Milan Design Week is the design world’s Art Basel, Met Gala, and Dancing with the Stars rolled into one. Traditionally held in April, it’s a weeklong marathon of exhibitions, cocktail parties, installations, palazzo dinners, and the mammoth Salone del Mobile trade fair, where every brand and designer of consequence struts their latest furnishings.
After the event was canceled in 2020 and again in 2021, observers were beginning to think of the industry as peddlers of—shudder the thought—mere stuff. In a move that surprised anyone who knows how seriously the Italians take their August holidays, the powers that be planned a delayed celebration, which took place this past week. It was centered around a reimagined (and much smaller) Salone del Mobile fair christened Supersalone, where companies put up small but immaculately executed dioramas in lieu of their usual multi-million-dollar booths.
Observers were beginning to think of the industry as peddlers of—shudder the thought—mere stuff.
The message was clear: things might not be perfect, but the fires of design must keep burning. And burn they did. While international visitors were somewhat sparse, the die-hards did show up, including many Americans, despite the last-minute restrictions on unvaccinated travelers imposed the week before. And they put on their knitted linen-and-silk polos from Luca Larenza for the occasion.
The Italians’ obsession with mining their ornate and storied legacy of art and architecture continued with revived masterpieces: Cassina reintroduced Charlotte Perriand’s Paravent Ambassade wood screen from 1966; Flos celebrated the 50th anniversary of the industrial-looking Parentesi lamp with new colors; and Molteni&C sister brand Unifor launched ARCHIVIOUNIFOR, an archival re-edition program that began with an installation of furnishings by the late postmodern maestro Aldo Rossi at Unifor’s Milan flagship.
In a reassuring sign of strength, fashion houses continued their interior-décor offensive into the borders of design with good old-fashioned spectacle. Dior asked 17 artists such as Dimorestudio, Martino Gamper, India Mahdavi, and Pierre Yovanovitch to reimagine its Medallion chair. The showstopper was Sam Baron’s trio of pale-pink outdoor seating that smashed and distorted the Medallion to create a bench, swing, and even a seesaw.
Hermès took a back-to-basics approach quite literally with an installation that could only be described as Neolithic Chic. Inside the event space La Pelota, the house erected a row of primitive-looking structures painted in colorful, geometric patterns and covered the entire floor in sand. Aside from new earthenware plates and other tactile treasures inside the little metropolis, the house introduced an armchair by Studio Mumbai made from a simple, boxy wood frame covered in a material akin to clay.
Similar themes of nature and sustainability could be found throughout the week. Armani/Casa made the radically normal move by introducing a complete collection of new furnishings at its flagship store, which included shiny, faux-bamboo metal floor lamps that are sure to be in every Palm Beach living room next summer.
B&B Italia took its revered Up chair, by Gaetano Pesce, and introduced a limited-edition version in cork; and nothing says “Buy now, use for life” quite like a flat-packed, $25,000 marble dining table by Milan-based rising star and perfectionist Hannes Peer for French outfit La Chance.
On the Via della Spiga, the Italian fashion biannual Lampoon continued on that naturalistic theme with a line of experimental limited-edition clothes by their in-house design office, Prototipo Studio. The pieces included ultra-chunky sweaters and the like made of domestically harvested hemp and industrial scraps.
Despite the pandemic, there was also an unexpectedly strong newsstand presence—Valentino plastered images of its new ad campaign with Zendaya all over a newsstand in Via Giardini, and Air Mail and Fabrizio Prestinari relaunched the storied Edicola Largo Treves, with a little help from street artist Luca Di Maggio, BWArchitects, and launch partner Emporio Armani.
Milan Design Week may have been delayed, but it was not diminished. It’ll take more than a global-supply-chain breakdown to make the Milanese relinquish a single inch of design authority, and it’s well deserved. They’re just too damned good at this stuff.
Dan Rubinstein, the former home-and-design director at Departures, is a design journalist and host of the Grand Tourist podcast