A week in Milan Pt. 1


By: John Mahon

Our roving reporter Lesiele Juliet from Begged Borrowed Stolen went to the big annual design expo in Milan.  From headphones, to sofas, hotels to car manufacturers, The Milan Design Week is like SxSW for consumer products, with all the day and night parties to match.   Up to 400,000 people flood the city to see what new trends are emerging and what new technologies are coming down the road.  

A number of Irish designers were also sent over this year to set up shop and represent the Irish design industry as part of the Liminal Project for ID2015.   

Lesiele met up with the some of the Irish contingent so see how it was all going but before we get into that here is Lesiele's Milan overview and we will follow up with our article about the Irish in Milan later this week.  Stay tuned.

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It’s not surprising to learn Milan has the highest income earners per capita in Italy. The people move with an industrial hum in a cityscape that has a rather grey and gritty European practicality. While other cities in Italy, ooze renaissance romance laissez-faire-who cares about anything-we’re on holiday attitude, Milan has an all work, no play sensibility.



The Milanese can sometimes come across brisk and grumpy, particularly if you lack the basic Italian conversational skills like me however their gruff demeanor is just for show.  Anytime you need help with directions or stuttering your coffee order in tragic, tourist Italian with an accent reminiscent of Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I suggest smiling and use your hands a lot, they’re a nation famous for their animated gestures.



Milan lights up in April, with the throngs of thousands who invade the city for Design Week during the month. Milan Design Expo is the largest design fair of its kind. A fact, locals are fiercely proud of. A global launching pad for the likes of Apple, installations by uber fashion houses; Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo and La Perla, a playground for rock star designers; Tom Dixon, Marc Newson and Marcel Wanders and heavyweights of the furniture design industry such as B&B Italia, Mooi, Kartell and Missoni who questionably sometimes have more money than taste it seems.



Milan Design Week is a circus of crazy, colorful, dazzling design-porn.  As a fellow stylist put it so eloquently, it’s a metaphorical joust of ‘Whose is bigger?’ Not satisfied with last year’s titillating inventions, this year’s fair promises to be bigger and better than the last.

It makes one question our part in feeding the machine of consumerism and materialism, feeling pangs of guilt when you see yet another chair, another lamp, another furniture company spending squillions on yet another collection.

However there were many that answered the call for sustainability, inventive uses of recycling matter and developing solutions enabling us to lead easier, happier lives. Interestingly they were mainly young, emerging designers.

Leaps Innovation are a design agency based in Amsterdam specialising in innovations for consumer markets with a firm belief in co-creation, sustainability, and integrity. They have developed a collection of self-watering products named Pikaplant aimed at making plant keeping easier. Three products currently make up the range, including a self-watering shelving system named One.



A houseplant tray with a self-releasing reservoir called Tableau



And a water-recycling biotope titled Jar.



Reminiscent of a terrarium, the Pikaplant Jar seals plants within an airtight glass vessel with the nutrients they require in order to survive. Hand-selected for their adaptable nature, the plants create and recycle their own water supply within the biotope. They never have to be watered and can last up to a year.

Firm favourites were Swiss Design duo, Edrris Gaaloul and Cyrille Verdon whose design statement “Finding solutions to improve everyday objects, better designed, functional and built to last” resonated with me. Their collection Superlife is designed for everyday use, with objects doubling as a survivor tool in case of a natural disaster emergency.



For example, Méduse is a carpet, which inflates to become a life belt.



Blackout is a floor lamp, which keeps working on battery in case of a power-cut. Its top-part is removable for portable use as a flashlight.



Poumon is a pen pot, which contains a filter that allows you to breath in case of fire or during a dust cloud.



Alive is an emergency whistle hung under the desk. When used, its base becomes bright in order to be detected by emergency services, even beneath the ruins.



Tackling an important energy problem, designers Raphael Menard and Jean-Sebastien Lagrange have created a series called Zero Energy Furniture that can store a large quantity of thermal energy within a small volume. Heating and cooling are no longer exclusively an architectural issue, but one that can be tackled with smart furniture design.



Their elegant-looking Climatic Table can regulate indoor temperatures by storing heat and increases energy savings by up to 60% for heating and 30% for cooling.



One of the more interesting exhibitions housed in the main exhibition complex Salone Del Mobile, is Salone Satellite, a showcase of emerging designers.



Ireland was also represented here by Orla Reynolds



Orla’s design “As if from nowhere” is an independently functioning bookcase, which houses four dining chairs and two tables, that when placed together becomes a dining table. It is intended for small living spaces or for those who wish to cater to the unexpected guest. It’s a playful design with the right pops of colour, which solves the all-important dilemma of space whilst incorporating form and function.

Milan Design Week moves at break-neck speed, with so much to see, so much ground to cover as the fair is spread out over several districts of Milan and greater Milan, it’s physically exhausting and can test the most patient of people. I strongly advise Campari and soda breaks, often, and taking a fellow of the field to strategize with and laugh in the face of the chaos.



Yes, it can be mind blowingly pretentious at times and it does question ones contribution to feeding consumerism, materialism, waste and all those very important issues. However there are some exciting advances with technology and affordable, accessible, sustainable solutions which will make our lives happier and healthier (apparently) and hopefully the little guys with the big ideas being granted funding and the right tools to enable their designs, we’ll see even more exciting stuff in years to come.

Milan Design Week runs the second week of April each year. www.salonedelmobile.com

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