Milan fair to showcase design, craftsmanship
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, March 4, 2013
MILAN, Italy - The business of beauty could be the unofficial theme for the April Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, Italy.
While the country's government leaders continue to try to fight their way out of the European economic abyss, iSaloni organizers are busy planning a profitable furniture exhibition, and they say they will do it by showcasing Italian artisans and the products they do best - pieces in which aesthetics and function are masterfully intertwined.
Officials said that 2,500 exhibitors are participating in the 52nd Salone Internazionale del Mobile April 9-14 and more than 300,000 visitors from 160 countries are registered to attend.
Saloni 2013 also includes the International Furnishing Accessories Exhibition; Euroluce, an international lighting exhibition; SaloneUfficio, an international workspace exhibition; and SaloneSatellite, featuring 700 designers. Preparations for iSaloni are underway during a time if economic turmoil for Italy, but for the event's organizers, it is business as usual. (Both spellings, Salone and Saloni, are used, and iSaloni is the preferred term in Italy for the group of shows.)
"Crisis or no crisis, Milan goes on," said Claudio Luti, president of Cosmit, the group that organizes Salone, during a recent press tour for international journalists. "This is the most important furniture fair in the world, and if someone wants to be involved in the world of design, he or she must come to Milan."
It is difficult to imagine a better spokesman for iSaloni, and the Italian furniture industry as a whole, than Luti. As president and CEO of Kartell, an iconic Italian furniture manufacturer known for groundbreaking design, and as a former executive officer for Versace, Luti has decades of bottom-line experience in the furniture and fashion industry.
However, he also brings a lifelong appreciation of artistic beauty to his role at Cosmit, one that complements the inherent "sprezzatura," or art of effortless mastery, that many Italian artisans embrace.
"I believe that we have to educate the new emerging countries to quality and make them recognize and appreciate the Italian way of life, the Italian style, from food to fashion to furniture," Luti said in an interview with Furniture/Today.
"Milan is the most important furniture fair in the world, so the biggest challenge is to maintain this leadership. The Saloni are the hub for innovation - here companies present their new products and visitors from 160 countries come to see the best of the furniture and lighting products. Made in Italy is acknowledged throughout the world - that constant quest for what is beautiful - and we show this in Saloni."
Despite his genuine pride in his country and the products produced by its craftsmen, Luti recognizes that there is fierce competition for global market attention and the furniture dollar. Working with the Cosmit board, he is promoting exclusive iSaloni events, including the "Project: office for living" created by Jean Nouvel, an internationally acclaimed French architect who received the Pritzker Prize in 2008, and SaloneSatellite, an exhibition of work from 700 designers that includes students from 17 international design schools.
"I was born in Milan, I got married in Milan and I want people who come to Saloni to have a vision of Milan when they leave," Luti said. "I want them to go back with the smell and the touch of the city. Our challenge at Salone is to tell the story of furniture in Italy."
More than 46 million tourists visit Italy each year, many captivated by the allure of a country celebrated by books like "La Bella Figura." Translated as "the beautiful figure," la bella figura is actually considered a way of life by many Italians and emphasizes beauty, image and aesthetics. It's a philosophy that Luti espouses personally and professionally.
"From fashion, I have learned the art of seduction and emotion, and a piece of furniture, like a dress, can be seductive and transmit emotions," he said. "When I work on a piece of furniture, at the same time I am thinking about how it can be sold and how it can be a winner piece.
"Italian companies do their best in the tight relationship they establish with the designers," Luti added. "There is a very strong dialogue among the entrepreneur and the designer during which the original project is discussed and adjusted to be put into production. This is a true strength, because discussing a project often makes the project become more than what it is. Often, you get some new hints, some details which will then make the difference."
The "how it can be sold" part of the equation is foremost in Luti's mind when considering how to help Italian furniture manufacturers increase their business. Not discounting the importance of quality in selling furniture, Luti spends a lot of time thinking about the quantity side as well.
"I have learned that you have always to work at your best, at the maximum of your energy and with the best resources," he said. "However, this is not enough - a perfect, high-quality product is not enough if you don't have a perfect strategy for distributing your products. Years ago, high quality in itself could be satisfying, but now that there is much more competition and we live in a global economy, you also need to be global in your distribution strategy. Those who distribute well - who find the right partners - will be the winners. The same quality put into innovation should be put into distribution."
Perhaps the epitome of a 21st century Renaissance man living and working in Italy, Luti has embraced the mentality of both the consumer and the craftsman in his role at Cosmit.
Mindful of tradition while considering Milan as "a city that wants to come out of the crisis," he says that Cosmit will continue to employ business strategies such as increased communications and improved logistics to strengthen iSaloni and consequently, the companies and artisans creating Italian furniture.
"In Italy, there is a very strong furniture craftsman tradition which has survived through the centuries and which is still a patrimony that makes the difference," Luti said. "It is easy to copy a piece in its shape and color, but it is not easy at all to copy the ability that a craftsman has put in it. Improvement can be done on distribution, which - I will never be tired of saying it - is a fundamental winning strategy together with good communication.
"It is not easy to be the leader - you have to cultivate your leadership," said Luti. "We can certainly always become better and give better service and always have the top companies as exhibiting companies. The Saloni without exhibitors would be like an empty box. The Saloni without excellent exhibitors would be an anonymous fair."
|The preview press conference for the 2013 iSaloni was held in the new Unicredit complex, one
of several commercial projects newly built or under construction in Milan, which will be the
host city for the 2015 Expo, a world’s fair.
|Claudio Luti, seated at left with the Cosmit board of directors, says the organization is
focusing on “telling the story of furniture in Italy” and is moving ahead despite economic
challenges in the country.
|The Kartell Museum includes a product timeline with iconic Kartell pieces by designers
including Antonio Citterio, left, Piero Lissoni, center, and Philippe Starck.