Despite lingering malaise in the furniture industry, the organizers of the annual Milan Furniture Fair, Salone Internazionale del Mobile, have good reason to ramp up their festival’s firepower this year: they feel the hot breath of their rival city-state, Venice, on their necks.
The battle for Italian design supremacy burst unexpectedly into view last week as Carlo Guglielmi, the president of Cosmit, which runs the Milan fair, told a group of foreign journalists, most of whom had no idea of the conflict, that Venice’s sophisticated biennale exhibition and marketing organization would like “to pick off a little bit of the Salone for its avant-garde furniture, and from the Triennale for culture.”
The 64 members of the press corps, representing 37 countries, had been assembled by Cosmit for a preview of this year’s fair, the first time the organization had brought the press to Milan for the first look, rather than staging its own road trip of world capitals to highlight the upcoming show. It was, perhaps, a sign of how serious the Milanese contingent is about defending its turf.
The fair, which has been held in Milan for 49 years, will be held this year from April 14-19. It draws some 2,500 exhibitors and last year drew a record 313,385 visitors, despite the tanking global economy. That provided a boost of at least 7 million euros to the region’s coffers, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera–certainly a sum the area’s cultural and commercial operators are eager to keep in Lombardy.
So, in addition to showcasing the latest in furniture from international design superstars like Tom Dixon, Piero Lissoni, Phillippe Starck, and Arik Levy, and the newest furnishings and technology for the kitchen, bath and office, the city of Milan will roll out an array of cultural events to sweeten the prospect of a Milanese design pilgrimage.
On March 11, for example, Milan’s Culture Council and four of the city’s historic house museums will open a novel exhibit called “Unexpected Guests: Yesterday’s Homes, Today’s Design,” in which contemporary furniture and accessories will be installed in classical settings. That means a visitor might happen upon one of Maarten Baas’s “Smoke Chairs” in the Stucco Rooom of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli’s 1881 house, or a rattan cradle by Elisabetta Gonzo and Alessandro Vicari might turn up next to a 200-year-old one in the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers’ sumptuously decorated Red Room (below). The idea is to imagine a little ‘conversation’ between the trendy furnishings of, say, the Italian Neo-Renaissance, and the stuff you might see out at the fairgrounds today.
And just to make sure visitors know that while Milan reveres its past, it’s really all about the future, Cosmit is launching its first “I Saloni” smartphone app, which will provide visitors with everything from virtual tours to traffic information. By the way, says, Guglielmi, the app will be compatible with all seven major mobile platforms, from the Google Android to the Nokia Symbian and, of course, the iPhone. And it will be optimized for Apple’s new iPad, scheduled to come to market the same week as the Saloni.
The clear message: Eat our dust, Venice!
[Via Architect’s Newspaper]