Even dispiriting quantities of rain couldn’t put a damper on Milan Design Week: there were a record 100,000 visitors, up 20% over last year, and news reports of traffic jams, crammed parking lots and taxi lines backed up into the fair building caused organizers to extend opening times by two hours.
Where Fashion Week mostly stumbles to get locals involved, Design Week delivers by whipping up a collective hysteria for chairs, lamps and free drinks. (A few quick photos of mine, here.)
There were 380 events and installations open to the general public about town, called Fuori Salone, I kicked off the week (which despite the title lasts five days) by viewing Peter Greenaway’s multi-media take on The Last Supper. (If you happen this way before May 4, it’s worth scratching your head at).
Economic gloom and doom seem a long way away from huge crowds fueled by free Red Bull, Nastro Azzurro and Campari. This year in the hip Tortona zone, perusers were required to get entry badges in exchange for an email address.
On Sunday afternoon, I became number 69,125 along with whole families and those cute, loved-up couples one notices then silently despises. Projects ranged from Andrea Branzi’s Living Kitchen, a compact unit with bed, bike stand, shelves, desk and fridge, to a prototype from a trio of local design students for an iron-toaster.
Still, there are some notable differences for those with a little memory of what past editions were like.
Most of the showrooms in my neighborhood played it all too safe, the space that once had design students helping anyone who walked in off the street craft cool retro toys, this year showcased just one very expensive set of Japanese bathroom fixtures.
I ducked into some other spaces to find them dedicated to carpet (as common in Italy as beef jerky) or shelves. Corso Como, mecca for fashionistas, displayed a rather tame collection of Egg chairs. My favorite venue, an ex-pelota court, was home again to Established & Sons but most of the designs looked familiar from past seasons, the real crowd-draw was the addition of a full bar instead of just free beer.
Fair organizers report that despite foreign competition, the Italian furnishing sector exported 2.3 billion euros a year, up 9% from 2007 and 19,5% from 2005.
As long as the lounging is chic, the crowds will come even if it rains copiously for almost five days in a row.