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An Italian Sojourn

Salone del Mobile 2011 was as fantastic as everyone predicted. For the unaware, Salone del Mobile is a global benchmark for the home furnishing sector, much like what BaselWorld is for watches & jewellery. Have a glance at fashionable Milan, move around the Fiera Grounds admiring spectacular creations and meet the legendary Donatella Versace herself.

Salone del Mobile 2011 was as fantastic as everyone predicted it to be. For those who aren’t aware, Salone del Mobile is a global benchmark for the home furnishing sector, much like what BaselWorld is for watches and jewellery. Have a glance at fashionable Milan, move around the Fiera Grounds admiring spectacular creations and meet the legendary Donatella Versace herself.

My work obviously involves frequent trips to headquarters of all the brands we work with. Fortunately, most of them are situated in Milan. The charming town steeps with art, culture and fashion. No wonder the Milan Fashion Week is considered one of the most prestigious and worshippers of luxury dream to visit Milan and lay their heads at the altar of lavishness (if they haven’t already done so, lugging the huge amount of shopping behind them!).

Italy is like second home, what with the constant back and forth every couple of months in a year. Despite this fact, exploring the much-anticipated Salone Del Mobile in Milan was an exciting and intriguing thought.

Everything, beginning from procuring an air ticket, to finding a place to stay, and even travel to the fair destination, is an experience that is completely and uniquely different and historic!

Air ticket rates were quite steeped up, even for frequent and regular fliers like me! Hotel rooms, more like a hole in the wall, were demanding a whopping 500 euros a night! One could have chosen to be closer to the fair venue, IF rooms were available, even at high prices! I settled for whatever could be found within Milan at an exorbitant price of 500 euros a night. It wasn’t a time to be selective.

Getting to the fair grounds was the next challenge. What is more comfortable and accessible between taxis, buses or the usual tube rail? I opted for my usual choice – the tube rail – but it was full of visitors trying to get to Feira Milano.

The Fiera Grounds, where the whole furniture treat was spread out, was immensely vast – instantly making me wonder how on earth will I be able to see it all in the short time I had?

Despite the large scale of the event, you could see that the Italians had proven their extreme penchant for perfection, organization and beauty. There was no jostling of crowds at the entry counters. Getting my registration and entry ticket was a smooth and easy experience. Entering the premises, I was astounded by the sheer ‘larger than life’ effect at the fair.

The vast grounds were divided into 24 ‘pads’, each displaying different ‘concepts’ by different brands. The pads were segregated or zoned, not only sub-category wise, but also price point and position wise.

Each brand was trying to outdo the other and pushing the envelope with the most striking room mock ups, furniture displays and visual appeals. Looking for those cushy and Victorian sofas? There is a special zone for them. Lighting fixtures warrant their own pad. Explore the supremely classy cutlery section and you’ll be swooning to pick up one for yourself. There are zones for DIY kind of products as well. There are brands from all over the world to explore, reach out and tie up with. From highly industrialized to entirely handmade products to designer names, sky is the limit!

Celebrating 50 years of the fair, many brands had taken advantage of the occasion and created fun Italian tricolour flag themed items. The celebrated designer Philipe Starck – who has designed everything right from toothbrushes to space cabins – used his signature quirky style to produce the Marie Coquine chandelier for Baccarat – crystal candelabra with an umbrella!

And who can forget that fashion house Hermes debuted at Salone del Mobile this year? Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines created an entrancing space for the brand. Crafted from cardboard tubes delicately woven with paper, the installation was a perfect compliment to the collection showcased by Hermes.

As I wound my way through vibrant creations, sober sets and kitsch designs, I couldn’t help musing that the furniture fair was much like an art fair, where each part of a set seemed more like an artistic masterpiece, rather than something which you would use for as mundane jobs as sitting on, writing on, or cooking in.

Versace does not display their collection at the Fiera Grounds, but at 12, Via Gesu – the villa of Gianni Versace. It is probably the only brand to enjoy the luxury and liberty of an outside venue.

Versace’s new home collection, which it presented at the fair, is imbued with soft lines and bright colours. Designed by Donatella Versace, the shapes are refined and the collection now includes more plastic, giving lamps and innovative chairs and seating extra sinuosity and intensity. Versace clearly chooses metal as the material of the season and forms a link throughout the entire collection. This is exemplified in the gilt strip – shiny, satin or chromium plated – which recalls the asymmetric cuts on Versace clothes, resulting in a graphic interpretation of the house’s emblematic Greek logo. At times this effect is rendered decoratively by laser, while at other times it is structurally part of the actual furniture.

Special mock ups were created for the first showing of the collection at various rooms and corners of the villa, radiating a tremendous festive decor with special colours and light effects.

While the collection was, of course, fabulous, it was the party hosted by Donatella Versace herself that was the piece de resistance! It saw a huge turnout of Milan’s who’s who. Donatella was at her mesmerizing best as she mixed easily with guests, whether they were air-kissing fashionistas or business partners like me. It was amazing to see her unfold in this kind of ambience. A different person from her normal business like during work hours, she posed for photographs with natural ease and charm.

In all, the show made me promise myself a longer visit next year around, probably armed with some more money to be able to buy those stunning art pieces, displayed so grandly at the Fiera Grounds. Another inspiration that crossed my mind was associating with a few more brands and bringing them back to Indians, who are increasingly wanting to convert their homes into Italian abodes of beauty, culture and art, mix them with our own ‘Athiti Devo Bhava’ (Guest is God) upbringing, and showcase a mutual respect for our traditions and cultures…

Abhay Gupta’s association with Blues Clothing Company dates back to mid 1990s. With his futuristic approach, BCC achieved newer heights of excellence. Now BCC distributes brands like Versace, Versace Home, Corneliani, Cadini and more, along with exclusive concepts like Royal Blues, Bench & Bar, and Su Misura in India.