Taking place every spring, the annual Milan furniture fair (Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano) is the biggest and best trade fair for furniture, lighting, and interiors in the world. The fair is a big attraction for architects, interior designers, and the design-inclined for checking out all of the newest products and innovations from famous brands like Foscarini, Moroso, and Vitra, as well as smaller ones such Rö and Atelier Öi.
It’s a huge event, located at Rho in northern Milano, open Tuesday through Friday to professionals, and Saturday and Sunday to the general public. The event includes 2100 exhibitors, and attracts more than 300,000 visitors annually. One of my favorite parts of the trade show is the Salone Satellite, which is a platform within the same trade show featuring young designers (furniture, light, industrial) aged 35 and younger who get the chance to showcase their work, and are oftentimes there to try and promote their prototypes -it’s always inspiring to see original ideas and the artists behind them.
This year I decided to bypass the official trade show, and opted for a day wandering the streets and palazzos of Milan for the Fuorisalone (“Outside Salone”) – the official name for a tremendous network of expositions, happenings, events, and presentations going on all over Milano which coincide with the fair. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to the official trade show a few times in previous years, and mostly missed out on the Fuorisalone because of the train schedule back to Como. So this year I decided to just put on my walking shoes and see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t disappoint.
My trip to from Cernobbio to Milano for the big design week started off with an early morning boat ride across the lake from Tavernola to Como to get to the train station at Lago di Como, which takes you directly into the hub of Milano, where it’s bursting with energy.
Basically, entire streets, buildings and shops are rented for the occasion and taken over by installations made available for public viewing all over the city of Milano (Sponsored through Fuorisalone & 5Vie Art+Design for example) in the most beautiful or mundane locations one can possibly imagine. This is my favorite kind of art because it is accessible for everyday people as it should be. I vistited 3 different Pallazzos (Litta, Affari, Serbelloni) which are privately owned and normally closed to the public who made their spaces available to feature extraordinary design and exhibition space. Some of the locales I found to be more fascinating than the content within the building itself.
The best part about diving into Fuorisalone is that you are in the heartbeat of the city with its traffic and bustle. I had what was possibly the best panini of my life at a little place called De Santis where I waited 20 minutes just to order, and another 15 to get my order. I generally lack patience, so I popped over to a beautifully designed (Dimore Studio) Aesop boutique just across the road to sweeten the wait.
What’s more, Milano is a unrivaled city for fashion, especially high fashion – you name it – they’ve got it… Fancy pants security guards and all. And when I can afford it, I love to splurge, but when the purse strings are tight, I am very good at keeping my urges at bay. That said, I came across a few stores that pretty much made me drool from desire. Funky table, Atelier Carla Saibene, and Wait and See were just a few cute boutiques that I could have spent hours in. Window shopping does satisfy me enough most of the time, and I do love to see what’s going on marketing wise when it’s well done.
No matter what you budget is, please don’t ever hesitate to go into Prada or Armani or whatever your fancy is to check out the quality of the clothes, touch them, feel the material, and take note of the difference in quality and the original design behind them… There is no one on this planet that is more worthy than you to wear these clothes….try something on! They’re just clothes, and one shouldn’t be too shy or too intimidated to walk into a store and take a look and try something on. But I know that it’s so bloody expensive for most of us. Anyway – forget about all that status symbol crap – just have a field day of visual and sensual fun – it can be like art that you can’t really afford to buy, but still enjoy and appreciate how it makes you feel. At least that’s how I see it. And if it’s something that’s well made and fits you like a glove – it can become a piece of clothing that you can use for many years which is well worth the cost. Better than spending tons of money on shitty trends and things you buy on impulse on a bad day.
There is another side to this brilliant fashion and art metropolis of Milano that I could not turn a blind eye to. There are homeless people living on the streets, and immigrants from all over (especially African) trying to make their way by begging or selling books, or various gadgets aimed at tourists such as selfie sticks. I cannot say why, but it seemed to me as if the contrast between the immigrants and the Italians here was so huge. My impression was that it must take a gigantic leap over countless obstacles for an immigrant such as I encountered to ever be able to feel at home here.
I had the great pleasure of meeting a young man from Senegal named Mame Mbissane. He first approached me to try and sell me some books and I just made eye contact and smiled at him, and I responded with a “No, thank you.” He came over with a high five to tell me that I was the very first person all day to make eye contact with him. He was at first intent on selling me a book, and I listened and explained that I don’t read in Italian, therefore, no need for such a book. He asked me about my origins, and he shared his with me – spoke of his brother whom had immigrated to Kentucky through marriage, and he started to weep. He said “You know what, I just want to eat and feel more human – I am here all day long and I have no contact with humanity even though there are people all around. I am here since 2011 and I don’t ever get ahead, I am alone, I am sad, and I just want to be able to get forward in life.” He would love to be able to return to Senegal one day but at the moment his future there appears dismal as well. His rawness touched my heart. I gave in to a big hug and bought him lunch. He made my day, and dramatically lessened my appetite for shopping, which was probably a good thing.
So, this was my day trip to Milano. There are so many things to do and see here, and I could have easily spent a few days longer exploring the city. I suppose it’s just like any big city on the earth – filled with all kinds of good and bad at the same time. Like it or not – this is the reality of our times. I think it’s important on any trip to get in contact with some people living there, otherwise it’s just too easy to limit oneself to a tourist-centric point of view, and traveling means so much more than just visiting attractions and sites. It’s all about opening oneself up to other realities – expanding your heart, mind, & senses, and leaving a little good behind when you pass through. At least that’s how I roll.
The following day I decided to go and visit an amazing art foundation on the outskirts of Milano called Fondazione Prada. It will be the subject of my next post as a photo essay. Please stay tuned…..!
All photos were taken by June Liechti-Adamson