Who’d have known it was the 50th anniversary of the Salone, the focus of Milan’s furniture fair and the flagship of the industry? No, I mean really, who would have known? Thank God for good friends, new friends and nice restaurants.
The emerging trends seem to be stuff made to look like animals - a piano made to look like a whale, a light made to look like a chicken, that kind of thing......
stuff made out of masks, from the kind of chandelier that would probably look perfect at one of Berlusconi’s Bunga-Bunga parties to Driade – yes Driade – producing a chair moulded out of a giant mask........
plus a good dose of sexism typified by a laughable lampshade designed by Richard Hutten, founder of Droog for God’s sake and made of gold discs punctured with the kind of silhouettes of nude dancing girls that can be seen on truckers mudguards.
I know the Dutch are pretty open about sex (I do a pretty good impression of a Dutchman talking about orgasms the way a Brit might talk about the weather) but come on people!!!!
During this odyssey, shared with Maya (architect) and Kathleen (interior designer), otherwise known as The Kingston Massive (perhaps massively bottomed after so much pizza?), we began to think maybe it was us – maybe we are just getting old? But then speaking with chums bumped into along the way we realised that we may well be getting old but that’s not the reason for our ennui.
We also discovered that our failure to visit one satellite event – the Lambrate – was indeed a grave omission as this zone was reputed to have the best “gear”. Which goes to show that quality is always far more valuable than quantity.
The few highlights, however, began the moment we landed, with a dinner to launch the new World Festival of Interiors (http://www.insidefestival.com/launch-party.cfm) to be held in Barcelona later in the year, headed by my old mate Paul Finch (ex CABE and ex editor of Architect’s Journal who in that role lavishly sponsored the catalogue for my very first show of architecture and interior design a million years ago now, and for which reason I will always love him) and the lovely Claire Barrett editor at large of Elle Decoration (UK) and ex editor of Grand Designs Magazine.
Held in Tom Dixon’s Milan “space”, surrounded by his beautiful work and crunching on Steve Parle’s imaginative food (piles of carefully selected raw veg, a plate of spices and a mortice and pestle in which to mix up your own mix – then squeeze lemon on veg, dip in spice and scoff) was utterly memorable, especially as Marcel Wanders intentionally/unintentionally provided the cabaret.
Hermes produced a wholly atmospheric installation designed by Shigeru Ban within a basketball court.
And we got accosted by a “man of the road”, who turned out to be our old mate Michael Young (though difficult to discern beneath the wild-man, slightly-matted-veering-towards-an-Arthur-Scargill hair do and layers of clothing consisting of his own topped by Trussardi threads insisted upon by his client at Trussardi) with whom we were all at Kingston and who had designed a sparkling installation for said client in Piazza de la Scala.
Jumping in his waiting chauffeur-driven Beamer (!!) to go to dinner at a sweet Sardinian restaurant we marvelled at Michael’s total rock star lifestyle, a boy who failed all his exams and got a third class degree now has homes around the world, flies first class (with a plastic bag only of essentials, at least so he says) and loves what he does but would actually quite like to do nothing too, especially as the Saturday before he flew to Milan from Australia his wife had just given birth to his first born son.
Notwithstanding these and a few other highlights, such as....
......plus whatever was going on at Lambrate, what was striking about the entire event was the paucity of intellectual rigour in many of the exhibits and groups thereof: not just a failure, but a kind of stupid determination to completely ignore the enormous conflict that exists in design when it comes to sustainability, in terms of both environmentalism and the sort of high quality, enriching aesthetic that can be cherished for years to come.
Design’s first purpose must surely be to enhance life, either through practicality, beauty or ideally both - that old William Morris idea – or it’s just pointless rubbish, literally. Even the mounds of discarded flyers for events scattered on the streets everywhere were pretty offensive.
This observation has been made all the more poignant for me as I have since barrelled around Devon’s boscy lanes, munching on freshly bloomed wild garlic flowers. Nature is the most brilliant designer and it is surely a designer’s duty to glorify her? Better to do nothing at all than produce just more loads for landfill.
Perhaps this malaise is entirely Milanese though? The presence of graffiti literally everywhere was depressing and suggested something rotten at the heart of this city. And it probably didn’t help that we got into a fight with a bunch of Milanese lads as they tried to grab our taxi. They certainly learned that you never try and steal a cab from a London-trained Lady, and especially not three of them. In high heels. Late at night. In the rain.