Milan furniture fair highlights new directions

This year’s Milan furniture fair has not been so much about the hard sell, as a springboard for new directions, if the general reaction from designers is anything to go by.

Furniture craftsman Paul Kelley is looking to design new pieces that will take him out of the ‘one-off market’ and into a category of furniture that will up the level of production.

‘The sort of work I do isn’t easily replicated by manufacturers, but having talked to two or three at the fair this year, I’m looking at designing some new pieces that would allow the language of my work to be reduced so it can be manufactured,’ Kelley says.

‘Moving away from crafts pieces will help build up my knowledge of techniques and materials, but I want to do this without diluting the quality,’ he adds.

Kelley, who returned to show at the fair after an absence of four years, says his ongoing interest in the Asian market, in particular Japan, has led him back to benchmark himself against competitors and raise his profile with a stronger than usual Asian audience.

The organiser behind the inaugural Design Embassy at Milan, Christine Losecaat, has also noticed a stronger international audience this year.

‘Normally, there’s quite a big US presence, but there have been lots of visitors from Gulf states, India, Russia and China this year, more than there’s been in the past,’ she notes.

The UK Trade & Investment Milan trade mission delegation did not go according to plan, and instead took a more low-key approach, with 19 ‘mini-exhibitors’, according to Losecaat. ‘We didn’t take an official mission in the end – we took 19 mini exhibitors to show a piece of work each. It wasn’t our original intention,’ she says.

‘There was a plan to bring independent designers to Milan but it wasn’t really greeted with enthusiasm, so it ended up not being the trade mission planned,’ says one designer. ‘It was more “toes in the water” time for Milan, I think,’ adds the designer.

Jason Bruges Studio is planning to rename its Flatliner light, the studio’s first product, designed for Established & Sons. ‘We had amazing reaction to the product, and it’s been great to realise what we can do on a smaller scale. Normally, we create things on such a large scale, but the name is something that we are looking to work our way out of,’ admits Jason Bruges Studio managing director Zena Bruges. The light is expected to be in production by September and the studio is in talks with a number of other manufacturers off the back of showing at the fair.

The studio is also looking for a university to work with design students as a follow-on from Focal Shift, its collaboration with product designer Jake Dyson (www.designweek.co.uk, 24 April). ‘We have been discussing how to take the fittings to students to see what their response is,’ says Bruges.

This Year’s fashions in Milan

• Fewer new products than in previous years

• Visitors more serious about commissions and discussing design

• Designers using networking to generate ideas and move in new directions

• Emphasis on new materials and technical experimentation

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