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Art & DesignFeature

Salone del Mobile 2021: designing the new normal.

This year’s edition was to be the 59th, and Milan did not let it go without a fight. First, in February, the event was postponed to June, then later pushed back to autumn, and finally cancelled in May. Nonetheless, the definitive decision came as a shock to the international design world and a major setback for the city.

Bettina Bush Mignanego

By Bettina Bush Mignanego28 juillet 2020

The Salone del Mobile has grown considerably in recent times: the last edition extended over 230,000 square meters of exhibition space and attracted 2,500 exhibitors and some 400,000 visitors.

Now, all that’s left to do is wait for the 60th edition of the Salone del Mobile, scheduled for April 13-18, 2021. It will be a first, since for the first time the event will bring together the International Furniture Fair, Workplace3.0, S.Project, Salone Satellite, as well as the Biennials Euroluce, EuroCucina, and Salone Internazionale del Bagno. Clearly, this major design event has not thrown in the towel. In the 1960s, when it launched in the midst of a construction boom, the Salone was a gamble on the future of the profession made by a group of furniture manufacturers. In 1961, the first edition of the fair attracted 328 companies and 12,000 visitors.
These were the years of growth and optimism. Italy had a furniture industry rich in many small companies hungry to make a name for themselves. The formula quickly found its audience, becoming the international meeting point of reference in the sector. And the numbers attest to its success: by the fourth edition (1964), exports had grown from less than 6 million to 16 million euros. But even that looks like small change in hindsight, when you consider that in 2019 Made in Italy furniture exports totaled 8.4 billion euros.
In recent years, the furniture designer’s core business has evolved into anticipating future lifestyles. Tastes and styles have become more and more relevant, and they now flow seamlessly into art.
Among the Salone del Mobile's highlights, the 2008 edition will remain legendary, thanks to the performance of the English director Peter Greenaway and his "Leonardo's Last Supper", a new way of looking at art and digital technology. Since then, the Show's Manifesto has been unveiled, proclaiming the Salone’s nine key terms, with a new one to be added in each successive year. The 2020 edition was to explore the concept of "Beauty".
All efforts are now being channeled into the sixtieth edition, driven by a desire to be back and inspired by the awareness that the world has changed. Marco Sabetta, General Manager of the Salone, tells us more.

Marco Sabetta, Managing Director of the Salone del Mobile, at the press conference 2020 (Salone del Mobile)

Tell us about what happened in the face of Covid-19.

We didn't give up easily, believe me! At first we tried to postpone the fair, but very quickly we simply ran up against the constraints of the public health measures that would be required. A fall edition would have been too close to the 2021 edition. Today, we are actively working towards 2021, an edition that will be unique, bringing together fairs and biennials for the first time. But there is still a lot of uncertainty about the rules that will be applied, not only with regard to distance, masks, temperature tests, and all that, but also how to regulate visitor access. We are used to large numbers, hundreds of thousands of visitors... We hope that the international situation will change, there is always hope that a cure or a vaccine will be found that will allow us to return to normal. Today, we live from day to day. In the autumn we will have a clearer picture, but in the meantime I can confirm that we are already receiving many requests; there is a great desire to start again."

What does it mean for the furniture industry to have postponed the show for a year?

Economically, it was a very hard blow. The Show is the main international showcase, 70% of the exhibiting companies are Italian, in a sector that has a turnover of 42.5 billion euros. But the market is reacting anyway, and I think there is hope for a new start. In China and the East in general, the market is recovering. They are ahead of us. All companies have taken heavy losses, but it is the smaller ones that are suffering the most.

Many fairs such as Art Basel have gone the digital route. What about your 2021 edition?

Digital will be important for us too; we will have a platform that will not only accompany us during the event, but that will allow companies to be online year-round for constant updates, showcasing editorial content and new ideas. But for the Salone del Mobile, the physical dimension is essential. It's not just a trade show, it's an event where experience lies at the heart of everything, it’s about energy, it’s about new ideas. And human relations are fundamental. When it comes to furniture, not everything can be digital.

How is Milan reacting to the crisis? Do you think that the Show and the city will dialogue as well as they have in the past?

Today Milan is still picking up the pieces. You need to consider that Milan is not just a place to work, it is a tourist destination and what is still missing today is the foreign tourists. When the fair resumes, the city will be there too. The strength of the Milanese people is there, you can feel it, we all just need a little patience. Then everything will start all over again, certainly with a different awareness and with a new view of the environment.

Actually, during these months of closure, we have all experienced the home in a new way. Do you think new models of living are being born?

The house has become the space where we spent weeks and months, in a positive way, without having to go in and out. We have learned to live it. To feel good at home is also to feel good outside. We rediscovered the beauty of life, and this led to a new concept of sustainability also linked to beauty. Beauty is a term we use frequently in Italy. It's part of our culture, it's no coincidence that many of the big names in design are Italian. Even more attention will be paid to living the house in harmony with the environment and the outside world.

What are the new challenges of this 60th edition?

We need to help companies resume doing business again and offer new products. They are the real actors of future success. We play an organizational role. We make sure that everything works as well as possible.

Any economic forecasts for the sector?

The turnover of companies in the sector has contracted dramatically. But everyone is eager to recover, to start again after waiting so long. We are seeing the early signs, responses have been good, and we are gearing up to answer to the new needs of the market.       

XLux, Esatelier, Salone del Mobile 2019 (Salone del Mobile)

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