Milan fair showcases contemporary designers
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, March 11, 2013
MILAN, Italy - When the Salone Internazionale del Mobile opens here April 9, furniture created by many of Italy's prominent architects and designers will be on display at the Rho fairgrounds exhibition center, and buyers from all over the world will get their first look at the latest concepts for contemporary Italian furniture.
Established in 1961, iSaloni has grown from a small group of furniture makers promoting exports to one of the year's most anticipated events in the design world.
Much of the even t's success in an era of year-round furniture markets can be attributed to the Italian designers who created an almost indescribable "signature" look for Italian products. What many people consider to be "contemporary" design has strong roots in Milan, and it is that oft-imitated category that brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Italy.
Gianni Versace, the late Italian fashion and home furnishings designer, once said that he believed designers had a responsibility to "break rules and barriers," and many of the country's current architects and product designers seem to embrace a similar philosophy. Whether represented by a sofa or a new building, Italian design remains unpredictable, and that's just as it should be according to several prominent members of the industry.
"Today design, having become part of the industrial process, has simply become a market reality, something concrete, with its own intrinsic - not just formal and aesthetic - value," designer Antonio Citterio said in an interview with Furniture/Today. "But there is also ‘fake' design - something to guard against - superfluous design. The media decides an object is fashionable, and in spite of its value, that object is automatically appreciated, even if it is actually ugly or uncomfortable or not very functional. We have to look toward that other design - real design - which is the expression of the contemporary character of our time."
Citterio began work in 1972 after graduating from Politecnico di Milano and is a longstanding figure in the Italian design world.
His multidisciplinary design practice with Patricia Viel includes "three interweaving teams" working in architectural design, interior design and product design, according to the company. His Italian furniture clients include Vitra, B&B Italia, Flexform and Kartell. The long list of successful projects attached to his name supports Citterio's assertion that design must always be practical, albeit with aesthetic consideration.
"From my viewpoint, one of the main goals of design is to improve the quality of life of the people who interact with a given product," he says. "I design products I personally feel are lacking in everyday life, or things whose performance could be improved through the solving of technical problems, always trying to optimize the quality/product cost/retail cost relationship."
Ferruccio Laviani is also revered in Italian and international design circles. The architect has collaborated with Italian manufacturers including Moroso, Molteni and Flos SpA. Currently, Laviani is the curator of artistic direction at Kartell, a contemporary plastic furniture manufacturer based in Milan, and designs all of the company's exhibits at iSaloni.
When asked to define design and how the definition influences his creative process, Laviani echoes Citterio's affirmation that creativity is, by necessity, fluid, fluctuating according to purpose.
"Design and its definition is something that is always changing, side by side with the evolution of man, his tastes, his constant changes and behaviors," said Laviani. "I think design is something that describes man, reflecting the historical moment in which he lives and all the objects he uses.
"The features of a project are endless," he said. "The design can come f rom a very precise brief given by a company, or it can be inspired by a disc's cover, an exhibition or even people in the street. I am much more a ‘gut' designer in my projects than a philosopher. I certainly feel myself more of a professional than an artist."
During a February presentation in Milan, Citterio discussed his work with international journalists visiting for a preview tour of iSaloni.
While sharing images of his work, he acknowledged that designers don't always achieve the perfect balance between sales, function and form. He said an effective synergy between manufacturers and designers requires respect for every part of the design process.
"In my way of working, it would be impossible to imagine a product without starting with knowledge of a production technology, and without already seeing it interpreted in a strategy of communication," Citterio said. "My work never concentrates on the creation of a single product, but is always inserted into a strategy of corporate offerings that I contribute to define myself. My involvement with the companies that produce my products is profound. The metamorphosis of an idea, of an intention, into a project/product takes place, in my opinion, by means of the alchemy that is the relationship between the architect/designer and client."
Laviani also met with journalists during the Milan press tour, discussing the Kartell Museum and his work, past and present. During his interview with Furniture/Today, he said that he adjusts his design process according to the specific criteria.
"I do not have a systematic approach to the project," he said. "Each project is unique and each one comes in a different way, with a personal meaning which gives us the impulse to possess it and include it in our environment. I give each object its own identity."
As his office of 50 architects works on projects like the recently completed Technogym headquarters in Cesena, Italy, and the Bulgari Hotel in London, Citterio continues to design both buildings and furniture. His company recently introduced the Lux Collection of furniture by Maxalto, which followed the Michel seating system for B&B Italia.
With both genres, Citterio approaches design as a vital component of each project.
"Design is not just a problem of expression, but something that encompasses all the processes that go into a project," he said. "All materials, even the most traditional, are always subject to discussion and research, often leading to innovative ways of use or treatments that in turn become important design stimuli. It is undeniable that technology and experimentation cause changes in the constructive processes of design and architecture. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes negative.
"Design is an integral part of the industrial production process, and thinking of design as pure added-value is a cliché'," Citterio said. "It betrays a serious misunderstanding of the profound relationship of reciprocity that exists - and must exist - between industrial culture and design culture."