When asked what he thought of this year’s Milan Furniture Fair a friend of mine said:
“hmm, i think that the european furniture market is doing well, it’s def on the up-and-up. very shameless stuff. after a few years of crisis it seems that it’s doing better… big things. marcel wanders, hayon, studio job, moss, bisazza, established & sons. big expensive pieces. people are investing more because they have more money. i also think there’s a trend to replace art with design objects. this year reflected that trend. i don’t think it was about innovation, there was more of a statement, rather than real advancements or clever stuff”
This of course, proved to be a general sentiment shared by the NYT as well as Monocle. However I’m finding it very difficult, as a designer to keep being interested in kitchen counters and bedspreads after a few hours. Having spent a week there I’d like to use this opportunity (and since now I have a bunch of free time) to give a different view and a few guiding principles about going to the great yearly adventure of the Milan Furniture Fair.
0. Book a hotel WELL in advance: Some hotels get booked a year in advance, so if you don’t have generous friends like mine with a spare bed or mattress, consider yourself warned. Staying on the outskirts of town won’t do, the traffic in Milan is monstrous and renting a car is simply out of the question as parking is next to impossible to find. If you really like last minute decisions, then more recently, a network of spare beds and sofaswas organised for that week, but it remains a pricey option.
1. Get your hands on an INTERNI guide asap: Reading this and deciding what you want to see, especially if you’re with friends, will take a few hours. So it’s worth taking the time at the very beginning of your trip, unlike me who finally had time to sit down and look at it on the friday afternoon, 2 days before the end and didn’t end up seeing very much.
2. Assume nothing happens on the last day: Don’t plan to see anything on the last day as most designers are already sick and tired of visitors, hungover and already packing for the most part. The busiest days for them are the weekend but the most important days are the first few ones where the press and the important heads of companies hover around, going to lake Como on the weekend.
3. (Advice for women) Bring 2 pairs of shoes with you during the day: one for endless daytime walking in the heat, the other for fancy last minute aperitivos where you suddenly have to look your best and shmooze. You also wont waste time in transport going back to your hotel to change. Getting anywhere in Milan is a hassle so you dont want to waste 2 hours just taking trams to change shoes.
4. (More advice for women) Bring a satchel type bag: you’ll be collecting catalogues like no tomorrow, the last thing you want to do is carry them in your arms and try to balance a glass of “prosecco” at the same time as trying to answer your phone.
5. Just wear black: don’t think about it, just do it. This is Milan, not Milwaukee, avoid trainers or flipflops, try elegant slight sandals if you really want to, but Italians hardly ever reveal their feet in public. Wear jeans if you want, but that’s a kid thing. If you’re over 30, think elegance, long dresses, great shoes and scarves (never mind its 30 degrees outside, the milanese are elegant like it’s -30 at any temperature), sunglasses, uber-glossy lipstick and of course the look of someone who does this every bloody year.
6.Get a taxi company phone number: they’ll pick you up at any place in the city. You can’t hail them so you’ll be stuck with the other bozos at 3 in the morning in a huge cue at a taxi point.
7. Go see school work: they actually produce the most interesting work, the rest is chairs, tables, tiles, lighting. In a nutshell.
8. Be careful about italian time: Lunch is from 1 – 3 sometimes 4 which means that some shops might be closed during those hours. Sundays mean everything is closed. Shops close around 6ish-7ish in the evening. Malls are rare so you have to obey these timings. Dinnertime is late in general and breakfast is before 11. If you ask for a “cappucino” after 11 they’ll think you’re crazy, a tourist or hungover. So order a “latte macchiato” instead, nearly the same thing and wont get you as many annoyed stares.
9. Plan for breaks: If you don’t want to be blasé after a few hours, start the day late, as most events are opened quite late. It will allow you to spend some time in the morning digesting the information from the day before and getting over your hangover.
10.Have an aperitivo: Drinking on an empty stomach 5 days in a row will kill you so either go to aperitivos where they’ll serve food or make sure you book a table somewhere to have a short break before you go back to selling your skills and talent to the design sharks. The last thing you want to do is start hitting on Karim Rashid while drunk at Barbasol.
And finally: just have a “gelato” and watch as the world of design gazes at it’s own navel, worships it’s superstars and it’s trivial and over-advertised innovations, ignoring it’s own eventual demise and the bigger problems that it faces. You’ll think about sustainability tomorrow.