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Around Milan In 80 Slides: The Frontiers of Design in 2018

From the big brands to the most obscure student projects. For Milan In Review 2018 we joined forces with renowned Singaporean designer Hunn Wai of Lanzavecchia + Wai to dissect the world’s biggest design week in a round trip of 80 slides.

Around Milan In 80 Slides: The Frontiers of Design in 2018

Hunn Wai and Narelle Yabuka on a discursive journey through Milan

For Indesign Media Asia’s third annual ‘Milan in Review’ evening, presented in partnership with Xtra at their Marina Square showroom on 9 May 2018, we set ourselves a menacing task: to make sense of the behemoth event that is Milan Design Week with a little inspiration from a historical text.

The book Around the World in 80 Days by French writer Jules Verne was published in 1873 and tells the story of the protagonist’s challenge to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager. We bet ourselves that we could take on the Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone in 80 slides to communicate the best designs, most engaging installations, and most crucial threads of design discourse.



It was a challenge alright, but we conquered it with the input of two co-pilots. Renowned Singaporean designer Hunn Wai (co-founder and Creative Director of Lanzavecchia + Wai) attended Milan as an exhibitor (with products for Exto, FIAM Italia and Living Divani) and as an interested observer. Narelle Yabuka (Editor of and Cubes) attended as a member of the media contingent that descended on the city. Their combined access to a wide variety of exhibits, designers and industry figures was the basis of a richly layered analysis of the week

Tape by Benjamin Hubert for Moroso. Image: Moroso


They chose not to circumnavigate Milan but to move through the city in circles of geography and conceptual daring. They started at Rho Fiera with the Salone del Mobile, its massive crowds (434,509 attendees, 26 per cent more than the 2017 edition) and the offerings of the established furniture brands – from a modular sofa system upholstered with waste textiles (Tape by Benjamin Hubert for Moroso) to Kartell’s pivot toward materials other than plastic, to the rise of accessories, classic re-issues and bolder colours in brand portfolios. Indesign Prodigy Olivia Lee gave a cameo on her Play House kids’ collection, which she exhibited at the Salone Satellite.



Moving into the central city, Wai and Yabuka journeyed through the standout installations and the thinking behind them – from Vitra’s classification of furniture by social ‘types’ (Typecasting at La Pelota) to contrasting modes of display from Lee Broom (Instagram-friendly formality) and Hem (casual domesticity) in Brera, to the immersive and colourful dream-like encounters encouraged by Hermès at La Permanente. Along the way they teased out conceptions of storytelling and narrative, and the increasing importance of a product’s backstory and mode of production among consumers.


Forms of Movement exhibition by nendo. Image: Takumi Ota


From nendo’s impressive investigation of movement (with the exhibition Forms of Movement) they stepped into the territory of non-furniture-industry brands, probing the intents of companies such as Juventus (U-Joints exhibition in collaboration with Plus Design Gallery) and MINI (Built By All exhibition with Studiomama). Design, they suggested, is increasingly becoming a relevant form of currency and a key means of connecting with culture.


Mutant Matter exhibition by Dutch Invertuals and Franklin Till. Left: Future Remnants by Xandra van der Eijk, exploring the transformation of materials through available household solutions. Right: Metamorphism: Yulem by Shahar Livne, exploring a composite clay made of matter from three waste streams. Images: Dutch Invertuals


The final leg of the journey around Milan entered highly conceptual territory and, eventually, the north of the city’s inner ring road. Our intrepid co-pilots looked into the vegan material experiments of Erez Nevi Pana; the Digital Market set up by ECAL to explore the rapid production of 3D printed objects (and its impact on the design process); biomineralisation using algae as a resource (Microbes by Burg Giebichenstein, University of Art and Design Halle at Ventura Future Universita); the material possibilities of the new Anthropocene era’s altered nature (Mutant Matter by Dutch Invertuals and Franklin Till); SONY’s conceptual explorations with hidden sensors in domestic objects (Hidden Senses); and finally, the Design Academy Eindhoven’s at times unnerving interrogation of design in terms of what can and can’t be bought or sold (Not For Sale at various locations in Via Pietro Crespi).


Hunn Wai and Francesca Lanzavecchia with Vittorio Livi, the founder of FIAM Italia at the Salone del Mobile. Image: Hunn Wai


The moral of the story? Milan Design Week is about much more than the Salone del Mobile. It’s about building and solidifying relationships as well as the presentation of ideas and design research, including visions of the future. Beyond the commercial reach of design, the week is an opportunity to ask ourselves what we think the role of design should be in the future. And for that reason, despite the crowds, the sketchy network connections and the exorbitant accommodation prices, we’ll keep making our yearly treks to Milan.



Special thanks to Xtra for hosting Milan In Review for the third year running, and to Kith café for the sustenance during our 80-slide journey!

Event photography by Winston Chuang.

We will be publishing an edited transcript of Milan in Review 2018 in the July issue of Cubes #92. Look out for it!


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