Milan Design Week 2019 Review
Rachael Hymas discusses this year’s trends at Salone del Mobile.
I truly believe that Milan is a place you can develop as a designer at an incredibly accelerated pace. The festival is large enough to allow everyone to find their niche; that little bit of inspiration to take away to aid the year ahead. It’s also a true test of stamina as I came back both shattered and full of energy at the same time.
When in Milan, I believe it’s important to strike a balance between visiting the icons and the work of designers you love, whilst also sparing time to get lost in the city and discover something new. I decided to focus my time on the more conceptual side by visiting exhibitions in order to discover new and completely fresh ideas. I also wanted to speak directly to designers in order to understand their stories and broaden my knowledge of the design industry.
This year there was focus on technology as a tool for progression towards designs that are more sustainable. A sense of pushing through our perceived boundaries into a new dimension all together. Japanese designers may have had a big presence last year within furniture collaborations with iconic Danish brands such as Fritz Hansen; however, this time they were ahead of the curve in all aspects.
Takt Project – Glow = Grow
Led by Satoshi Yoshiizumi, Takt Project is a studio based in Tokyo that leads with the idea of innovation. The concept of ‘growing through glowing’ is based on years of research to investigate how we can make design circular; essentially renewing itself. After entering the darkened ‘cave’ you saw a simple line of resin pendants that were growing through specially programmed LEDs. “The installation creates a new environment that is neither natural nor artificial”. A raw output that was truly haunting; coming across very organic and not at all contrived. The science behind the installation was clearly complex, however the exhibition managed to display the information in a format that was easy to understand. It highlighted the blurred lines between reality and technology and that seemingly impossible ideas can become reality.
YOY – Existence
I stumbled across this exhibition and I’m very grateful I did! YOY is a Tokyo-based multidisciplinary studio that designs furniture, lighting and interior spaces. Their solo exhibition ‘Existence’ focused on the limitations of the human brain and “errors that occur within perception”. As a sort of design optical illusion, they used lighting and technology to represent objects that were visually inaccurate or weren’t there at all!
Yamaha Design Laboratory – Pulse
After an absence of 11 years, Yamaha Design Laboratory returned with an exhibition under the arches in Ventura Centrale. They offered visitors the chance to explore how technology can trigger emotions. During my time there I observed two young children playing on the piano installation and it was clear how much joy it was bringing them. ‘Pianissimo Fortissimo’ was a stunning wall-mounted piano/art piece that offered the ability to enjoy music whilst getting lost in another form of art.
DNP – Patterns as Time
Again, based under the arches in Ventura Centrale, this installation presented how technology can be used to totally transform an environment. Yet another innovative Japanese design studio, one this time with an astonishing 140 years under its belt! ‘Patterns as time’ was a buzzing balance of vivid colours and striking monochromatic shapes that gradually changed as you explored the space. I’ve always been interested in pattern and its ability to bring nature and culture into design schemes. “Our thoughts are passing on traditional ideas and historic concept to next generations through design that is connecting past and present with information”. Edo-Komon’s contemporary take on traditional Japanese patterns represented both DNP’s long heritage and their ability to adapt and still be ahead of the curve.
This year many designers aimed to offer alternatives to plastics within design. The iconic Milanese gallerist Rossana Orlandi, whose gallery is a must see on the Milan design week trail, continues her mission to enlighten designers on the impacts of plastic usage. Last year she launched an initiative called ‘Guilty Feeling’ which aims to reach out to those directly responsible for throwing plastic waste into the sea in order to make them reconsider their actions. Orlandi also launched the ‘Ro Plastic Prize’ as part of her ‘Guiltless Plastics’ initiative which aims to champion designers who are able to find ways to reuse the material sustainably.
Based inside an abandoned panettone factory, Alcova houses fresh ideas where you can chat with the designers. Designers who are truly passionate, eyes wide with enthusiasm even if they were out until 4am at Bar Basso the night before! I believe that these unassuming and down-to-earth innovators will have a big impact on the design industry in the coming years. Milan always keeps itself relevant by offering a platform to the ‘up-and-coming’. Running for almost a decade, the ‘New Material Awards’ gives innovators a platform to continue their research with the hope they revolutionise the way we use materials. From the creation of new and the reuse of old there were offerings such as recomposed bamboo; algae as an oil replacement in bioplastics and plasma rock and recycled glass as a construction material.
Manuel Contri + DWA Design Studio – Hacker
‘Hacker’ is a project that combines the design credentials of DWA design studio and Manual Contri. The products highlight ways in which stone can be processed and questioned “what it is to be an artefact”. The designs were beautifully simple and communicated that waste should be seen as another material and not carelessly discarded.
Dzek + Formafantasma – Volcanic Ash ExCinere
Dzek and Formafantasma collaborated on this minimalistic exhibition that allowed the material to represent itself. Dzek is a company that develops architectural materials and believe in close collaborations with designers in order to innovate and develop new products. Beginning with a pile of volcanic ash in the entrance, the visitor then journeys around the space to encounter the glazed tiles that are constructed from the modest material. A sense of ‘making something out of nothing’ the burnt colours used also evoke the dynamic landscape that the tiles originate from.
Nendo + Wonderglass – Melt
This exhibition was truly astounding and was by far one of my favourites. Iconic designer Oki Sato, founder of design studio Nendo, collaborated with Wonderglass to produce a series of new-age design icons called ‘Melt’. Wonderglass are experts in Venetian glass, whilst Nendo are known for their vast collections of designs for a wealth of different clients. The vaulted space in which the exhibition was located was modestly occupied with a large illuminated area containing the furniture, accessories and feature chandelier. Nendo and Wonderglass had chosen to allow the material to dictate its own formation during the production process. In result, the glass looked less rigid and more fluid. Visitors were treated to a true design marvel and it was clear as the large exhibition hall was completely silent.
COS + Mamou Mani – Installation
As usual COS didn’t disappoint, presenting a structural installation that came together by collaborating with Arthur Mamou Mani’s London based architectural practice. Focusing on the themes of sustainability and technology, the structure was made up of 700 interlocking 3d printed blocks from a mix of wood and bioplastic. This coupled with the Renaissance setting as the backdrop provided all visitors with an incredibly instagrammable display! I really value the way in which Milanese architecture becomes the frame to modern design.
Tarkett + Note + Magis – Formations
Tarkett worked with Note in order to represent ‘IQ Surface’ in a way that went beyond the limitations that most people associate with the material. The installation comprised of large totem-like posts that were in the most beautiful array of pink, neutral and warm hues. Magis added a touch of reality by transforming the ‘art’ into real-life and highly usable settings.
Oddness – Larva Lamp
An eclectic mix of fun products that looked at uncommon production techniques. I was particularly drawn to the ‘Larva Lamp’ that seemed to be nothing more than recycled plastic and industrial wire. It just shows how sometimes the inexpensive can become the talking point within a design – whether that’s a good or bad thing!
- CONNECTION TO NATURE
Kvadrat + Raf Simons – Fabrics
This exhibition was such a harmonious clash between the delicacy of the floral display and the urban space it was set in. There was a sense of ordered wilderness here. A feeling that Raf Simons and Kvadrat had taken something very ordinary, nurtured it, then replaced its natural environment to ensure it stands out. The collection by Raf Simons is exactly that, very textural, adding more depth but without losing the delicate nature of the fabric.
Aqua Leonardo Da Vinci’s Water Vision – Installation
‘Aqua Leonardo Da Vinci’s Water Vision’ was not one to miss, even if I did queue in the rain for over an hour! Taken into the (waterless) canal, you are treated to a darkened display using water, light and sound. Built around the story of Da Vinci’s fascination with water, technology was used to enhance our experience and manipulate the way we encountered it.
Dornbracht Research Lab – Memory is Data
An interactive exhibition by Dornbracht Research Lab used virtual reality to represent their ideas about memories. The set-up of a simple bucket, hose and VR goggles made the experience accessible to all who wanted to get involved. You were able to see the bucket as a marble basin and the water droplets changed form when a button was pressed. A very playful way to explore perception and how it can be manipulated through technology.
Bvlgari – Weaving the cosmos
One of the big fashion house collaborations this year was between Bvlgari and Tomás Saraceno. This installation was a complete surprise which was great as I find social media a tool that often adjusts your opinion before you’re able to start building it yourself. Soon after entering the space you realise it’s full of spiders building webs. As much as I didn’t want to stick around, there was something quite enchanting about it! The installation considered natural forms ‘great and small’ and how spiders webs can be compared to floating galaxies.
- THE BODY
Humanscale – Bodies in Motion
Humanscale, designer Todd Bracher and Studio The GreenEyl collaborated to create an interactive installation with a clear message. All excited to see how their movement could be represented by lights, visitors queued to see themselves morph into a large dancing figure on the big screen. The installation was a reflection of Humanscale’s deeply rooted design ethics and understanding of ergonomics. Office workers spend a large portion of their lives sat in chairs and I speak from experience when I say that Humanscale’s expertise are hugely beneficial to life spent in an office environment. Humanscale’s mantra is to work with the body rather than restricting it; ‘Bodies in Motion’ was an installation that represented this concept very well!
Whilst in Milan I was treated to dinner at the Terrazza Triennale by the wonderful USM team; the setting was wonderful with amazing views across the city! I sat next to Pascal, the International Business Development Director, whose passion and commitment to the brand was truly inspiring. Later during my time in Milan, I visited the ‘Wallpaper Handmade’ exhibition and was amazed to see the product in a vibrant pink shade. USM are a classic brand that are iconic due to their ability to stay true to who they are whilst also staying relevant. It reminded me of the recent photography campaign with 9 high-profile Australian designers who represented the immense versatility of the product without turning the icon into an art-piece. The same can be said for the Wallpaper installation, the product was the art without the need to deconstruct it into anything else.
Whilst visiting Alcova, I visited the Bisley ‘BOB’ display as curated by Disegno. The first thing that struck me was the simplicity of the product. Designed by Paul Kelley, the cube form is constructed from hand-crafted plywood and can be made-up into a wide variety of configurations. Offering a product with the flexibility to constantly update to suit changing requirements is honourable. Within a ‘throw-away’ culture that’s aiming to become more sustainable I believe it is not only the responsibility of the consumer, but also the designers themselves. Bisley have created a product that doesn’t require replacing after 5 years as it can be broken down, easily moved to new locations and totally transformed due to its modular design – a job well done!
Moooi x Note Design Studio
For the ‘Maze’ rug, Moooi collaborated with Stockholm-based design studio Note to create a three-dimensional architectural design. Note’s affliction with the form of staircases keeps the rug on brand whilst also creating a design that sits well within Moooi’s existing collections of iconic patterns.
&Tradition collaborated with much loved designer Jamie Hayon to produce the Elefy chairs. I’m quite the fan of both &Tradition and Hayon and these chairs certainly do not disappoint – comfortable, elegant yet playful!
B&B Italia – UP50
In celebration of the UP chair hitting the big 50 this year, B&B Italia pulled out all the stops to celebrate. In all honesty if you didn’t know much about the brand you could have very easily mistaken ‘UP’ as a new piece! The chair itself is an icon not only for its shape but also for the fact it was one of the first to represent social matters such as male and female equality within its design formation. Often considered to be a reflection of a female form, the chair is chained to a ball which is said to represent being a prisoner of many things such as oneself, but mainly perception and male prejudices. The large installation outside the Duomo was definitely a great way for the icon to reach the masses.
Another collaboration between Fritz Hansen and iconic Spanish designer Jamie Hayon sees the launch of the JH97 lounge chair. A comfortable mix between a corporate and millennial co-working lounge chair, meaning there are many settings this could be used. The design aesthetic is also mixed as described by Hayon “classic yet modern, bold yet simple, light yet solid” all of which I’d agree with.
Carl Hansen launched another selection of elegant products by collaborating with Austrian designers EOOS. EOOS have designed for a large number of brands across the globe, however their collection with Carl Hansen is one of my favourites. The new Embrace dining chair without arms, E020 Embrace dining table and E021 coffee tables are great additions! The chair is framed beautifully with timber and the fabric sits with a natural and casual aesthetic. The table is a favourite of mine as the top and base appear to just float with the structure looking like loose tied string hold it all together.
Lukas Wegwerth – Three + One
It was interesting to meet with Lukas and to discuss the ‘THREE + ONE’ system. Often simplistic design is overlooked; therefore it was great to learn more about the principles that had been used. On the face of it a very humble joint mechanism, however it had an integrity that reflected the studio’s roots in Berlin. The furniture collection that followed is well-considered and really cool – perfect for an urban setting!
Lambert and Fils Luminaires
The installation based in Alcova showcased the Sainte collection in all its glory. The new collection with Rachel Bussin uses layered colourful glass in rectangular forms that just float above their setting – really striking!
Last year there was a focus on natural materials such as timbers as a step away from plastic. This year the move seemed to be towards creating new materials and the use of harder materials such as stone and metal. Perhaps this is a reflection of the centenary year of the Bauhaus and its focus on form following function. In addition to this, the technological aspect of design was also at the forefront. Big players such as Google took the lead in discussing the topic of humans and technology. In my opinion this was the year of the Japanese designers in regard to their forward thinking and use of technology – what a year!