Is there anything more Italian than design? From the shoes you wear and the sunglasses you don to the handbag you carry and the danglers you flaunt, almost everything bears an Italian touch.
Even the accent chair in the living room and the pendant light in your kitchen carry an imprint of Italian tradition and style. But do you know, most of this furniture and lighting that makes it into our lifestyle first goes through curious design faculty at the Salone del Mobile.Milano? It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, the Milan Furniture Fair is the CES of design, where enthusiasts from across the globe assemble in Italy to exhibit the finest in furniture, kitchen accessories, and lighting.
Having said that, a myriad of tables, chairs, and lighting fixtures were exhibited at Salone del Mobile 2023 in Milan, Italy. A testing ground for the designers of today and the icons of tomorrow, Salone del Mobile stands out as one of the most influential and celebrated design fairs in the world. The 61st edition brought to the fore an array of young and veteran designers – from Italy and other parts of the globe – who introduced us to the rich and diverse cultural legacy of design through their breathtaking creations.
This year we witnessed 307,418 attendees from 181 different countries, which is 15 percent more compared with 2022 figures. More than 2,000 exhibiting brands took part in the event including 550 young designers from 31 different countries and 28 design schools and universities from 18 different countries. The officials at Salone del Mobile inform Homecrux that 65 percent of the buyers and industry professionals had come from abroad. Despite this number being an all-time high, a significant number of designers hailed from Italy.
Italian aesthetics and beauty have left a lasting impact on the global design industry. Be it the sleek lines of modern furniture or the intricate detailing of lighting solutions, Italian design is renowned for its elegance and sophistication. But, what makes the country such a strong hub of design is what we’ll try and peep into going forward. For this, Homecrux interacted with design stalwarts to explore the past, present, and future of Italian design in light of Salone del Mobile’s cutting-edge exhibition.
“This year’s event has been astonishing. We get back to the numbers of pre-pandemic but that was not the only thing to notice. The international talks, that were the spotlight this year, were incredibly attended not only in terms of the crowd but also in terms of participation,” states Annalisa Rosso, Editorial Director at Salone del Mobile who was responsible for curating International talks with Shigeru Ban, Traedal Thorsen, Marius Myking of Snohetta and many other prominent names in the design industry.
“I was personally impressed with the presentations of many products of the maestro from the past, bringing to life some of the most important pieces of the Italian design story,” Annalisa said.
“But what left me awestruck was the capability of our Italian brands to put together their knowledge and traditional excellence with the use of new technologies. The capability of putting together excellence from the past with the technologies of tomorrow is something that left me fascinated,” she adds.
There is a story behind every product we come across in our daily life, and it is not necessary that each item has Italian roots, but most do. The reason is an undeniably rich culture and tradition of design in the country. Italian artisans have long been revered for their meticulous attention to detail. This hallmark makes Italy a force to reckon with in the design community.
From the intricate mosaics of the Roman Empire to the handcrafted leather goods of Florence; Italy’s design-scape has progressed through time. The story of Italian design heritage isn’t a tale of a single man breaking all odds: it’s a collective effort of the men and women designers who galore through the ages to win the relay of design. But, the question remains, is there anything more Italian than design?
Some may argue football, pizza, and pasta! Yes, all of it is there, but ‘design’ is something that runs in Italian blood. It’s so deeply penetrated in their gene that every child learns function, form, and style like we cram the mathematics tables in our childhood. “Italy has always been the center of the design, it’s in their genes. If you combine that with research into new materials, it’s an unbeatable combination,” renowned sculptural designer Miquel Aparici, whose creation Rara Avis side table is on display at Salone del Mobile 2023, notes.
A dive into history suggests that Italy has always invested in art, which steadily flourished within its boundary. The inclination toward art, luxury, and culture continued over the ages, and Italy cemented its place as a proven hub of design. However, it was only in the late 20th century that the nation got its due for exemplary design and impeccable craftsmanship.
Sergio Leone, an Italian film director, producer, and screenwriter started Spaghetti-Western, a new genre of filmmaking, which changed the shape and horizon of how people viewed Italian design at the time. Spaghetti-Western were produced in Europe, hence the props from bikes to bullets, and nuts to bolts, everything was Italian. The furniture and lighting weren’t made left out and were brought to equal measure in screenplay.
The result was Italian industrial design flourishing in the 20th century, with Hollywood movies glorifying an avant-garde style that spread across the world like fire. This allowed Italy to break the barriers and cross the shores to make its impact felt.
“Today when we talk about Italian (design) tradition, we can distinguish different currents. On the one hand, we have the re-edition of historical products with updated materials and new finishes. On the other hand, we have a new world to explore,” states Teo Sandigliano, an Italian designer and Editor-at-large for Salone del Mobile.
“The re-edition of historical products mainly responds to today’s market demands, but also highlights the power of the Made in Italy language which, even with products on the market for several decades, is still contemporary and modern with a simple ‘style update’,” he notes.
Teo further explains, “While, new world caters to the introduction of new biomaterials that come from the Italian tradition (from dried fruit – consumed in Italy during the Christmas period – to oranges and citrus fruits – of which Sicily and Calabria are major exporters in Europe – leftovers), the increasingly important presence of makers – designers who rediscover the artisan traditions or who invent new methods of sustainable production, but above all the joint ventures between manufacturing and digital technologies companies.”
Over the years, names such as Aurelio Zanotta and Elio Martinelli became leaders in the field of interior design, creating some of the biggest brands, while Gabriella Crespi and Manuela Lucá-Dazio took the baton of women’s design and architecture forward. “Design is in a moment of turmoil, it is important to give the right value to tradition. It is not a showcase to observe but a laboratory that can help us develop our future in the best way,” Teo elaborates.
Today, the most impeccable design in tables, chairs, lighting, and items of home décor all come from Italy. The Made in Italy label has penetrated our home and offices and rightfully so. While some might argue about culture, it’s equally important to understand where the culture originates from. I believe it’s the beauty!
I personally understand design as a beauty etched inside every chair you sit on and every rug you stomp on. This beauty was inherited from the artisans of the past who laid the foundation of design in Italy and it seeped its way to the artists of the present; who carry modern-day design forward. Beauty is something that cannot be put into words, and so is design.
“As a designer, I find it fascinating to see how Italian designers are constantly pushing the boundaries and experimenting with new forms, textures, and materials,” states Aashka Shah, a budding designer from India.
It’s not just Aashka, but hundreds of designers from across the globe who would have the same thought about Italy’s cultural heritage, artistic traditions, and unparalleled craftsmanship. The Italian design ethos is all about creating beauty and function in equal measure, and this is reflected in everything from fashion to furniture, architecture to art.
Italy, which today stands as a beacon for designers and artists around the world is also the result of these budding designers who believe that Italy is at the heart of design. “I believe that the passion and creativity that Italians have is unique in the world. We have an outstanding territory and exceptional craftsmen whose creativity has allowed us to create not only new products but also new ways of producing,” tells Marco Ghilarducci the grandson of Elio Martinelli and CEO of Martinelli Luce.
Let us not forget that in our country (Italy), in addition to craftsmen, we also have exceptional companies in the field of mechanical design that export new production technologies all over the world,” he adds.
With the 61st edition of Salone del Mobile being a blockbuster, Italy substantiates its worth as a hub of design. The country not only stands tall as the home of design but also proves to be a school for budding designers looking to kickstart their careers. With 307,418 attendees at the Milan Furniture Fair this year, the Italian design’s future looks strong while feeding on the legacy of its glorious past and cutting-edge present. The next edition will be held in Milan from 16 through 21 April, 2024 and we expect to see more grandeur than ever then.