From Gaetano Pesce’s resin-clad grotto for Bottega Veneta to Dozie Kanu’s Byredo installation, here are five highlights from Milan Design Week 2023
Since 1961, Milan has drawn design and interiors aficionados annually to its streets for Salone del Mobile Milano (the Milan Furniture Fair). With spritzes in hand and designer bags swinging from every shoulder, the crowds flood neighbourhoods like Brera (the heart of the fashion district), industrial Inganni, the baroque Porto Venezia and Duomo-adjacent Magenta, in search of the season’s new pieces and brand-led activations; while the Salone fair at Fiera Milano draws the professionals to its cavernous exhibition space in the northwest of the city’s outskirts. Since the event draws both the public and professionals, Milan is unmissable for those with stakes in the furniture field as well as for those without – increasingly, the fashion and fragrance worlds are getting in on the act, too.
Below, we give you a guide to this year’s highlights.
For Byredo, artist Dozie Kanu presented Bal d’Afrique, an art installation inspired by the brand’s perfume of the same name. When founder Ben Gorham designed the unctuous and earthy African marigold and bergamot scent more than a decade ago, it was a response to reading his father’s diaries documenting 15 years of travel around the Africa – he wanted to capture the memories of someone else. Working with research centre the Saman Archive (a repository for photographic negatives collected across Ghana), the Nigerian-American artist took Gorham’s original intention as a springboard from which to explore his relationship with the African continent and Afro-diasporic culture. In and around the inviting Pavilion – a central tent-like space paying tribute to the idea of the grand ball (the ‘bal’ in Bal d’Afrique) made from weathering steel, wicker and stone – were photographs, found objects and original sculptures, all with celebratory associations. Drums comprised of washing machine drums, tables made from recycled steel pipes and burnt wood and a found wine jug brought Kanu’s imagined archive into the present, emotion-filled space. Positioned alongside vitrines filled with prized family mantelpiece photographs curated by the Saman Archive, Kanu hoped the pop-up had “the ability to stay with you over an extended period.”
The humble stick chair was reinvented at Loewe this year. These ultra-simple constructions are long overlooked; with upright bars and legs wedged directly into the seat, they have long been considered ‘peasant items’ and go largely undocumented (their earliest records date back to the 10th century) and make for an ideal base on which to showcase this year’s attention to craft and weaving – a nod to the label’s penchant for basketry. Working with multiple artisans including Belgian company Vincent Sheppard, Loewe commissioned 30 pieces. Wooden chair backs were woven with all manner of unlikely materials spanning gold and silver foil (from foil emergency blankets), paper raffia, sky blue nylon twine like that from a builder’s merchant, blue and white teddy-bear shearling, multicoloured felt, bright orange sheepskin and acid yellow leather cord. Handbags inspired by these glorious pieces were sold exclusively during Salone, alongside the chairs.
In the latest chapter of the creative director’s cultural voyage at Bottega Veneta, Matthieu Blazy has collaborated for the second time with 83-year-old Italian architect and design impresario, Gaetano Pesce. After inviting the octogenarian to create the set for his Autumn/Winter 2023 show last year, where the pair contrived Come Stai? a series of 400 resin-coated-fabric chairs in delicious swirls of pistachio, Pepto-Bismol pink and sunshine yellow, Pesce has now designed two handbags for their latest collaboration, Vieni A Vedere. To present these, Pesce turned the label’s entire flagship Montenapoleone store into a winding grotto – a cave of resin-clad walls with a poured resin floor, through which visitors will find just two very limited edition, reptilious green woven handbags. One bag, in the shape of two grassy hillocks constructed from the house’s classic Intrecciato weave with a rising red sun for a clasp, was one of 15; the other, an all-over fringed Oscar-the-Grouch monster of a shoulder bag, was just one of three for sale to the design community.
Dior by Starck
In another sequel, Dior and the French industrial designer Philippe Starck present their second project together. Expanding on last year’s inaugural launch of the Miss Dior chair – a metallic interpretation of the Louis XVI Medallion seat favoured by Christian Dior himself – Starck introduces the Monsieur Dior chair, a big brother to last season’s super streamlined aluminium iteration (many of which, in new pastel hues, were suspended from the ceiling, dancing along to a video and music installation by Soundwalk Collective), in the label’s ubiquitous toile de Jouy in powder pink, black or flouro orange (as well as a plain ecru bouclé). A gaggle of “little brothers and sisters” – ultra elegant tables and stools in a variety of sizes – joined the collection, too.
At the grand Palazzo Serbelloni – Louis Vuitton’s regular Design Week haunt – the French fashion house presented Louis Vuitton Objets Nomades, a furniture collection launched in 2012 that has grown year-by-year to a 60-piece-strong collection. This year, 11 new objects by collaborators including Marcel Wanders, Zanellato/Bortotto and Campana join the roster. While the first floor of the palazzo offered a symphony of sights – stark and stylised modern interiors and decorative objects of the retrofuturist ilk Vuitton is famed for stood against frescoed backdrops below vaulted ceilings – a few key highlights really sang. Regular collaborator Atelier Oï’s brightly coloured Quetzal mobiles hung from above like a flock of exotic birds in flight, their leather strips fanned outwards into soaring wings that popped against an otherwise muted palette. London-based design duo Raw-Edges’ Binda armchair and sofa stood out, too, in bright tomato red – their Jetsons-like curves resembling the pleasing contours of the utilitarian tennis ball. Atelier Biagetti’s sculptural Flower Tower lamp also had a touch of the 60s sci-fi about it: a transparent column of 15 hand-blown venetian glass globes in the shape of the quatrefoil (a four petal flower) of Vuitton’s ubiquitous monogram, it’s an extraordinary totem for the home, riffing on the heritage of the beloved brand.