Crisis… what crisis?

July 29, 2009

Jeanne Tan finds Milan still pumping with ideas and innovation despite the financial doom and gloom.

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Friends of mine who were in Milan for the Salone del Mobile and Fuori Salone in April commented that their highlight of the week had absolutely nothing to do with the fair itself – it was in fact a visit to the Achille Castiglioni Studio Museum that moved them to tears. I can’t say that any of the new designs I saw this year had that impact on me, but there were still some great events. With fewer stand-out highlights than in previous years, it’s no bad thing that the design machine has taken a bit of time out.
Unsurprisingly, this year’s fair was more scaled down. It was a year of paring back, subtlety and generally less new stuff, but there was still enough ‘What were they thinking?!’ type rubbish to last another year. Authenticity, innovation and integrity were the words on everyone’s lips; the story was more important than ever. It was the crisis that design had to have, for reflection and re-evaluation, and in order to put the focus back on quality. Smaller presentations and fewer launches, especially from the big names – the exhibition area opposite Superstudio was used as car parking – made it perfect for emerging talents to steal the spotlight. Notably, the crisis didn’t stop ambitious new international design label Skitsch, which launched with a brand-spanking new showroom and an impressive collection of new products. A drawback to this new sensibility? The lack of glamorous parties.
A few last thoughts… To risk sounding like a broken record, sustainability still doesn’t seem to be taken seriously; more big fashion names are getting into design, including a significant collaboration this year between Diesel and Moroso; and Front Design is totally overrated.
See you at the next Milan. Let’s hope by then we’ll see more design that makes a difference.

Craft Punk
All the action of the week, literally, was at the Craft Punk design performance event. Curated by Design Miami in partnership with Fendi, Craft Punk was the highlight of the week. Over three days, 10 of today’s hottest emerging designers/design studios, including Peter Marigold, Kwangho Lee, Studio Libertiny and Shay Alkalay, transformed Spazio Fendi into “an active environment for unruly intellectual inquiry and action-based design processes”. Working with traditional craftsmanship, the designers used discarded Fendi materials, including leather, fabrics and metal hardware, to fashion their designs ‘live’.

Maison Martin Margiela
To introduce the launch of its interior products and studio, influential Belgian fashion house Maison Martin Margiela recreated the space of its Interior Design Workshop in Paris. The eclectically beautiful installation Mat, Satiné, Brillant presented new designs and concepts including printed rugs, wallpaper and lamps – a clever, visual and atmospheric showcase of the label’s new direction and identity. Perhaps designers could learn a thing or two from fashion.
Interiors and Installations: Moroso Africa, Prophets and Penitents, and Established and Sons

M’Afrique saw Moroso’s showroom transformed into a multicoloured Africa fest designed by one of today’s hottest designers, African-American Stephen Burks. Existing Moroso designs were upholstered in African fabrics, new products were made in Africa and contemporary artworks were presented including a reportage by architect David Adjaye.
Meanwhile in Milan’s oldest church in Sant’Ambrogio, prototypes of chairs expressed design’s religious devotion to the humble seat. Organised by DAMn magazine, the exhibition featured prototypes from designers including Konstantin Grcic, Marcel Wanders and Ineke Hans. Gorgeous installation, again showcasing the process of design.
There was no sign of the recession at Established and Sons where 16 new designs were launched. The furniture was this year exhibited in a spectacular timber-walled settlement, made from thousands of pieces of tulipwood normally used for the back end in the furniture industry.

Shigeru Ban, 10-UNIT SYSTEM, Artek
Extending on his pavilion design for Artek in 2007, which utilised an L-shape profile to create the whole structure, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban adopted the same principle to fashion furniture. The modular 10-UNIT SYSTEM uses L-shape units made from recycled wood and plastic, which are combined in numerous ways to make a chair, bench and table. Launched on a minimal stand emblazoned with the statement ‘One Chair is Enough’, the design continues Artek’s genuine commitment to sustainable design.

Objects for the Age of Obama, Salone Satellite
Students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) re-imagined everyday objects adding a measure of ‘Obama-ness’, based around President Obama’s personal and political values. Products included a secret ashtray, a soft leather piggy-bank that allows you to feel what you’ve saved and, the favourite, a lamp shade that, when switched on, shows a map of the world as seen by night. A breath of fresh air in the stuffy Fiera halls.

Christien Meindertsma, Flax Project
This young Dutch designer is giving the big names a run for their money. With the ‘Flax Project’, Meindertsma created a whole collection around the forgotten material flax, which was traditionally used for rope making in the Netherlands and is the base for linen. Meindertsma has resurrected this craft to create a series of woven interior products using rope right down to candles that have a flax wicker.

Senseware and Rosenthal ‘Cord Porcelain’
Visitors got a glimpse into the future of fibres with ‘Tokyo Fibre 09 Senseware’. International and Japanese designers were invited to dream out design possibilities using Japanese synthetic fibres. Designs included Shigeru Ban’s carbon fibre chair, Nendo’s inflatable fabric sculptures and Kengo Kuma’s light penetrable concrete using luminous optical fibres.

On a more low-tech perspective, German ceramics manufacturer Rosenthal presented ‘Cord Porcelain’ from young German designer Silke Decker, where thick woollen threads were soaked in porcelain, and woven to create stunning bowls.

Studio Makkink and Bey, House of Furniture Parts for Droog
Pop out your interior! For Dutch design label Droog, architect Rianne Makkink and designer Jurgen Bey created the House of Furniture Parts where you can pop out your furniture from templates made of standard plywood sheets and assemble those plates into a house or room.

French design is making a serious comeback. A new player, design label Moustache, debuted in Milan with a collection of playful, colourful furniture by established and emerging French designers. Matali Crasset’s pieces Instant Seat (a bent plywood seat with a collapsible trestle base) and Xtraroom for creating a room within a room were a hit.

Moooi light Raimond
These circular metal lights, designed by70-year-old Dutch engineer Raimond Puts, stole the Moooi show. Based around the structure of a geodesic dome, Raimond is composed of an intricate inner and outer layer that conducts electricity through LEDs, which are located at the nodes of the structure.

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