Highlights from Fuorisalone at Milan Design Week 2023

The Ikea installation in Tortona during Milan Design Week

It’s often when art, architecture, design come together when great things happen. And nowhere is this more evident than during Milan design week (17 to 23 April) when the streets of this vibrant Italian city play host to collaborative exhibitions and installations, design talks, performance and dance, and more. As a branding agency, we endeavour to keep on top of what’s happening on the global creative scene, and so through the years, Milan has become a vital part of our calendar.

Collectively this year’s exhibitions spoke of the urgency to use design and critical thinking for positive change with a strong ecological discourse evident throughout. You could see this with the inventive use of sustainable materials, a celebration of craft, history and making, and the welcoming of community — of collective creativity. All of which made this year’s Milan design week one of the most inspirational in recent years.

Scenes from Tortona during Milan Design Week

Joining Salone del Mobile — the historical indoor furniture fair at Fiera Milano — is Fuorisalone. What began in 2003 as supporting exhibits with a more conceptual theme has since morphed into a hugely exciting set of events around the districts of Brera, 5Vie and Tortona. It is here where art, design and architecture intersect and where you witness the cross-fertilisation of ideas.

The theme for 2023 was ‘Laboratorio Futuro’ (Future Lab). On the edgier side of town in the Tortona district, ‘Shaped by Lexus’ offered a sensory installation by the New York architect and designer Suchi Reddy. The work is inspired by the airflow shape of the marque’s Electrified Sport study car and with a nod to Matisse’s cut-outs, replete with the sound and smell of forest rain.

Suchi Reddy's 'Shaped by Lexus' installation

The same loft space at Superstudio was also host to a group exhibition of the four winning designs for the Lexus Design Awards, launched a decade ago to foster new and emerging talent. Creating on the theme ‘Design for a Better Tomorrow’, the 2023 finalists were selected from over 2,000 entries, responding to social and environmental issues with imagination.

One idea, for instance, looked at how a simple mesh fabric can be utilised to catch water particles and moisture from fog and turn this into drinking water. Swedish architect Pavels Hedström’s ‘Fog-X’ is a jacket that transforms into a tent-like mesh fabric to collect water particles from fog and mist, then stores up to ten litres of drinking water daily.

Food installation at Faye Toogood and Maison Matisse

Over on the other side of town, the Brera district became a backdrop to creative collaborations by high-end brands. This elegant area, with its crumbling historic palazzos, gorgeous courtyards, fashion houses and small galleries lining the golden cobbled streets, is perfect for hosting such exhibitions.

There was so much to see. Moroso, for insurance, showed new designs by Patricia Urquiola, Zanellato Bortotto and Elena Sanguankeo, while Dedar displayed new playful textile designs by Studio Ossidiana. At Time & Style, ‘KA Sofa’ by the architect Kengo Kuma showcased Japanese artisan skills passed on through generations.

Faye Toogood’s collection for Maison Matisse is intended to be ‘both strong and soft,’ says the British designer. It included tables, armchairs, rugs and a blanket, displayed playfully alongside an edible installation of goat cheese, charcoaled breadsticks and fresh peas in a pod, which we were encouraged to consume while taking in the work.

Opened by Davide Campari in 1915, the Camparino in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

A short hop away, Nilufar Gallery staged ‘The Bright Side of Design’ as a journey to celebrate excellent design past and present with historical pieces by the likes of the late architect Osvaldo Bosan sitting alongside contemporary work. These included commissioned work by the Greek design studio Objects of Common Interest exploring light and magic, British designer Joe Armitage’s lighting display, and Tel Aviv’s Gal Gaon’s ‘Six’ new design series of wooden collide tables.

In a slightly more dystopian installation, ‘Dry Days, Tropical Nights’ saw Glo and artist Agostino Lacurci at the Brera showroom invited viewers to envisage the interconnected urban landscape of the future.

“Dry Days, Tropical Nights” by Glo and Agostino Lacurci

Meanwhile fashion brand LOEWE celebrated craft with imagination and wit with ‘LOEWE Chairs’, a series of chairs in the courtyard of the Palazzo Isimbardi. Here the act of craft, weaving and embellishment transformed the everyday object to be unique.

Elsewhere, Prada hosted a three-day symposium at Teatro Filodrammatici alongside the research-based design studio Formafantasma to examine the relationship between design and the environment, waste and ecosystems. The theme was ‘Materials in Flux’, nodding to the studies of the anthropologist Tim Ingold, for whom the matter is a living, interconnected, as well as ever-changing entity.

BMW Group's “A Creative's Journey” at Milan Design Week

Also in Brera, BMW’s site-specific installation took place in a lovely courtyard as a space imagined to ignite our creative imagination to think differently. ‘A Creative’s Journey’ began with an entrance portal flanked by columns to feel like a car wash to symbolise how designers can be open to new ways of thinking by eliminating restrictive patterns. ‘In a volatile world, we aim to face the future with a positive mindset,’ said head of design Domagoj Dukec. It certainly captured the tone of the festival.

Milan Design Week is incomplete though without a visit to Bar Basso, a place we got to know well when publishing ‘The Life Negroni’. This is where the Negroni Sbagliato (as in the ‘wrong’ Negroni) was invented 55 years ago. And it is at this Milanese institution where the design community gather at the end of a long week to discuss arts and ideas over cocktails and nibbles in a style that can only happen in Milan.

Images: Ikea installation, scenes from Tortona, Suchi Reddy ‘Shaped by Lexus’, Faye Toogood and Maison Matisse, Camparino at Vittorio Emanuele II, ‘Dry Days, Tropical Nights’ by Glo and Agostino Lacurci, BMW’s ‘A Creative’s Journey’ ©Lexus, BMW and Spinach.

Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand.

Poster for Bar Basso at Milan Design Week
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