Why iSaloni in Milan Matters

In an age when websites can efficiently and instantly introduce new products to the world, one might ask: Why do we need trade shows like Salone del Mobile, which wrapped up last week in Milan? It is an expensive show for exhibitors and attendees. Floor space and showrooms around the city cost millions. Hotels go for double or triple the usual rates. And yet they come — more than 300,000 visitors over the course of the week.

There is a good explanation for why people attend furniture trade shows. Few consumers balk at buying things like electronics, books and other items online. Even personal items like shoes and clothing are an easy e-sell. But for some reason, furniture is different.

The scale of the show and its influence is difficult to explain to the uninitiated. It is simply too large and sprawling for any one person to experience everything. Yet there are trends that surely will spring from this year’s events, exhibitions and show stands.

Jessica Hicks, president of Vitra in North America, explained the draw of trade shows like iSaloni best: “In a digital age, where people can hide behind a computer screen, events like these are important. They connect people with our products; give them the chance to touch and feel them. We get to tell the stories behind the products, which is so important. It is the industry’s chance to show itself in the best possible light.”

Unlike any other show, iSaloni shows the world what is possible from the furniture industry. And for the industry itself, the event sets the trends for years to come — from color to shape to fabric to form. It is also an Event (capital “E”) on a global stage as Milan comes alive, and showrooms become art galleries.

Herman Miller, which did not have a stand at the show itself, hosted a weeklong exhibition, “The Double Dream of Spring,” an installation by Michael Anastassiades to debut his inaugural collection of occasional furnishings created for Herman Miller. His Spot stools and Stasis tables were shown in walnut and white oak paired with a shade of brass, complemented by monumental lighting sculptures he created especially for the installation.

It isn’t just furniture makers who were trying to tap into the design vibe in Milan during iSaloni. Nike created a space called “The Nature of Motion,” which brought together a number of installations by international designers and Nike’s internal design team that explore the concept of movement. Eight installations were housed in spaces created by stacks of white Nike shoeboxes. One was created by Greg Lynn, a microclimate chair for Nike, which cools and heats athletes between periods of exercise.

The scale of the show and its influence is difficult to explain to the uninitiated. It is simply too large and sprawling for any one person to experience everything. Yet there are trends that surely will spring from this year’s events, exhibitions and show stands.

Leather

Leather and Italy go hand in hand, but the leather furniture that debuted at iSaloni this year was a bit different. Italian leather furniture has been boxy and austere. Not at iSaloni 2016. Organic and flowing leather furniture could be found on many stands around the show. The severe cubic shapes have given way to softer, gentler shapes that are easier on the eye and the back. Haworth’s luxury brands, Poltrona Frau and Cassina, showed how leather can be used to stunning effect.

Woven

Woven furniture, from rattan to fabric and thread weaving, was everywhere at iSaloni 2016. The wicker technique was used often on furniture, again emphasizing the softer feel of all the colors, materials and fabrics at this year’s show.

Velvet

Velvet fabrics in rich reds, purples, greens and mustard yellows covered some of the most interesting furniture found at the show. Velvet immediately brings a richness to furniture, a luxury like gold and marble that since the early 19th century has been used as an indication of personal wealth and class. The opulence of velvet has stayed with us ever since.

Outdoor

A lot more attention is being placed on the outdoors (see related story in this week’s BoF about the sale of JANUS et Cie to Haworth). Once the domaine of gardeners, outdoor furniture is becoming almost as important as furniture found inside the home or office. Nnardi had some of the most beautiful outdoor furniture at iSaloni, with Belgian outdoor furniture maker Manutti a close second.

Small

Designers and furniture makers are paying more attention to creating furniture for smaller spaces. While much furniture at iSaloni is designed for the opulent (and large) spaces, a few are beginning to create smartly designed furniture for the space challenged. As prices for space continue to skyrocket in places like New York, Hong Kong and London, furniture from manufacturers like Moretti Compact makes a lot of sense. It is not that the furniture is simply small; the furniture is smart. It uses space in the most efficient way possible, with loft stairs that double as storage and tables that fold up and out of the way when not in use.

Metals

While chrome furniture is becoming more difficult to find, many furniture makers are experimenting with golds and bronzes. The different metals give furniture a much richer look, but work better on some products than others. This is a trend that does not universally work.

Soft

If there is one overarching trend that was prevalent at iSaloni 2016 it is the “softening” of furniture. The days of stark white and black showrooms appear to be over, and good riddance. Boxiness is gone; curves are back. Colors are softer as well, with creamy blues, yellows and greens found on nearly every stand. 

Reprinted from The Business of Furniture - Read more on bof.press >