My Milan Design Week 2017

This is designer Jasper Morrison’s 1″ chair for Emeco (without the back and the seat of course), but it is not the first thing I saw, and this is not how my Milan Design Week 2017 began.

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This year we arrived a week early, at the heart of the Milanese preparations for an event that I believe is very close to the city’s heart. And so while they dusted their shelves, we trained and trammed and walked to a list of museums, shops, cathedrals and parks – places that sort of fade into the background once Milan Design Week hits the city.

This was an afternoon only a day before design week. Lazing upon a carpet of sun-soaked wildflowers in the big park at Monza. The nearest piece of furniture design at this moment must have been a vandalised park bench, but I don’t think it was even a thought in my head.

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The first of the hotels happened to be in the shadow of the giant of soccer-love, the San Siro stadium. Milan’s new purple metro (M5) line now reaches right till the stadium, which is a blessing. The Milan marathon passed through this very road on the day we had to check out. It was a nightmare finding a gap between the multitude of runners to cross this little road. Till a confident Italian man, cigar on his lips and iPad stuck to his fingers, smoothly drifted through all the runners without a crease on his Armani. I’ll remember the sight of that.

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And since we had a whole week’s time, Lake Como was ticked off a long pending list of short trips from Milan. I always imagine lakes to be such where one sees all edges of the coast. But maybe those are ponds. Lake Como is a massive, trouser shaped water body. The picture below probably just about covers the hem of one of the trouser legs. My high point was a walk around the villas on the edge of the lake, plus that much recommended boat ride by fellow have-beens. Bellagio, the crotch of the trousers and also host to George Clooney, shall have to be saved for a later trip.

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On another free day, I decided to visit the Armani museum – Armani/Silos as the name goes after the silos from which the building was reformatted. These here are the Armani offices across the street from the museum. I stared for a while at a window with a warm table lamp, for the duration of a Carrefour-express green apple.

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The museum itself is a delight; light concrete walls and flooring with Armani’s colourful clothing extravaganzas to contrast. One of the collections mentioned him being inspired by the neck details of certain Punjabi kurtas, which is admirable considering the contrast that European clothing is. I particularly liked the accessory room, guarded by Armani clad boys who’re just about shedding their teenage baby fat. The display is the one (below) with the green glass shelves.

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At the large Leroy Merlin store near Abbiategrasso on the green M2 metro line, many cross sections of wood, in lengths running into tens of feet. Such pleasure to shop for material in such an organised manner. This is what shall take India many years to catch up on as we organise our chaos one step too slow at a time.

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Since the purple M5 metro line passes through the Cimitero Monumentale, Milan’s grand cemetery, it emerged on the to-see list fairly effortlessly. If I didn’t know cemeteries hosted dead people, I’d think this one was a sculpture graduation show, or even classical typography class. It is interesting to see how sculptors, families and those left behind interpret loss and try to communicate it visually, and structurally. In the end, as someone didn’t really say, it is only art that remains.

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Behind these doors lies another destination that I shall not forget easily. In the heart of central Milan, a church with a side chapel that is lined with skulls from floor to ceiling.

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And it looks like this – the Chiesa di San Bernardino alle Ossa. I read about a myth where one of these skulls is that of a little girl, who leads a sort of dance of the dead on a particular night of a particular month. Thankfully not April.

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Further to cathedral hunting is this one by Gio Ponti – Chiesa di San Francesco. The second picture is actually of the extension done later by another architect, but I like how the visual language is maintained. These windows and grills are grand. I’m sure someone has documented the grills of Milan. They’re beautiful – a history of metalworking. If you look hard enough, as I realise, its all just a big classroom, everything. Everything.

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Almost a week after stalking Milan’s non-design design things, it is design week morning and we move to a nice little Airbnb. The definite advantage is location, and self-cooked breakfast. This year was our third Salone del Mobile. My studio was part of a really big exhibition called Salone Satellite: 20 years of new creativity. But more about that at this link on the studio blog.

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I get a bit nostalgic about this scene on the opening morning of the Salone. In 2014, we worked very hard to get here, to set up, and to exhibit amidst giants. And so it is always nice to be here. Milan, in my opinion, is a big extended hand for designers. It doesn’t judge or discriminate. There is only encouragement, and motivation. No matter what the European industry undergoes financially or politically, this embracing design culture runs in Italian blood. For that I shall always be respectful, and thankful.

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We jump straight into the big pavilions with the big brands. Its better that way since everyones fresh and its great to see the displays without the general public crowd. Mornings are great for conversations too. Owing to India being a great emerging market at the moment, I think curious European brands like to speak to Indians. The picture below is a small crop of the Vitra stand. Vitra has the best display team in my opinion. I watch them more for their presentation than their remarkable products.

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And then out of the blue, Starck. He’s such a clown. But what a remarkable clown. I have utmost respect for his brain and the thoughts it unleashes at special moments.

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And then a few colours and details that catch my eye around the stands. I think I have now developed an ability to not look at something. Not looking is not depending solely on sight. Sight is only a singular dimension. So when people ask me what I liked best at the Salone this year, I cannot describe it. Because experience is also a dimension. I cannot explain it.

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Details from the Bouroullec brothers, Serralunga, Emeco, Normann Copenhagen – just a few other brands I admire and follow.

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And on one of the initial days of the design week, the Milan metro staff decide to go on strike. It was a fantastic morning, I have never seen so many Milanese walking together. Hunting for taxis, buses, friends. We decided to skip going to the main fairgrounds that day. And ended up seeing the wonderful exhibition by Formafantasma about their lighting explorations at Spazio Krizia.

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In one of the hundreds of design exhibitions in the city, I also liked this cabinet of collected objects by the Italian traveller-designer-scholar Virginio Briatore. This is a tea strainer he purchased in India.

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I shot this lamp because I had been seeing it all across Milan’s public spaces for a week. And then I happened to see it used in a window display by Adidas. It is such a wonderful piece of Industrial design, and one so desirable. The Italian perspective to design includes a thorough lesson on imbibing desire in objects.

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Back at the fairgrounds the next day and viewing more of the Bouroullecs, and also Nani Marquina. I admire Nani Marquina as a brand very much. She works much more with India and Pakistan than the United Nations. And in the process of her beautiful collaborations, creates such wonderful rugs, carpets and dhurries. The one in the picture below is a carpet by Jaime Hayon, based on his illustrations. And made in India.

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I visited the Tolix stand for two solid reasons – one was to see up close the products by one of my favourite designers Sebastian Bergne, like this extendable shelving. And two, for the wonderful presskit that Tolix was distributing in a nice illustrated canvas bag. The bags being handed out by brands has become an alternative design domain within the Salone del Mobile. I even documented them when I was first there in 2013.

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More details along the long corridors of the Rho fairgrounds – a nice light by Matteo Thun, a chair for children and a well coordinated cushion on the right colour of sofa.

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We’ve made many friends while exhibiting twice at the Salone Satellite exhibition, which is part of the main Salone del Mobile. One of them is Dossofiorito, a passionate Italian studio that very evidently loves plants and design. Here is their new product, a multifunctional space enhancer called Etta. It is produced by Zilio.

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Also good friends and fellow exhibitors from 2014, Geckeler Michels is a talented team of designers from Berlin. This is their Acme chair, first presented at Salone Satellite 2014, and now produced by Fredericia.

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As the last thing on the fairgrounds, we visit Salone Satellite 2017 – the young designers exhibition that has grown to become a wonderful platform for showcasing young design under the guidance of Marva Griffin Wilshire. This is one my favourite products from this year’s exhibition – a wall display to showcase your favourite records. It is designed by the Amsterdam based studio Spitsberg and is self produced.

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As we join the crowds of design and aperitivo loving people hopping from one design to exhibition to another, the first important destination is the Girotondo exhibition at the Triennale di Milano. The exhibit was a well researched and presented documentation of design for children across the past century. A delight for design visitors and children alike. I liked that Pinocchio was a central character throughout the exhibition. A panel explained how modern Italians may have come to find the Pinocchio story embarrassing in the current age. I find that interesting.

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A collection of rocking horses. Plus a boy and grandmother.

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I particularly liked the book section and made note of several titles. Somebody has done a great job of putting all this together. You can follow the illustrator of the book on the left – Emiliano Ponzi on Instagram. The one on the right needs no introduction.

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This is a tapestry by designer Laura Daza as part of the project “Designing Grand Tour” presented as part of the Design Language festival at the Civica Scuola Interpreti e Traduttori “Altiero Spinelli”. I liked this piece very much. The project itself is worth a read, and the work that has resulted by other designers who are a part of it is remarkable as well.

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Meanwhile on the phone, Matteo Thun likes my picture of his lamp. That makes me happy. I like his work a lot, especially the villa at Capri. Speaking of celebrity designers, we also happened to shake some famous hands at this design week. First it was an afternoon with Sebastian Bergne. Then, a fortunate hello with Rosanna Orlandi. Lastly a chance meeting with Piero Lissoni, who we were introduced to by the design fairy godmother Marva Griffin herself. I cannot describe the pleasure of these encounters.

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The line up for the Nendo exhibit. Sunny and the line snaked on forever. 2 hours later, it was quite worth it. I like seeing the work of established designers like Nendo, but its more interesting to spot younger unknowns who may or may not ever be seen by the global press and users.

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Like previous years, I liked visiting the Boffi exhibit too. They happen to be great collectors of vintage furniture and props which they display alongside their kitchen solutions. Presentation is serious business too.

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It’s surprising how Milan goes to sleep the day the design week wraps up. It is as though nothing had happened. I move to my third hotel, which is luckily very central. And as a last short trip outside Milan, I get onto a train to Bergamo just to spend the day. And to shake off all the excess information that keeps the brain from running properly.

Pretty town with a grand hill watching over it. After two funicular tram rides to the very top, a stroll through the Bergamo botanical garden and an evening attendance at a city cathedral, I headed back to Milan.

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As I lock the last door, time for a little picture. Till another Salone!

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Big thanks to ExpressoWifi for a 24 x 7 superfast internet connection. Italy, April 2017 / All Photographs © Harpreet Padam

Cicada Summer

Japan. Because there’s a four week window in July and August when the clients don’t bother as much. Because when you look at the map of Hokkaido upside down, its almost the map of India. Because the land that nurtured Kuramata, Miyake, Kusuma, Noguchi, Fukasawa and so many more deserves a design pilgrimage. And because you must never need a reason to go anywhere.

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The landscape is familiar. We’ve all been to Japan in a parallel life. The magazines and television focus so much on the bizarre craziness of Japan’s character that we forget its basically a set of islands – rich, lush, beautiful islands that change colors with the seasons.

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Nine cities on our self made plan. A bit of everything, tailored to what we are and what we love. A precise balance of mountains and trains, streets, shops and shrines, aging cities and foreign-film styled hotels. Tokyo is rightfully first and last on the list.

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Four days later its time to validate and commence the Japan Rail Pass. 14 days of unlimited bullet train travel. The heart rate goes berserk at the sight of the first Shinkansen rolling into the platform. Its the Hayabusa, the fastest of them all.

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The destination is Obihiro, eight hundred kilometers north of Tokyo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Four trains and ten hours in all, but its a tireless breeze. The journey is a mix of 320km/h blurs, a tunnel that passes under the sea and lovely panoramic views of the sea from a track that runs along the beach.

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Its late evening when we reach Obihiro. The increasingly familiar lights of the vending machines are comforting. On another street, a phone booth waits longingly for its next conversation with a stranger.

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In the morning we catch the bus to Shikaribetsu lake, situated amidst the Daisetsuzan National Park. The park contains Japan’s largest primitive natural environment and is home to the brown bear and several rare wild birds. Besides all that trivia, its beautiful.

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An old abandoned road leads into nowhere, and that’s a nice place to be. Nature reclaiming its own from man is a prettier sight than the other way around.

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Back from Hokkaido, its a stopover at Tokyo for the night, in a hostel next to Philippe Starck’s Asahi Beer Hall and the Tokyo Skytree. The next morning its yet another bullet train – to Nagoya, the design capital. Two days packed with visits to the Noritake and Toyota Museums. More about that here.

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Onward to Takayama, the train ride leads to the interesting discovery of Shisa Kanko, the marvelous error prevention method of the Japanese railway system. Hida-Takayama is in the mountains, and the train is the Hida Wide View express. Wide. View. Enough words to sell a train ticket.

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A walking trail called the Higashiyama walk takes us through forests, shrines and old cemeteries. A grasshopper greets us along the way. I think of Aesop’s story about the ants and the grasshopper. Its still summer, so I’m sure he’ll do just fine spending his day on that sun soaked wood. Continue reading