Preview: Salone del Mobile returns to mark a “new Renaissance” in Italian design

This year’s special edition of the design festival, Supersalone, hopes to provide connection for designers after a year of being apart.

Salone del Mobile is set to make its return to Milan this September with a special edition of the annual festival. Usually held around April, Salone was one of the first major design events to be postponed – and eventually cancelled – last year as coronavirus swept through Italy.

Supersalone, which takes place 5-10 September, will mix both digital and physical elements in an attempt to showcase over 400 brands both in-person and to those watching internationally. Brands will exhibit across four pavilions in Milan, while products will be available to view and purchase on a bespoke online platform. Devised by a multidisciplinary team spanning academia, architecture and design – including Lukas Wegwerth and Elisa Pasqual – the hybrid fair hopes to become a “symbol of a new Renaissance”, according to organisers.

As previous festivals have made clear, design is important to Italy’s economy and innovation. This year, that relationship will be marked by the presence of the country’s president Sergio Mattarella on launch day – a “testament, as always, to the fact that the Salone is one of the drivers of the Italian economy,” the fair says.

A “cheerful response”

Stefano Boeri

Curator Stefano Boeri calls the fair a “cheerful response” after the country’s struggle with COVID. Italy has recorded over 4 million cases and around 130,000 deaths from the disease. (The country is currently on an amber rating for travellers from the UK.) Boeri, founder of his eponymous architectural studio, points out that it’s the first “great Italian fair” since the pandemic struck the country in spring last year. “At such a difficult time in our history, we’ve mustered the courage, the passion and the generosity of the best of Italian business and creativity,” he adds.

Though the format will be unique, many themes are a continuation from former Salone iterations. Sustainability and circularity are once again at the forefront of the fair. Long, parallel sets have been designed by Andrea Caputo, while communal areas have been devised by Stefano Boeri Interiors. Working in collaboration with multidisplinary designer Wegwerth, the systems contain no loose components, a reduced amount of material, and can be completely recycled. All chipboard panels have been made from fully-recycled timber, while fair furniture will be reused for different events in the future. The products on display will seek to mirror “changes inherent in the contemporary social structure”, the Salone team says, by meeting the needs of individuals in a rapidly-changing furniture market.

A render of Supersalone

As a way to symbolise the event’s “green credentials”, Salone has worked with Milanese clean-air group Forestami to plant 100 trees at the festival. The forest – which contains lime, ash, oak and flowering plum trees – may remind people of Es Devlin’s Forest for Change at this year’s London Design Biennale (though Devlin’s installation featured over 400 trees). Following Supersalone, the trees will be replanted in Milan’s metropolitan area.

The festival will also attempt to make up for lost time. One of its exhibitions, The Lost Graduation Show, will feature work from design students who graduated between 2020 and 2021. Curated by Anniina Koivu, the show will bring together around 170 student projects from 48 design schools around the world, exploring themes such as mobility, medical and sports-based design. Meanwhile, Take Your Seat, will explore the “most iconic of all design objects”: the chair. Featuring over 100 different chairs across four sections, the exhibition will explore how the object can synthesise “the value of good design”, say organisers. It’s curated by Nina Bassoli.

1964 chair, designed by Zanuso Sapper

A third exhibition – The Makers Show – will be more focused on the future of design. Studios and workshops, as well as laboratories and start-ups that merge design and experimentation, have been asked to contribute a project which aims to build a “collective picture of the start of the art of independent design and the direction it’s taking”, according to the festival team.

Supersalone will also host speakers like German artist Carsten Höller, Italian mixed-media artist Paola Pivi and design studio Formafantasma as part of its talks programme. Through a series of lectures and conversations, the line-up will explore themes such as the circular economy, education and environmental impact of design. As with the exhibition and main show, the talks and lectures will be available virtually.

Supersalone takes place 5-10 September 2021 at the Milan Fairgrounds in the Rho district. More information on tickets is available on Salone del Mobile’s website.

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