The 2008 edition of the Milan furniture show did not bring forth any great revelations or discoveries; it was another rainy event (which washed out last year's sunny miracle) that merely confirmed the well-known lines that were seen in 2007.
The journalists' itinerary began, as usual, on the eve of the official opening of the show with previews for media representatives. Veterans of the event could be found, as of Tuesday noontime, at the Triennale for the first viewings of the show. This prestigious venue is reserved for cultural exhibitions and the less commercial displays of famous names.
Vitra presented its experimental Edition line, Cassina offered a retrospective creatively displayed as a museum's collection storage, and Christofle showcased new editions of magnificent silverware from the Gio Ponti Collection. Outside, in a yard that could be mistaken for a mud field, Kartell set up its Outdoor Collection around giant topiaries trimmed in the shape of its creations.
Therefore, journalists strolled among the various exhibitions, nibbling on finger food here and there (a delicious Parmesan at Guzzini), sipping champagne or a cocktail on the terrace set up by Absolut vodka. In Milan, alcohol flows freely and any excuse is a good reason to have a drink offered by sponsors promoting the world of design.
The remainder of the day was spent in the Zona Tortona, which was open not only to journalists but also to early visitors. This first round of touring is a way to get a quick feel of the event, check out attendance, obtain the ever-important media kits and make future appointments for later in the week. Worth noting: this was the only sunny day during the entire week.
While some were rushing to Rho for the opening of the show, others took a decidedly serious turn to the "off" route, with a mandatory visit to Swarovski and its spectacular Crystal Palace. Magnificent chandeliers that transform into showers, cascades of sparkling crystal-feats of technology or of manufacturing, there is always magic in this exhibit.
Then, the discovery of a newcomer: Meta, a British company founded by a famous antique dealer whose mission is to build pieces created by designers and assembled by the best craftsmen. It is a luxury that translates itself into functional pieces reminiscent of decorative art's finest hour.
Close by, the très chic Nhow hotel accommodated a series of exhibitors in the lobby, the various reception rooms and in the halls. A huge area was dedicated to Spanish design where all the Hispanic creators of the day could be found.
A visit to the must-see Superstudio Piu revealed, once again, an exhibit presented by the Madrid Chamber of Commerce and a large area occupied by three Spanish companies: Barcelona Design, Nanimarquina and ÙCamper.
A stop at Tom Dixon's confirmed the consistency of his talent with pieces that are controlled and restrained but not boring. At Bisazza, the ceramics manufacturer, the installation was divided in two parts, one by Jaime Hayon and the other by the grande dame of French design, Andrée Putman. The latter is purely geometric discipline and elegance, while the former is cartoon and futuristic fantasy from this most popular Spanish designer.
The enormous Moooi apartment housed its new items presented as giant wall hangings, and finally, on a side street, Maarten Baas was set up in a garage and displayed his work at the back of a yard in a mechanics workshop, where the Dutch designer's cartoon-style pieces sat among the space's actual clutter.
The day ended with the inevitable cocktails that are so numerous that it's sometimes easier to avoid them entirely than to choose among them.
It was time to attack the show, so to speak, and to brave the crowd that swarms the subway every morning in order to get there (any other mode of transport was simply out of the question). On the site, journalists had the comfort of a private press room with coffee, Internet hook-up and red bags large enough to carry the reams of documents accumulated by the end of the day.
Then, it was time to move along towards pavilions 8 and 12 to find the more prestigious names, where the Poltrona Frau Group carried a good number of them, gathered into an enormous common area surrounded by high walls decorated with reflective patches. Inside, each brand had its own stand reflecting its own personality: Poltrona Frau, Cassina, Cappellini, Alias, Thonet and Gufram.
As usual, there was a huge crowd at the Moroso stand, the "it" brand of the past few years that stands out with its creativity, skilfully managed by a woman adored by everyone, Patrizia Moroso. Vitra, Edra, Minotti, MDF, Driade, Emu, Kartell, the names went on and on as well as the kilometres of canopies and the hundreds of chairs that, given the number of visitors from around the world, were always in good use.
Eurocuccine, which alternates every two years with Euroluce, presented countless kitchen islands, mostly white, with rows of cabinets, also white, whose originality this year seemed to be the invisible aspect, that is the electrical opening mechanisms for doors and drawers. A welcomed feature for the more idle among us.
As usual, the Satellite Pavilion offered a pleasant mix of young talent hailing from all parts, with their strengths and weaknesses. A special mention goes to the skilled work of the Japanese designers who clearly stood out with completed and well-drawn creations. And finally, Quebec's Samare generated great interest and many inquiries about its babiche furniture.
The trip back to the city is always a painful part of the show. The masses of people who invade the subway platforms have to be seen to be believed, to the point where the constant wave must be held back regularly to control the traffic. Not for claustrophobics!
The last day, before the evening departure, for the "off" visits. We headed to Brera and the downtown area, stopping first at the very chic Corso Como. At the Carla Sozzani gallery, the installation was worth a look: 50 Egg chairs from Arne Jacobsen, upholstered by Tal R, filled the space. On to Established & Sons, which has become a classic within a few short years, and then a visit to Tord Boontje's Little Wild Garden of Love at Moroso. Amazement was the reaction to Tokyo Wonder's installation, where a sea of white ping-pong balls literally floated in the dark above thin air and light tubes. And then, while wandering along the route marked with official banners installed by Interni, there was the discovery of a plethora of objects, ideas, installations, and creators seeking their place in the world of design.
The tour came to an end at the spectacular Rossana Orlandi location. This former tie factory, whose atmosphere has been preserved, is a maze of rooms where many independent creators, companies and students display their work. One last drink in the garden (in the rain), and it was time to catch a cab.
Apart from the objects, the Milan excursion is a meeting place to exchange ideas among colleagues, collaborators and strangers. Information and opinions are shared freely, are woven into a web of connections and build networks that extend long past the week and far beyond the borders.
And, as with every year, we leave somewhat saturated, but with the inevitable frustration of having seen only a part of it. Hopefully the right part.