by Nitija ImmanuelAug 13, 2021
The Milan Design Week has been a summer staple on the design industry calendar for nearly 60 years, offering a platform for established and emerging designers to convene with a global audience. Materiality is an especially important factor in the experience of design—one that cannot be replicated virtually—and small studios that don’t have a global retail presence are entirely dependent on summer fairs for the opportunity to showcase their products in person. At the heart of Milan Design Week is Salone del Mobile.Milano, a convention that showcases cutting-edge developments in the field of furniture design, lighting and kitchenware that are poised to revolutionise the industry in a big way. It goes without saying that the design world took an unprecedented hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some designers have taken it upon themselves to create virtual communities, or launch projects on a more local level; still, there is no replacing the real thing, and designers are looking forward to being back on the design fair track next year.
To speculate on what a post-COVID-19 design fair may look like, STIR reached out to the president of Salone del Mobile.Milano, Claudio Luti—who is also notably the president and owner of Kartell, a founding partner and former CEO of Gianni Versace, and a member of the Board of Directors of the La Triennale di Milano. In an email interview, Luti offered his insight on the role design will play in a post-pandemic landscape, what “coming together” will mean after a year of social distancing, and significantly, what COVID-19 has taught us about the value of human touch. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Avantika Shankar (AS): What are some of the challenges that the design industry faced because Salone did not take place this year?
Claudio Luti (CT): By suspending the 2020 Salone we have missed a very important occasion, which is not only a business opportunity but also a moment for coming together and meeting with businesses, designers, collectors and connoisseurs. These past months have been very difficult for us, for Italy, for the design industry and for the world as a whole. The pandemic has created a lot of fear and suffering. But now we are starting up again, trying to find our customary energy, enthusiasm and desire to pick up from where we left off. In reality our services and creative activities never stopped, we continued designing and creating new solutions and concepts. But the shutdown of production certainly impacted all of us strongly, especially smaller companies, high quality family-run businesses, which are key links in our supply chain and have been sorely tried by the long lockdown and lack of orders. Nothing will be as it was before, but every situation offers its own opportunities.
AS: Will there be changes in the way Salone is hosted next year?
CL: Next year will be a milestone edition because Salone del Mobile.Milano will turn 60. After such a long absence, we want to create a single and unique presentation of the design system: a choral exhibition. Kitchen, bathroom, lighting, office will be exhibited all together for the first time in the Salone del Mobile.Milano history. As for social distancing, we are currently designing a new format - with display solutions still under review - but it will bring us all together and allow everyone to exchange some hugs and try out the chairs and sofas, and see the kitchens and lamps up close.
AS: Do you think design will change after this pandemic?
CL: Design now, more than ever, needs a vision, cohesion and a programme. The role of design should be to imagine and design our futures in this new daily life. In a few weeks, the role of domestic interiors has changed a lot. They have interjected functions that did not belong to it before COVID-19: like work, study, shopping and fitness. For sure a “new creativity” that goes hand in hand with the “new normality” phase has already started. You see many designers working on public social distancing to allow people to re-start enjoying being together at a restaurant, in a park or while travelling on a plane. Design, as ever, is the answer to a specific need and in this moment its function is extremely evident. However, despite its function design should not lose its emotional value because it has to give pleasure to the final user. An Italian piece of design is essentially a perfect mix between the creative mind of the designer and the industrial capacity of the manufacturer.
AS: Will there be changes in the design economy as well - in terms of how consumers buy products, or policy-makers interact with urban planning and construction?
CL: In this period, e-commerce of all goods has increased enormously all over the world, therefore I think it will continue being a large-scale way of buying and selling products. Our companies will continue to invest in e-commerce, which enables them to work with the whole world, with dedicated services both for architects and contractors and for the consumer. In our business, however, in order to buy a sofa or a chair you need to try it, to touch it, to see it from real in order to visualise it better in your home or office. This is why it is important to bring people back to our shops and physical locations so they can touch our furniture with their hands, try them out and connect with the design which, like a work of art, forms part of their lifestyle. As far as urban planning, for example, the Milan Mayor is improving the bike path system since bike commuting and travelling is highly encouraged. Some new buildings will even have an area for smart working. A lot of attention is given also to balconies, which in this pandemic have been a safe space for those who are obliged not to leave home.
AS: Do you think there is a chance to make positive changes in Salone, and in the design world, after this pandemic?
CL: The design world should reflect on what is more important to work on and leave aside the less important issues. This pandemic has taught us to give greater value to what we have always taken for granted: from personal relations to genuine contact with our objects.In solidarity with the annual Milan Design Week amid the COVID-19 crisis, STIR hosted a special series, Moments of Affection: Milanese Alliances, where design leaders such as Richard Hutten, Fabio Novembre, Ross Lovegrove, Marcel Wanders, Kelly Hoppen and more reflected on their memories from Milano. Click here to read.