Milan’s Salone del Mobile is still the beating heart of Europe’s design scene. By Alyn Griffiths.
For a week in April each year Milan becomes the beating heart of Europe’s design scene, drawing in design aficionados from around the world, and pumping out ideas and products that fuel the industry for the next twelve months. More than 300,000 people attended last year’s fair, which saw around 2000 exhibitors present their products.
Since the city first hosted the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in 1961, this annual trade fair has established itself as an essential event on the global design calendar. Investment in industry following the Second World War helped family-run furniture makers grow into global brands, and the Salone offered these firms a platform.
Recently, the Salone has been confronted with competition from alternative international fairs, while issues such as inflated accommodation prices and unpredictable weather threaten its status. Yet each year the Salone – plus satellite shows such as the Fuorisalone – continues to expand; it is the world’s most popular design event, and there is a buzz and vibrancy as doors are thrown open and graduates rub shoulders with design giants.
The main fair takes place at the Fiera Milano convention centre, northwest of the city centre, where halls covering 200,000m2 are packed with products. However much of the pleasure from visiting Milan for the Salone comes from spending time in a city that is full of wonder. While Milan may lack the romance of Rome, Florence or Venice, there is plenty to see beyond its reputation as a work-obsessed industrial metropolis. I lived in Milan for a year during my studies, in a shared apartment ten minutes from the Duomo. The discoveries I made then remain reasons I would recommend it at any time of year, but the week of the Salone offers a unique opportunity to explore locations that are usually off limits.
My advice for anyone attending the Salone for the first time is to be organised: identify any events or exhibitions you particularly want to see and make a plan to visit different districts on different days, with regular pit stops for coffee, gelato and freshly baked focaccia to keep energy levels up during long days of walking. Prepare for late nights fuelled by cocktails and prosecco. Just remember to pack an umbrella!