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Photo: Carlo Banfi. (Courtesy Flos)
Photo: Carlo Banfi. (Courtesy Flos)

Milan Design Week 2022 Preview: Salone del Mobile Is Back, But Not (Yet) in Full Force

June 3, 2022
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Emerging from the pandemic, the design industry, like most of us, has changed. The past two and a half years, which have involved an incalculable loss of life and calls for social-justice reform amidst an increasingly pressing climate crisis, have formed a solemn backdrop. In March 2020, almost at once, in the locked-down lives of many, the notion of “home” and the role of design shifted. As opposed to straight function or beauty, design came to represent a sense of greater comfort, healing, and care.

Now, just a few days away from Italy’s 60th Salone del Mobile design and furniture fair (June 7–12), and the concurrent citywide presentations of Milan Design Week—which together form what has historically been seen as the most significant global showcase of trends and ideas in the trade—the impacts of this historic period on design will come into focus. The festivities follow much anticipation: After canceling its 2020 iteration, Salone presented a pared-down version, called “Supersalone,” last September, and postponed this year’s fair from April to June, followed by weeks of wondering if the FederlegnoArredo, Salone’s governing body, would enact further delays. “This Salone will be really important from many perspectives,” says architect and designer Alberto Biagetti, who runs the Milan-based studio Atelier Biagetti with his wife, the artist Laura Baldassari. “It’s a way of bringing us back to life. I think it’s going to be magic.”

Biagetti and Baldassari have spent most of the pandemic in Milan, thinking about how their definition of home expanded to include parks, streets, and the city beyond its walls, and how all the extra time during lockdown helped them to see such places, in a way, for the first time—with childlike wonder. They also saw how isolation affected their young daughter, who approached them one day with a drawing. “She drew a landscape full of giant cats, and it was surreal and imaginary,” Baldassari says. “She told us, ‘I would love to have a big cat to hug.’ We understood that probably everyone would love a big cat to hug in that moment, to experience that kind of unconditional love.”

Courtesy Atelier Biagetti
Courtesy Atelier Biagetti

Biagetti and Baldassari have channeled the artwork into an interactive, indoor-outdoor installation called Pet Therapy (Piazza Arcole, 4), debuting next week, filled with outsize yet functional feline-shaped sculptures. It may be an out-there concept, but it’s milder than, or at least on par with, the studio’s previous Milan presentations, which included a conceptual clinic where visitors could receive “treatments” to re-establish their sexual equilibriums. The designers said that that kind of outrageousness or irony didn’t feel right in this particular moment. For them, creating a sense of awe and interspecies awareness was more essential.

Apparently, other designers are thinking similarly. The Italian studio Formafantasma, a creative collaboration between designers Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, has developed the symposium Prada Frames (Via Brera, 28), focused on forests. It will consider how design and science can be agents of change in these vital ecosystems through presentations by leaders from various disciplines, including curator Paola Antonelli, architect Stefano Boeri, writer Amitav Ghosh, artist and researcher Sissel Tolaas, and anthropologist Anna Tsing. Over at the Teatro dei Filodrammatici, the Italian furniture company Moroso and the Danish textile company Kvadrat will mount the plant-focused spectacle Forest Wandering (Via Filodrammatici, 1). Created with Swedish designers Sofia Lagerkvist and Anna Lindgren of Front Design, the immersive experience of light, sound, and projected images aims to evoke the natural environment, and builds on the designers’ research into the therapeutic effects of nature on people’s physical and mental health. (Moroso, on the occasion of its 70th anniversary, will additionally present new pieces by Patricia Urquiola, Front Design, Jonathan Olivares, and Wieki Somers in an installation with Kvadrat Really, the fabric brand’s upcycled materials arm, in Moroso’s Milan showroom, at Via Pontaccio, 8/10.)

Mathieu Lehanneur’s “State of the World” installation in the “Inventory of Life” exhibition. (Photo: Felipe Ribon)
Mathieu Lehanneur’s “State of the World” installation in the “Inventory of Life” exhibition. (Photo: Felipe Ribon)

At the Triennale di Milano, French designer Mathieu Lehanneur will debut “Inventory of Life” (Viale Emilio Alemagna, 6), an exhibition of four large-scale installations curated by Maria Cristina Didero. Scientific data from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and satellite-generated photographs, commissioned specifically for the occasion, inform each gallery. Rising sea levels and the meanings behind the nuanced colors of the ocean will be among the subjects tackled. “Superbloom” (Viale Umbria, 49), an exhibition by the Los Angeles design collective Rios, also looks to nature—specifically, the rare phenomenon its presentation is named for, in which large quantities of wildflowers, whose seeds have laid dormant in desert soil, germinate and blossom at the same time. Three immersive rooms will simulate, in a multisensorial way, the occurrence’s biological processes, including the watering, propagating, and blossoming of flora, to dazzling effect.

The feeling that the pandemic has shifted the consciousness of the larger global design community and given it renewed purpose resonates with Milanese architect Paolo Brambilla. “Design has taken on a new role, which is one of responsibility, sustainability, and for people, in addition to the planet,” he says. Together with his business partner, architect Fabio Calvi, Brambilla served as a design curator for “See the Stars Again” (Via Orobia, 15), a presentation by the Italian lighting company Flos that features a robust program of talks, workshops, and entertainment activities that celebrate the 60th anniversary of the brand and of its beloved fixture the Arco lamp, designed by brothers Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni. (The Slowdown produced the audio component of the exhibition, to illustrate the stories behind the lighting fixtures on view via a “mini-podcast” format.) This effort offers multiple ways for visitors, inside the industry and out, to connect with the pieces on view—something that was key for both Flos and Brambilla. “Design does not make sense if it’s exclusive,” he says. “At the end of the day, Flos is a human-centered design company. And I think this kind of spirit will be reflected in the events and experiences you’ll see during design week.”

Patricia Urquiola’s Almendra lighting fixture for Flos. (Photo: Tommaso Sartori. Courtesy Flos)
Patricia Urquiola’s Almendra lighting fixture for Flos. (Photo: Tommaso Sartori. Courtesy Flos)

An emphasis on the environmental benefits of high-quality craftsmanship—including its traits of longevity and reverence for materials—will be evident in various presentations around town. In its Milan flagship store, the Danish furniture brand Carl Hansen & Søn (Via Arco, 4) will introduce two projects: a collaboration with London-based designer Ilse Crawford that sees Hans J. Wegner’s iconic Wishbone chair (1949) rendered in nine matte colors, to mark seven decades of its production by the company, and a reintroduction of the high-backed, solid oak Windsor chair (1938), designed by architect and cabinetmaker Frits Henningsen, that was continuously in production until 2003. The latter, now with a leather seat cushion, involves multiple carpentry techniques and requires an experienced joiner to make it; the sculptural result speaks to the vast possibilities of its material in the right hands.

Expertly crafted wood furniture also appears in “Cipango: Japan Reimagined” (Via Alessandro Tadino, 2), an exhibition, set in a residential apartment, curated by The New Era editor-in-chief Hanna Nova Beatrice and Gabriel Tan, creative director of the Japanese design brand Ariake, which is presenting the project—its Milan Design Week debut. The made-in-Italy collection includes pared-down pieces by Inga Sempé, Keiji Ashizawa, Norm Architects, Neri & Hu, and Zoë Mowat. Another Japanese brand (and Milan Design Week first-timer) called Koyori will reveal its inaugural collection—singular wood chairs by Paris-based brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and by the Danish-Italian design duo GamFratesi—at the Triennale di Milano, in an exhibition titled “The Twist: Cultural and Emotional Crossings.”

Artistry will abound in several other standout presentations: The Italian glass-mosaics company Bisazza (Via Solferino, 22) will debut new mosaics from both the French architectural firm Studio KO and the Venetian architect Carlo Dal Bianco; the Italian design brand Vero (Via Felice Casati, 3) will offer its second collection, in a streetwear-style drop, that includes refined pieces by New York artist Sam Stewart and the Venice design studio Zaven; and the sixth Doppia Firma exhibition (Corso Magenta, 24), presented by the Michelangelo Foundation, will show a series of commissioned pieces by designer-artisan pairs, including India Mahdavi and Longwy; Atelier Oï and Wonder Glass; and Philippe Nigro, with Jeff Mack and Chris Rochelle.

In addition to the Milan Design Week stalwarts Hermès (Via Turati, 34) and Louis Vuitton (Via Bagutta, 2), this year several other luxury fashion brands are coming to town with projects, installations, and activations, too. Among them is Dior, with Miss Dior (Via Brera, 12), a fresh version of Philippe Starck’s iconic Louis Ghost armchair (2002), reimagined by the French designer for the Parisian fashion house, whose founder admired the Louis XVI style that informed the original seat. This iteration sees the chair, manufactured in Italy using the world’s only injection-molding machine capable of creating its distinctive shape, in aluminum. At the Salone fairground, the Italian cashmere and fabric house Loro Piana, via its interiors arm, will have a presence in the Italian design brand Exteta’s booth, where it will showcase the Delight St. Moritz, an elegant interpretation of the classic director’s chair by Italian designer Paola Navone, upholstered in its latest textiles. (Also worth mentioning, but not elaborating on, is that both Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana, respectfully, will be touting their newly opened home-centric “World of” and “Casa” Milan outposts.)

“Inhabitable” (2022), a marble and onyx bed designed by OMA for Solid Nature’s exhibition “Natural Wonders” at Alcova. (Courtesy Solid Nature)
“Inhabitable” (2022), a marble and onyx bed designed by OMA for Solid Nature’s exhibition “Natural Wonders” at Alcova. (Courtesy Solid Nature)

Compared with bulky pre-pandemic Salones of yore, this year’s fair will still be a somewhat slim affair. Festivities and brand exercises aside, the reality of a world still in recovery remains. Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, co-founder of the roving design fair Nomad and owner of Carwan Gallery in Athens, says, “For me, we are not back to the previous idea of what Salone was,” noting that Covid-19-related travel restrictions and ongoing sanctions will surely reduce the number of exhibitors and visitors from Asia and Russia, though he does expect more Americans than usual this year. He also anticipates a greater presence of companies that overcame recent economic setbacks. Many brands have “reinvented themselves,” he says, “and the economy has reinvented itself. So this Salone will be a culmination of a new market typology, led by those who managed to have success during the pandemic.”

Bellavance-Lecompte himself is maintaining a positive outlook toward the future, with plans to bring his traveling fair to a new, strategic location—a Mediterranean island—in July. He and guests will toast next week during a Nomad Capri cocktail (Corso Italia, 47). Ever interested in the up-and-coming and what’s new and next, he’s eager to see the works on view at Alcova (Via Simone Saint Bon, 1), where exhibitions by established and emerging designers (including one from wallpaper company Superflower Studio, co-founded by Nicole Bergen and The Slowdown’s Andrew Zuckerman) look inward, outward, and beyond.

Elsewhere, certain brands will reflect on the time ahead by embracing technology. “A Life Extraordinary in Milan” (Via S. Gregorio, 29), a presentation by the Dutch design brand Moooi, will include a multi-sensory experience of tech-enabled interiors, made in collaboration with IDEO and LG OLED, and with Polish artist Ada Sokol. Another forward-looking happening, Lexus’s “Sparks of Tomorrow” (Via Tortona, 27), expands on the car company’s future-oriented approach to design with various installations. They include the environment “On/,” featuring a to-scale steel sculpture of the RZ, the first dedicated electric model in Lexus’s lineup. Other parts of the presentation include prototypes from Lexus Design Award 2022 finalists and projects by postgraduate students from the Intelligent Mobility Design program at London’s Royal College of Art, which comprise inventive vehicle designs that address today’s environmental challenges.

Taken together, the many events slated for this year’s design week suggest that as the world evolves—and the design industry with it—the enduring relevance of the event will remain unchanged. Still, it may become, for the better, more concerned with nature and the planet. And as with our present-day reality, it won’t be returning to “normal” any time soon, or at least until next year. “Many people are still afraid to go full-on with events and presentations,” Bellavance-Lecompte says. “But Milan has always been the most important global appointment for the industry. I think it will keep its role in that way.” Only time, and the 2023 edition, will tell. Perhaps by then the annual gathering will not only be back in full force, but also be empowered by a shared sense of design’s profound impact on life on earth.


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Courtesy Artisan Books

Ghetto Gastro’s Jon Gray on “Durag Diplomacy” and the Beauty of the Bronx

Over the past decade, the Bronx culinary collective Ghetto Gastro has—through a combination of creative finesse, clever tactics, linguistic gymnastics, and food alchemy—risen up in the worlds of art, fashion, and entertainment, serving up a new, raw form of cultural ambassadorship. Unofficial representatives of their home borough, the group’s co-founders, Jon Gray (the guest on Ep. 2 of our Time Sensitive podcast), Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, practice what they call “durag diplomacy,” bringing the Bronx to the world and the world to the Bronx. The trio’s scope and impact is vast, from collaborating with French luxury house Cartier on a “Bronx Brasserie” pop-up in Paris, to launching kitchen appliances with Target, to cooking with Wolfgang Puck at this year’s Oscars. An unabashed gastronome and the group’s self-described “dishwasher,” Gray has the agility and energy of a frontman: Currently an artist-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he’s perhaps best known for his 2019 TED Talk, which has been viewed nearly two million times. Serrao and Walker are seasoned chefs with backgrounds in top restaurants, including at Cracco in Milan and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s now-closed Spice Market in New York, respectively.

A view of the “Slow Show” performance. (Photo: Anne-Sylvie Bonnet)

With “Slow Show,” Choreographer Dimitri Chamblas Emphasizes the Mysterious Power of Slow Movement

What gives a physical movement meaning? There are myriad answers: context, shape, intention. For internationally renowned dancer, choreographer, educator, and creative director Dimitri Chamblas, there’s another, primary answer: speed. “If I go to shake your hand, you would understand because of the movement, but also because of the speed of it. If I do it super fast, it’s an offense. If I do it super slow, you won’t understand where I am going. The identity of the movement is given by the speed of it.”

Courtesy Phaidon

Danish Design Firm HAY Heralds Its 20th Anniversary With a Superb, Highly Tactile Book

While the Danish design firm HAY is just celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it has achieved a rarefied place in the design lexicon that’s more often associated with brands many decades older. This standing is defined, in part, by being often imitated, yet maintaining a certain level of quality and integrity. HAY originals can always be told apart from those trying to knock it off.

Courtesy Aedes de Venustas

A New Perfume Translates the Greek Island of Corfu Through Kumquat

Growing up in the Midwest, I wasn’t exposed to the widest range of foods. True to the Scandinavian heritage and harsh winters of the region, I remember a hearty, meat-and-starch focused cuisine, one meant to warm and sustain through the cold and dark. As I got older, I started expanding my palate, and I can remember many firsts: my first pho, my first dosa, my first doro wat. But out of all these first experiences of more far-flung tastes and flavors, none stands out in my memory as sharply as my first kumquat.

An array of Baudar’s wildcrafted vinegars. (Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing)

“Culinary Alchemist” Pascal Baudar on the Art of Foraging and the Craft of Vinegar

Pinning a single job title on the award-winning food expert and forager Pascal Baudar is no easy task. A self-described “culinary alchemist” who cans, dries, smokes, ferments, steams, and pickles cactus buds, harvester ants, and other obscure flora and fauna, Baudar is the go-to source for Los Angeles–based chefs Curtis Stone, Josiah Citrin, and Ludovic Lefebvre, as well as cocktail maestros, including Matt Biancaniello, seeking these delicacies. “The majority of chefs use 30 wild ingredients, maximum,” Baudar says. “We deal with four hundred and fifty-six.”

Courtesy Strange Attractor Press

A New Book Explores How, Via X-Rays, Banned Albums Made It Into the Cold War–Era U.S.S.R.

The bad news is that this particular set of X-rays won’t be covered by your health insurance. The good news? Discarded hospital film of broken bones can defy a communist regime, deliver banned music to the masses, and endure as art.

Photo: John Cairns. Courtesy the Bodleian Libraries.

An Exhibition at Oxford Highlights the Sensorial Splendor of Books

In 1940, Dorothy Kunhardt published a book that would forever change the way young children read. Pat the Bunny, an interactive book full of activities such as touching the sandpaper of “Daddy’s scratchy face,” playing peekaboo with a piece of cloth, or gazing in a mirror, imbued the act of reading with a new form of sensory engagement. Today, “touch and feel” books for babies and children are almost required reading—their cellophane stuffing produces a satisfying, A.S.M.R.-level crunching sound, while the use of faux rabbit fur or horse hair offers an exhilarating tactile experience. As we age and our reading comprehension sharpens, the books we pick up prioritize a single sense—sight—their stories seemingly locked away in lines of text.

The Sculpture Gallery at The Glass House. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

Robert Stadler Has a “Playdate” With Philip Johnson at His Glass House

It’s a serene, bluebird-sky day, a slight chill in the air, and I’m walking with the Paris-based, Austrian-born designer-artist-provocateur Robert Stadler along a central pathway on Philip Johnson’s 49-acre Glass House estate in New Canaan, Connecticut. We’ve just exited the property’s whitewashed, brick-floored, glass-ceilinged Sculpture Gallery, a transfixing space of light and shadow built in 1970 that’s home to works by artists including Michael Heizer, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella. Now, for one of the first times ever, a temporary installation by a contemporary artist—Stadler—is being shown among the sculptures of these art-world giants.

Photo: Marco Galloway

Willo Perron’s Debut Furniture Show Makes the Case for a “No Coasters” Design Movement

With everything he does, the Los Angeles–based designer and creative director Willo Perron always considers the macro and the micro. From the L.A. headquarters of Roc Nation, to Stüssy stores around the world (including in Kyoto, Milan, and Shanghai), to the set build-outs for Rihanna’s and Drake’s latest tours, to album art for those same artists, to the branding and art direction for the non-alcoholic aperitif company Ghia, Perron has an adroit ability to work across many scales.

The “shite” (primary performer) in “Makura Jido” (“Chrysanthemum Boy”). (Photo: Yutaka Ishida. Courtesy Japan Society)

Ever Heard of Noh Theater? Our Primer to Three Major Productions Arriving in New York City This Fall

Two winters ago, I picked up a copy of Penguin Classics’ Japanese Nō Dramas, a volume of two dozen translations by Royall Tyler I’d been meaning to read since tearing through Yukio Mishima’s Five Modern Noh Plays a decade previous. I had moved into a New York City gem (an apartment with a fireplace), and with Covid cases skyrocketing and temperatures dropping, I decided that a winter fireside with a handful of centennia-old ghost stories (cat in my lap, or reading aloud to a friend) might carry me away from the pandemic—from Brooklyn, 2020—to somewhere entirely distinct.

Cover of “The Seed Detective” (left). Adam Alexander (right). (Courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing)

“Seed Detective” Adam Alexander Imagines a Better World—Through Rare, Endangered, and Unusual Vegetable Varieties

For British author, TV gardening producer, and “seed detective” Adam Alexander, the supermarket serves as perhaps the finest symbol of our modern food systems and their discontents. Of course, there’s undeniable quantitative material abundance, with aisles upon aisles of vegetable varieties—chopped, pickled, canned, and fresh—all that one could imagine within the confines of some idea of a generic palette. But it arrives at a qualitative price, and not just in terms of flavor, but also in context, in our ability to see this food as a part of our own story—as a connection to the land we live on or a cornerstone of the traditions we uphold. Vegetables are more than just so many anonymous pounds on a scale. “This strong connection with the land and what we grow and what we put in our own mouths has been lost, especially in the U.K.,” Alexander says. “To me, it’s really important that we try to reconnect and recognize that these vegetables are part of our human story and, in that way, we can do a lot to serve rare and endangered varieties.”

Courtesy Assouline

Why Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Remains One of the Most Enduring Watches Ever

Designed in 1972, at a time when a luxury watch made of steel was still a radical concept, Audemars Piguet’s nautical-inspired Royal Oak captured the “stealth wealth” style of the moment, mirroring the cutting-edge ethos of the French fashion scene (think: Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin), as well as the era’s groundbreaking architecture, such as Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s inside-out postmodernist Pompidou Centre in Paris, completed in 1977. “To me, the Royal Oak is a work of art that happens to be a watch,” says British GQ editor Bill Prince, author of the new book Royal Oak: From Iconoclast to Icon (Assouline), coming out October 12. “It’s one of those works of culture that has managed to cut through time, in the sense that it was born of an era, but it already had the criteria to be bigger than the era.”

Courtesy Olivia Sammons

A New Zine Highlights the Poetry and Beauty of Food

Each of us has our own individual way of following the changing of the seasons, a private choreography in relationship to the calendar. For interior designer and prop stylist Olivia Sammons, the produce available from the farms, orchards, and markets near her family’s Hudson Valley home marks time for her, leading her forward through the year. “I spend so much time thinking about food,” she says. “What I’m going to eat, where I’m going to find it, which orchard has the best blueberries.” This focus led her to create the new zine Is My Favorite Flavor, which just launched its first issue, appropriately titled Summer! Is My Favorite Flavor, at the design-focused Head Hi bookshop and café in Brooklyn.

Photo: John C. Hawthorne. Courtesy Alex Tatarsky.

Alex Tatarsky on Art as a Means to Live Out the Absurd

It’s late August, and I’m walking on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan. It’s one of those summer evenings that’s cooler than expected, a pleasant foreshadowing of fall. I’m on my way to discuss compost with the artist Alex Tatarsky, and as I head east from the subway, I pass through the dense, networked scents of the edge of Chinatown: the briny tang of fish markets, the sweet snatch of a fresh egg waffle from a rolled ice cream shop, the yeasty cloud that floats around the famous bialy shop. Approaching Abrons Art Center, where Tatarsky is doing pick-up rehearsals for an out-of-town run of their show Dirt Trip, this close-packed olfactory landscape opens up into something with more space: a faint vegetal whiff from a small vacant lot, the not unpleasant chemical tang from a passing truck, and beyond these, the smell of a certain rot rolling in from the East River.

Courtesy Blue Note Records

An Album of Cover Songs Honors the Legacy of Leonard Cohen

Though nearly six years have gone by since Leonard Cohen’s passing, the long shadow cast by his legacy as one of the 20th century’s most esteemed and idiosyncratic singer-songwriters shows no signs of lifting from the public’s imagination anytime soon. From the enveloping warmth of “Suzanne,” to the high drama of “Hallelujah,” to the chilling minimalist and gospel juxtaposition of his swansong “You Want it Darker,” Cohen managed to constantly reinvent himself, leaving behind the rare achievement of a musical body of work whose most impressive moments exist across eras.