Milan Design Week 2021

Supersalone or a new kind of design week in Milan. Here are my overall impressions of this September design week. Was it good? Bad? Innovative? What grade will it get at the end? Story below.

September got busy. Milan, Paris and Copenhagen. With 3000 images on my camera I have a lot of material to go through and I will start by giving an overview for the design week in Milan. The go through the trends and innovations later. Here we go.

Travelling to Milan was strange. Up until the start I had no idea of what the week would be like. Would there be events? Exhibitions? Well, theses things I could read about – but what would the feeling be? Normally a design week in Milan attracts around 300 – 400 000 people. Would it be crowded? Would everyone wear masks? Would it be chaos at the doors?

I can gladly report that everything actually worked. People wore masks when asked to. There weren’t that many larger events in the evenings so it was more focus on eating out with colleagues.

It was a happy week. Everyone was extremly happy to be back. Networking and talks. It was all fun. It was like a unified sigh of release “oh we are back”. And Milan was sunny and nice. Milan when it rains – that is terrible, but this was all nice.

There were pretty much a normal amount of activities on town. All the larger brands like Nike and Google who like to do exhibitions, skipped this year. And that is fine. Focus on proper design.

But of course the number of exhibitions was limited. Here is via Savona 56 which usually hosts large full scale installations by big brands. Now closed.

Brera was busy, Palazzo Litta, San Babila too.  Obviously one was missing focus on young and creative design by students. But we got Alcova this year. Amazing.

Strange, crazy, colourful and just amazing. Here rugs by Leo Rydell Joost. What are the boys actually doing??? Super fun.

Lines were busy since you had to show your covid pass, but that was fine. The longest line was obviously at Dimore Studio and Hermes. Almost felt irritated for a moment – but that is ok. Overall cues were ok.

Trendhunter at Dimore Studio. More from this of course in my full report later this week.

I think most challenging and provocative installation was by Studio Pepe. They worked together with a furniture store so there weren’t really any news. Kind of disappointing. Instead of showing new pieces they added exotic butterflies. When you have no news – how to get attention? Well, live animals… Live animals that are expected to live for one week and then they die. Flying from one flower to the next. Beautiful and a bit dumb. I don’t know if this was intentional but pretty interesting. Are we all beautiful butterflies that go from one flower (exhibition) to the next. Shallow and pretty…

The fair

What about the actual fair? It was good. Overall optimistic. It is funny how everyone is walking around in masks and you realise you suddenly stand next to Alfredo Häberli. Like a live version of “the masked singer”.

Hard facts. Around 425 exhibitors. Everyone got the same stand. Everyone got 27 sqm. You could not build higher walls etc. You could buy two or three stands but basically everyone had the same format. Super democratic and interesting.

Mainly Italian brands. One Swedish exhibitor (Blå Station) and few Danes. Large players like Vitra, Knoll etc were missing.

The halls look a bit empty, but that’s because it is before the fair had opened that day. Airy hallways and clear signage.

Clean and easy overview. Some brand just showed one product, for instance Poltrona Frau that showed one easy chair.

Here an example of someone that booked 2 x 27 sqm.

Easy overview, clear signage and overall very good. The fair wanted to have a sustainable approach and you can of course discuss how sustainable all this is, but at least it is innovative. Will it last for next fair? Most likely not. I think this conservative industry want to go back to large stands with high walls etc – but at least everyone has experienced this new format. I think it was 100% successful. Really. I hope this leaves a mark.

I could actually do the fair in five hours. More of that please.

Sustainability

Should we jump into the subject of sustainability?

On my ride home from Paris I read Form Magazine and an article by Leo Gullbring. He reported from the architectural biennale in Venice and is commenting on the fact that so many architectural exhibitions are talking about sustainability. He says:

“We have done so since 1996 with the exhibition by Massimiliano Fuksas but what is architecture doing to change the way we build things? What are the architects really doing for sustainability?”

So what about design? As mentioned, the fair really pushed how the fair ground got more sustainable. Hundreds of trees were in the hallways and they are later planted in Milan, so that the carbondioxide footprint will be smaller. Interesting and clever.

But 400 000 people are flying in to Milan for a design week like this. It’s like all these journalists, industry leaders and opinionmakers need to spend carbondioxide to talk about sustainability. Do you see the contradiction?

There were even airplane copies at the Molteni stand. Shame on you. Really.

Sustainable innovations were absolutely present. Especially with the former students at “Lost Graduation Show” at the fair. Here a stool in hemp by Estonian Hannah Segerkrantz.

Super difficult to see, but I have this as an example on communication around sustainability. I think this really is the future. We will have to talk about numbers. If you launch a greener version of a product – you have to  say how much greener it is. Report carbondioxide emissions. Compare to last year – don’t just say you are greener. Look at how the fashion industry is working with numbers on tags. It’s when we have numbers we can compare products with eachother. “Oh, this chair has 5. But that chair has 4,3”. We need to be better with declaring numbers. Like we do at grocery stores. Simple as that.

I will be talking about innovation soon, but one thing was clear during the design week. Italians still make super large furniture. And it feels excessive. Almost vulgar. Larger isn’t better. It’s like we haven’t learned anything from the pandemic. Same size sofas. No new funtionality or behaviour.

And over-use of materials. I really think we will question that.

You can of course get a marble top conference room or dining room table – but does it need to be so big? Are we using the materials in a sustainable way? Do you need to have a dining table that fits 12 people when you are only two people at home? Really?

I am quite sure we will see excessive use of materials as unsustainable. I saw a wood chair by a famous designer. Wood is nice. But it was so overused with materials it got heavy and a bit clumpsy. No, we need more intelligent use of materials.

Innovations

Well, nothing has happened. The talks of the last two years are totally not visible during the design week. I mentioned how couches are still oversized etc. And office chairs are office chairs. Desks are still desks. Nothing new. Really.

The result is that you look at super small (and shallow) details like – sofa tables get smaller and layered.  Colours of course.

Layered and trend colour of 2021 (terracotta red-ish)…

But I really miss talks about how we want to live our lives.

Interesting phrase on the wall – but no innovative design. What kind of furniture makes this better? Or help us?

An office desk that looks exactly the way it has over the last 50 years? Softer seat, perhaps?

At the fair we saw a section called “makers show”. Not students, and not large scale companies. Here was for instance this home office solution by Ram Office.

I expected more room dividers for our home office. This is nice. Rio Kobayashi. But very few in general. Where to we hide our computer when we are done working?

And that’s a short introduction. My first report.  Possibly two more.

Milan Design Week was fun. People were excited to meet again. Thankfully the large scale parties were smaller and lines to events were shorter. I really like the new format of the fair with fixed stands but I doubt they will last.

I miss innovation and want the talks on sustainability to level up.

Oh, and there is no digital presence what so ever. Anywhere. I attended a seminar on how slow the fashion world is to adopt to a new digital life. That is nothing compared to the design world. There is literally nothing. Instagram? Maybe. But nothing else. Also another story.

But in total I give the week a four out of five points. Good to be back after all.

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