Milan Report: Despite the Recession, New Brands Debut

In his memoir, the screenwriter William Goldman famously made this appraisal of Hollywood: "Nobody knows anything."

The same might be said of the design field. The Milan Furniture Fair opens tomorrow after two years of bleak sales and withering competition from cheap imports. And yet, confoundingly, optimism rules the day, at least at the outset. The first incoming tweets are giddy over the wealth of new work and the sprawling exhibition halls known as the fairgrounds at the end of the metro's red line are full to capacity. More surprising still, three ambitious new design brands will launch at the fair. It will take some memorable designs to get them above the white noise. Do they have what it takes?

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The boldest of the new ventures is a $16 million startup called Skitsch (as in kitsch, with an extra "s"), which hits the ground with a site for online sales, a flagship store that opened earlier today in the heart of Milan and a collection of furniture and accessories from the Campana Brothers, Philippe Nigro (above) and 21 other heavyweights. Skitsch launched with considerable firepower by Renato Preti, a home furnishings financier who formerly owned part of the luxury brands B&B Italia and Bulgari. "It is a terrible climate," he told The New York Times. "But this is an underdeveloped market, and there are still opportunities for new companies with interesting ideas."

Skitsch

Prenati will spin his new brand as innovative and inexpensive furniture for everyday use with a high-design sensibility. The company calls it "emotional contemporary design," whatever that means. Blogging for T Style, Monica Khemsurov described Skitsch as a cross between Ikea and Moss. The collection includes tabletop ceramics by Kiki van Eijk decorated with micro-reliefs based on historical table settings and tableware; a sofa made by Marc Sadler from polyurethane foam lashed together with string; and a line of porcelain tableware (above) from Maarten Baas based on crude and spontaneous drawings.

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The fairgrounds will contain 1,496 exhibitors from 318 countries--an Olympic-sized quorum. With the exception of Philippe Starck, who is capable of taking over the fair by himself, the French have historically had a small showing. This year they'll have at least a little more visibility, due to the launch of Moustache, a collection started by Stéphane Arriubergé and Massimiliano Iorio, who also own Domestic, a vinyl wall-covering firm. Their debut line is colorful and photogenic, and it will likely get noticed by the design press. I expect to see lots of photos of the modular storage with corrugated sliding doors by Inga Sempé, a young Paris designer, and an inflatable lamp she made of Tyvek, the insulation used in building construction. The Moustache design most likely to generate talk, however, is a foldaway room (above) for working or houseguests with pink felt walls by Matali Crasset.

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The last big launch of a design brand came five years ago when Established & Son restored wit and glamor to British design. This year one of its co-founders, Mark Holmes, will introduce a new brand called Minimalux, that presents stripped-down, Shaker-simple desk accessories (above) and dinnerware in solid brass and gold plating. Holmes is betting that austerity and luxury are a potent pairing for this cultural moment.

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