THE FURNITURE DESIGN world is a highly competitive one. Cities from Tokyo to Oslo jostle with the sharpest of elbows and shiniest of products for the attention of the serious international design crowd. So it is especially notable that Milan’s place on the lucrative global design stage has remained unchanged since its inaugural Salone del Mobile exhibition in 1961. This year, the 53rd edition of the fair held in Milan each April offered an extravaganza of 989 Italian and 374 foreign exhibitors. With so much to see, we kept our focus firmly on an invasion by the likes of Versace, Giorgio Armani and Missoni that cleverly blurred the boundaries between furniture and fashion in stylish home furnishing collections.
H&M-owned upmarket fashion house COS stood out this year with a master class in how a collaboration with world-class product designers can cast a fresh perspective on classic pieces. The brand commissioned innovative Japanese designer Oki Sato of design and architectural firm nendo (which has studios in Tokyo and Milan) to rethink its beautifully simple white shirt.
“The white shirt is the cornerstone of our design philosophy; we love to reinvent them every season and so we were really excited that nendo picked the shirt as a centrepiece for its installation as it’s such an important part of our collection,” explains Martin Andersson, head of Menswear Design at COS.
The art installation, a celebration of understated aesthetics, was trademark nendo with crisp white long-sleeve shirts transformed by subtle gradations of grey into a creative canvas shown on minimalist geometric steel frames.
“I feel that nendo and COS have a lot in common with how we see things; simplicity, purity and focusing on the small details,” says Sato. “When you look at a white shirt from COS it explains so much, so I decided to let the shirt do the talking.”
The show also included an exhibition of nendo’s other designs, including understated candlestick holders and cutlery.
The good news for those who couldn’t make it to Milan? The products on show were available for sale on COS’s easy-to-navigate website.
Luxury fashion brand Missoni mixed furniture design and fashion with as much dexterity as it employs in creating its kaleidoscopic knitted designs. Although the company has long been involved in home furnishings, this year it drew renewed interest thanks to a body of work created with ceramics firm Richard Ginori, which transformed the brand’s Via Solferino showroom with a new range of table-top products and ceramics featuring psychedelic flowers, alongside trademark zigzag designs on the walls and playfully suspended from ceilings.
Elsewhere Missoni commissioned graphic designer Federico Maccapani to “Missonise” Milan with its distinctive graphics and patterns. Think space-dyed Arco della Pace, the unmistakable Missoni logo decorating the spires of the Duomo, and La Scala in a fetching purple stripe. Images were then posted to the company’s Instagram in a highly effective use of social media.
Bottega Veneta used the fair as an opportunity to launch its latest collection of furniture and lighting curated by Creative Director Tomas Maier. The wide range of pieces completes the company’s slow but steady foray into a full collection of homeware, this year featuring enormous hand-woven ceiling lamps and wooden bookshelves with subtle leather trim. Our favourites include a highly tactile mustard-yellow mohair velvet sofa and an oak sawhorse table topped with a thick slab of glass.
Armani Casa joined forces with Jannelli e Volpi to launch a full range of contemporary wallpapers with fine digital prints and silk, sisal and shantung in a neutral palette. Wallpaper was also used to decorate the brand’s ultra-elegant furniture. We were particularly taken with the patinated linen applied with a silver-leaf finish on the Trocadéro dining table. The fair also provided the perfect opportunity for the classic fashion brand to update existing designs using fresh new finishes: the decorative folding screen Exception, for instance, was refined with Aida tropical-inspired wallpaper. The brand also launched Halley and Hyades lamps inspired by traditional Far East lanterns. Named after the comet and the star cluster, the lamps are hand-made using traditional Murano glass-working techniques.
This year’s Salone del Mobile also drew fashion giant Roberto Cavalli, which unveiled a glamorous new collection of wallpaper, furniture and blown glass chandeliers that celebrate what the exuberant founder describes as “a tribute to the Italian and European design heritage.”
The homeware range inspired by the designer’s highly decorative animal prints includes the Wings armchair, a geometric design in vivid colours and graphic floral prints, on show in the brand’s new boutique in Via Montenapoleone.
Not to be outdone, Versace Creative Director Donatella Versace unveiled the Palazzo sofa, inspired by the brand’s bag of the same name. This covetable piece is upholstered by hand in eggshell-grey Nubuck and comes with concealed drawers decorated with golden Medusa heads, the fashion house’s insignia.
Japanese designer Oki Sato must have been especially busy this year. At the fair, the nendo founder also debuted his reimagining of Tod’s signature suede deck shoes into a thoroughly modern item with a white rubber sole and leather laces. The Envelope shoe comes in a variety of colours and wraps the wearer’s feet. For sailing enthusiasts, the shoe is also antislide and waterproof.
“A rubber sole like those traditionally used on deck shoes reflects the Tod’s design lineage; carefully hidden, near-invisible stitching emphasises the softness of the shoe, while a highly breathable mesh inner lends lightness and a sense of relaxation,” explains Sato.
The project, which took a year to complete, was focused, says Sato, on creating a shoe that he would want to wear himself: “Not too casual, not too formal; light, soft, relaxing, functional and with a pinch of humour and elegance.”
Coincidentally the exact same reasons why Salone del Mobile remains at the top of its game.