and unexpectedly menacing at the same time, Amorales’ visceral installation exemplifies more than anything the power of artists and designers to elicit both emotional and cerebral responses, a realization that reliably also sums up MDW19’s wondrous effect on visitors. Don’t take our word for it, scroll down to find out for yourselves.
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2019
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2018
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2017
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2016
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2015
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2014
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2013
BEST OF MILAN DESIGN WEEK 2012
The Pipeline Project by Christophe Machet. Furniture and objects made from industrial PVC pipes.
BANANATEX by QWSTION.
DIRECTION Kevin Blanc / Marius Thut
CAMERA Kevin Blanc / Marius Thut
EDITING Marius Thut
GRADING Kevin Blanc
PRODUCER Muriel Droz
MUSIC Michael Ricar