Milan, June 2022: I am standing in a salmon pink room looking at a work by the late designer and architect Aldo Rossi. A Dalí-esque depiction of a giant coffee pot, perched against a conical-topped building between a horse skeleton and a lobster, it conveys in one stunning image both his explorations of memory and scale and a vision that makes no distinction between architecture and pattern. Another of his works shows the Duomo in Milan looking out of a sunny room window. It strikes a chord when seen in the Museo del Novecento, the museum facing the White Cathedral. Aldo could have designed the painting right there.
The Duomo is an old friend. I have been visiting Milan and its annual design festival for countless years. Earlier this month, however, my comeback felt like a homecoming. The sun was shining, the city was buzzing, and on every street corner were posters proclaiming: Design is Milano and Milano is Design.
The catchy slogan was a reminder of how design has connected everything in this corner of the world. It is its cornerstone, the Fuorisalone having long played a role in the heritage and culture of Milan. Therefore, Rossi, star of the city’s design exhibition, has also been a constant companion of my stay, appearing at Alessithe takeover by Galleria Manzoni, marking the brand’s 100th anniversary (an unsurprising cameo given that its coffee makers are among the brand’s design classics). The air of surrealism here was palpable: a shop turned into a curling rink, with kettles used like slide stones skimming the ice. Next to it, nutshells were smashed by Enzo Mari’s phallic Farfalla nutcracker: function combined with the trademark ironic humor.
At the event, CEO Alberto Alessi didn’t dwell on the past. He preferred to point the finger at app-enabled small appliances before making the big reveal: a new take on cutlery by the late Virgil Abloh, in collaboration with his London design studio Alaska Alaska, evoking childhood memories of Meccano cranes . It was a bittersweet testament to the designer’s prolific output. across town to Cassinaanother Abloh design connection was celebrated – modular “building blocks” capable of transforming into anything from benches to a side table.
At the museum of Molteni&C, a Rod Gilard-designed glass cube on the outskirts of town, Rossi returned. His tilted, gravity-defying Parigi chair was one of many designer collaborations the family business has commissioned over its 88-year history: treasures on display included a Gio Ponti desk, Luca Meda’s Primafila sofa and the Filo chair by Tobia Scarpa. Its archivist Peter Hefti reminded me of the brand’s own ties to design: founder Angelo Molteni was one of 13 entrepreneurs who created the Salone del Mobile in 1961 – which is now home to its current design stars. Back at Salone, I was one of the first to see the new Yoell chair and Vincent Van Duysen’s Living Box, a storage system consisting of a neat box inside an open unit offering endless uses, and chameleon when designed in different materials. . Yabu Pushelberg’s reinterpretation of his classic Dada Tivalì fitted kitchen, meanwhile, hid slabs of marble behind two giant doors.
The next three days were a maelstrom of espresso-fueled curtain drops and champagne corks. Trends – or anti-trends, as some of us called them – emerged. The new rule was to break the rules: to The DoubleJ, new jewel-toned Murano glass vases and tableware in contrasting prints for the upcoming holiday season were showcased among flowery dresses on Via Sant’Andrea, creating a joyous assault on the senses. The clashy-mashy style was also featured at Return to Arcadia, a collection for the fabric house Rubelli by British designer and FT columnist Luke Edward Hall.
Outdoor furniture like indoor furniture has continued to be the focus of modern furniture brands. France added new pieces to its Boundless Living collection, presented alongside a series of leather objects created with the Acqua di Parma and Loro Piana fabrics launched last year. Fornasetti‘s garden furniture, punctuated with bold pops of color and featuring the whimsical patterns long associated with the Italian design maestro, was a sight to behold.
Young creatives and design beginners have taken over the city’s galleries and abandoned spaces. studiopepe‘s immersive installation, located in the industrial wasteland that is Baranzate Ateliers, showcased a collection of furniture and objects with Galerie Philia, marking the studio’s debut in collectible design. Dimore Studio transformed his gallery into the smoky exhibition of another Forgotten world, and Nike was in town with an eco-vision, taking over the 29th-floor Eden Skyhouse on Via Vittor Pisani. Craftsmanship and sustainability have been intertwined in visions for the future, merging brilliantly into Loewethe exhibition Weave, Restore, Renew – discovery of leather, Coroza straw and the weaving of Jiseung paper.
Fashion has taken over the festival – its laser focus on interiors a clear statement of intent. Few could fail to notice the new additions of Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana megastores to the city, the two lifestyle hotspots for fashionable living. Fendi showed off new designs, including a jaw-dropping bar cabinet evoking its signature Pequin stripes in rich veneers. Among its star collaborators was Swiss designer trio Atelier Oï, who were in town to oversee their Fendi creations in situ, including their domed Metropolis table. The trio also designed new pieces for Louis Vuitton, previewed at the French fashion house’s colorful installation on Via Bagutta. His Belt Lounge Chair, Belt Bar Stool and Belt Side Stool featured seats made from Vuitton leather straps held in place by brass buckles, reminiscent of those used on the house’s bags.
Milan has become a podium: Aquazzura launched its first casa collection in the form of tableware suffocated by flora and fauna; Dior House collaborated with Philippe Starck, who reinvented his Médaillon chair – dramatically revealed at the show in an underground black box under dancing spotlights; and Ralph Lauren hosted the fanciest party in Milan, recreating his vision of life in a grand palace on Via San Barnaba. Among British designers coming out, Stella McCartney has revealed her first-ever interior partnerships with the Italian design brand B&B Italy and heritage british wallpaper house cole and sonwhile Paul Smith launched sofas, armchairs and coffee tables with the company FromPaduaall shaded with various Pantone tones.
show faithful Tom Dixon was also in a reflective mood, looking back at a body of work presented as sculptures in collaboration with Sotheby’s at the neoclassical Palazzo Serbelloni, before launching her new collection of limited-edition accessories and fragrances for the 20th anniversary. What emerged was no longer just a celebration of furniture, but an event savoring broader conversations about the importance of design – a medium touching all aspects of life, from the outline of a pitchfork to the sweep of a car or the arch of a building. Aldo Rossi would have been impressed.
The Aldo Rossi exhibition runs until October 2 at Novecento Museum in Milan