Milan's dominance as the world's design capital is owed to designers and brands that have shaped the design industry we know today. Lim Sio Hui investigates. Practically inventing the design festival, every April the furniture fair Salone Internazionale del Mobile opens as a citywide celebration of design conceived as a bustling social calendar of product launches, special installations and above all parties. After all, it's the Italians with their passion for good design, food and wine that give events like fashion week and design week a life and flamboyance all of its own.
Italian designer Francesco Binfaré, Cassina's art director of design and communication at the time the fuori salone started, remembers the early days well. It was 1973 and Cesare Cassina and Pietro Busnelli's thriving furniture brand C&B Italia had just split to create B&B Italia. The space at the furniture fair was too small and "Cassina had the necessity to assail the market in an exceptional way so it created the Salone del Mobile in the city centre showroom," Binfaré says. "It gave life to a Salone with a big party and with the use of the first videotapes showing the magnificence of the events that were taking place in the showroom."
The success of Milan's Fuori Salone (Italian for the fair's satellite events) has created an unprecedented situation where contemporary brands scramble for position, this year Milan drew 320,000 visitors from all over the world. Unmissable for visitors on this design pilgrimage are destinations such as the semi-industrial areas of Zona Tortona and Ventura Lambrata, Spazio Rossana Orlandi's eclectic treasure trove of emerging designs, La Rinascente department store for workshops and discourses that are consistently pushing the envelope, as well as the legendary drinking hole Bar Basso, where designers come together to wind down the night and spark off new collaborations. "We cannot work within a vacuum, you need to work with the world," remarks Rossana Hu of Shanghai-based design practice Neri & Hu Design and Research Office. "Milan is definitely important for us as the centre of the furniture and design world."
In tune with its success as a design destination, the city itself continues to revitalise with high profile and ambitious design projects. The upcoming World Expo 2015 is one to watch and projects signed by leading architects Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind for Citylife, while Porta Nuova, a mixed-use development whose central piazza pays homage to architect Gae Aulenti, aims to create a contemporary destination for Milanese locals to gather and stroll.
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