Who's going to Milan? | icon 001 | April 2003

Rate this item
(0 votes)

illustration: Siaron Hughes
words Sarah Gaventa

Next week, Icon joins the 200,000 people heading to Milan for the world-famous furniture fair. We asked some seasoned fair-goers what to look out for, where to party - and, crucially, what to wear.

Matthew Hilton - designer and head of furniture design at Habitat
Why are you going?
This year, I'll be launching a new sofa and coffee table for SCP, some solid wood tables and chairs for Montina, a small pouf seat for Bd, and a shelf and cupboard unit for Livit. I'll also, of course, be looking for new products and designs for Habitat.
What else will you be doing there?
The shops are great, and cheaper than London; there are some really excellent restaurants as well.
How important is the fair to you?
It's the furniture design event of the year, and this year is also Euroluce, which is a very important lighting fair. It's the best fair, where everyone launches new designs - generally companies wait until April rather than launch new things at Cologne [in January].
Are you a Milan junkie?
This will be my 17th time.
How do you prepare?
In the best case I start work on new products almost straight after coming home; in the worst case I could be discussing sketches six weeks before the show.
Best Milan moment?
Best in a glamorous, exciting way was the launch of upholstery for Driade in 1996. I took a taxi to my hotel, passing under banners across the street with my name on them. Then I went to a beautiful party in the courtyard of the Driade showroom with great food, stylish, sexy people and good music - perfect.
And the worst?
1992 - the launch of a collection of furniture for a company I'd better not name. The relationship with the director was strained to say the least and in the end I did not get paid the promised fees.
Is the fair becoming less relevant?
It's always been the most important fair for modern domestic furniture - it's always influential. The fair is really well organised, the interni guide is great, apart from the map which is appalling. The banners are good though.
Give us a survival tip
Wear comfy shoes, keep alcohol consumption low, have lots of sleep and drink lots of water.
Evening haunts?
Bar Basso was always my favourite, but it got so popular because of James Irvine and Jasper Morrison and the Swedish contingent having parties there. Now it's just crazy.
Favourite hotel?
Not saying, otherwise I'll never get a room there.
Advice for a Milan novice?
Don't get a hangover on your first day.

Nigel Coates - architect, designer, professor
Why are you going?
It's one of the most important dates in my spring calendar, it promises full-on design culture and I see lots of my mates from all around the world.
What else will you be doing there?
I'll be meeting the people from the companies I work with, and following up new contacts for forthcoming products, and, of course, shopping, eating, clubbing, partying.
How important is the fair to you?
It is the big space for design, and a necessary step up from the relatively prosaic, though highly creative scene in London. I get bored with the same conversations on Clerkenwell village green.
Are you a Milan junkie?
I don't go every year - in all I must have been seven or eight times.
How do you prepare?
Make sure I've got a friend with a car, or a limo on hand to do the rounds.
Best Milan moment?
Droog hotel show, with lots of installations in each room of a cheap hotel.
And the worst?
When I got completely slaughtered on treble gin & tonics at a party for 5,000 people given in my honour, and accidentally redecorated the guest-room at my friend's as a result.
Best product launched at Milan?
Giovannoni's bathroom suites for Alessi, complete with underground fish tank.
Is the fair becoming less relevant?
Heavy question - now the Fuori [the fringe event] is much more important than the fair itself. Often I skip the fair altogether. It is still hugely significant, because it focuses the press on new design. It's not so much a trade show as a press show.
What are you looking forward to most this time?
Taking the event as a whole.
Give us a survival tip
Do plenty of off-piste stuff. Make sure you have some restaurants booked, 'cause they're all full. Decide on one hit party for each night. Leave early - Saturday morning at the latest.
Evening haunts?
I like the G Lounge, on Via Larga just behind the Duomo. It's excruciatingly hip, and plays the best music in town.
Favourite hotel?
Don't have one as I stay with my friends Barnaba Fornasetti and Betony Vernon.
Advice for a Milan novice?
Make sure you have some local friends to cruise around with.

Susanne Tide-Frater - head of fashion direction, Selfridges
Why are you going?
It is the only event I attend without a specific purpose… other than revise and adjust my view of the world. The fair, but much more so the events around town, are a huge stage for textures, shapes and colours. They influence my thinking not only on design, but also on fashion and architecture. Milan is also a great meeting place for creative thinkers from all horizons. A really enjoyable hub.
What else will you be doing there?
We meet suppliers, we network, we party, we brainstorm.
How important is the fair to you?
Hugely important as a source of inspiration. It is a moment to exchange - a kaleidoscope of impressions which will amplify throughout the year.
Are you a Milan junkie?
I've been three times.
How do you prepare?
I tend to check out major events and venues. I like to be carried by the mood and the rhythm of what, and who, we encounter.
Best Milan moment?
Designers Block and Driade exhibition.
And the worst?
Why does it always rain during the fair?
Best product launched at Milan?
Too many to choose from.
Is the fair becoming less relevant?
I think it is becoming more relevant - creatives from all disciplines discover it; its reputation spreads like wildfire.
What are you looking forward to most this time?
The Driade multimedia installation - celebrating its 35-year history with some great designers.
Give us a survival tip
Leave the stilettos at home, hire a scooter or a car. Go with the flow!
Evening haunts?
Chandelier, Corso Como, 10.
Favourite hotel
Diana Majestic - old-world charm, which never goes out of fashion.
Advice for a Milan novice?
Don't sleep!

Abigail Branagan - marketing director, Applied Arts Agency
Why are you going?
For inspiration, and to actually meet the people I spend half my life emailing.
What else will you be doing there?
Looking out for new work and ideas for the Applied Arts Agency, and meeting some of the design companies we work with, such as Droog, David design, Moooi. I've also been assisting Mazorca Projects with its design and manufacture programme so I'll be seeing them at zona Tortona. And, of course, it's an excuse to window shop in all those places you'd never go to in London.
How important is the fair to you?
From a retailer's point of view - not very. So much of what you see isn't actually in production yet. But as an opportunity to meet people in the industry it's vital. There's so much to stimulate you - from the way work is presented, to Milan itself.
Are you a Milan junkie?
This will be my third time.
Best Milan moment?
When I first went in 2000 I had no idea what to expect and loved the theatrical nature of many of the exhibitions - the Ingo Maurer and Cappellini shows.
And the worst?
Linate airport - it's a very depressing place.
Best product launched at Milan?
Moooi's lightshade launched last year is beautiful.
Is the fair is becoming less relevant?
I think it's becoming less influential. There seems to be more of an emphasis on the sheer size of the event rather than the quality of what's being shown.
What are you looking forward to most this time?
What the Dutch come up with and the UK contingent at Designers Block and Hidden Art.
Give us a survival tip
Pick up an interni guide so you can see who's showing where and when the cocktail nights are.
Evening haunts?
A restaurant called Boccondivino, Via Carducci, which has the most amazing cheese selection. A meal there lasts at least five hours!
Favourite hotel?
Loved the Droog hotel last year!
Any advice for a Milan novice?
Don't just take your kitten heels. Although the Italians dress impeccably, you'll be doing a lot of walking!

Gareth Williams - curator, Victoria & Albert Museum
Why are you going?
I go because it's the best chance to see what trends are happening in design and to catch up with the latest work by the world's most significant designers and manufacturers. It gives me mental and visual stimulation that lasts all year. It's also a great opportunity to catch up with people from all over the world who I don't ordinarily see.
What else will you be doing there?
This year I am just looking to keep myself informed, with no bigger agenda, like an exhibition, in mind.
How important is the fair to you?
It's very important to me that I get to the fair each year as what happens there has a direct bearing on the work I do at the museum. Milan is a significant barometer of taste and design developments: it's not the only one but I would find it hard to feel on top of the subject unless I had been there.
Are you a Milan junkie?
I think this year will be my seventh consecutive year.
How do you prepare?
You have to be fit and determined to survive Milan. I train in advance by accustoming myself to very late nights with plenty of cocktails. And get plenty of business cards printed up because you won't get any information from exhibitors without them.
Best Milan moment?
Of course this was "Milan in a Van" at the V&A last year! But I am probably prejudiced.
And the worst?
Four am, rain, lost, no taxis (happens every year). Losing all my money (1999). The general strike that nearly destroyed the meticulous planning of "Milan in a Van" by delaying our departure (2002).
Best product launched at Milan?
There is generally one thing that stands out for me each year. Jurgen Bey's tree trunk bench for Droog in 1999 was one such object. I couldn't decide whether it was a serious proposal or an example of the Emperor's New Clothes.
Is the fair is becoming less relevant?
The fair has always seen itself as a cultural event, but it's actually about making sales not communicating ideas. It can be at its best when exhibitors genuinely respond to real issues (over-production, environmental concerns) and at its worst when these responses seem glib and rehearsed. Milan is still the biggest international forum for design in this sector, so its relevance and influence is unrivalled. It will be very interesting this year to see how the sector responds to the gloom and anxiety of
these times.
What are you looking forward to most this time?
I'm looking forward to seeing the additions to Swarovski's Crystal Palace collection of chandeliers. A highlight for me last year was the Droog hotel exhibition, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it tops that.
Give us a survival tip
Get good shoes. Use the metro, as it actually works. Get a driver for the day if you possibly can. Don't on any account use the catering at the fairground. And train your bladder!
Evening haunts?
Bar Basso.
Favourite hotel?
Wherever I can manage to book a room.
Advice for a Milan novice?
Don't try to remember everything you see; just let it all wash over you.

Neil Austin - course leader of contemporary furniture design at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College
Why are you going?
We go to show products that the students have designed on the course. It's a way of checking that what we teach is relevant and contemporary to what's going on in the outside world. In particular, we go to attract manufacturers - it's a way of getting a few fortunate students a starting place in the design world.
What else will you be doing there?
I'll be seeing as much of the new work on show as my energy levels allow, but I'll find time to shop at Mandarina Duck and window shop at Prada while eating "Fiat" chocolates and drinking espresso. Oh, and visiting the Archivolto bookshop.
How important is the fair to you?
It's very important for the reasons outlined above. We would love to show in England - it would certainly save me a lot of time and effort driving - but there really isn't an equivalent show here which combines such an exciting event with value for money for exhibitors. Also, ironically, we have to exhibit in Milan before companies such as Habitat in this country take us seriously.
Are you a Milan junkie?
I've been three times under the guise of Mo-billy, and this will be our third time under the name of Big William. We have to change our name every third year for funding reasons so we're busy thinking about our next incarnation.
How do you prepare?
We call students to enter for the selection process in October or November. We have around 60 submissions of ideas from which we make a good show containing approximately 10 students' work. This year all students responded to a brief I wrote around computer-manufactured furniture. Once selected there is a long process to prepare the work, the publicity and promotional material, together with the stand design and build. As usual we are already behind schedule so I shouldn't really be answering questionnaires.
Best Milan moment?
Meeting Achille Castiglioni on our stand when he was interested in one of our projects.
And the worst?
Realising through Castiglioni's interpreter that he was only interested in one of our projects because he thought we'd copied him. Trouble is he was probably right, although I prefer the term "influenced by" - he did everything we're currently interested in about 40 years ago, God bless him. I still got his autograph though.
Best product launched at Milan?
About two years ago Marcel Wanders launched these funny forms which he called "snot vases" I think. To this day I still don't know how they were made, and that intrigues me.
Is the fair becoming less relevant?
Like everything, the fair has its good and less than good years; it can also seem repetitive when you go every year. The show is as relevant as the work exhibited in it, but I am convinced that it is still seen by designers and manufacturers as the most important furniture fair in the world. Designers save their best work for Milan; it has a magic that calls you back year after year.
What are you looking forward to most this time?
Meeting the friends who we only see in Milan once a year - fellow exhibitors from all over the world (and sometimes London!). And I'm looking forward to that moment when our exhibition stand is complete and finished, ready for the visitors to arrive.
Give us a survival tip
Keep drinking water and eat good food regularly. Bad timing between "events" could see you surviving for days on end on the dregs of wine bottles, scraps of parmesan and bone-dry ciabatta.
Evening haunts?
I like Bar Basso and that football bar on the corner of the canal area [Porto Genoa], that's also the best area in Milan to find a good range of eating places and bars in general.
Favourite hotel?
It used to be the Piccadilly until it shut down and decided to renovate itself upmarket. I can't recommend a hotel now, but if you have any friends and family in Milan then use their hospitality at fair time, as prices are high.
Advice to a Milan novice?
Bring a bike. A bike can get you to the "cocktail openings" that all seem to start at exactly the same time as one another every night of the week.

Salone Internazionale del Mobile, www.cosmit.it, April 9-14