Supersalone 2021


Supersalone designers arranged a welcoming forest at the entrance to Fiera Milano, Rho. After serving as the official welcome, the trees were donated to the city of Milan for planting throughout the city. Photos: Andrea Marini

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy to attend Supersalone 2021, the special 2021 Salone del Mobile.Milano event that was created as a solution to the problem created by – as they say in Italy, the “Emergenza COVID.”

For going on 60 years “Salone” has been arguably the most important furniture, furnishings, lighting, textiles, kitchens and bathroom show in the world. It is usually held in April, so the March 2020 pandemic lockdown put an end to the long string of uninterrupted annual events.

The entire exhibition was curated and designed by the office of Stefano Boeri Architetti. The backdrop for all the stands was fabricated using natural MDF and plywood, mechanically attached to a steel superstructure. This technique allowed for the panels to be disassembled and reused or recycled. Some companies agreed to buy the panels to use in manufacturing. Photos: Andrea Marini

When it became obvious that April 2021 would be a non-starter as well, organizers and key stakeholders started planning for a scaled down, but exciting event to be held in September of 2021, when the prospect of vaccines and a clearing public health forecast seemed to make such a plan realistic.

Acknowledging the wishes of many exhibitors to get in front of their buying public after too long a hiatus, while also recognizing that many exhibitors would be unwilling to commit the Euros to a full-on “Salone” in September and then return in April of 2022, the innovative solution was Supersalone 2021.

The uniform backdrop did not inhibit exhibitors’ creativity and ability to strut their brands. Photos: Diego Ravier.

The exhibition differed in many ways from a normal Salone del Mobile.Milano event. In 2019 more than 2,400 exhibitors from 44 countries packed into the 20 Halls contained within the 8 Pavilions of Fieramilano, Rho. By comparison this year 425 brands showed their wares in 4 Halls contained within 2 Pavilions. But smaller isn’t necessarily  worse and I came away from Supersalone feeling that it was just the opposite; better in many ways.

I must admit I was skeptical about attending. Besides the ever-changing rules for travel abroad, I wasn’t sure how important the scaled down show would be. Would the level of product innovation be high following a year and a half of hiding from the virus? Would the companies known for innovation or those known to have the coolest, most-breath-taking stands show up?

Each of the four halls featured a centrally located Food Court. Particular attention was paid to making visitors feel comfortable in our “post pandemic” COVID world. Tables were spaced to give a sense of openness, furnishings were simple and easily cleaned, food was served using single use, recyclable utensils and best of all, the food was the work of some of Europe’s best known established and up and coming chefs. Photos Diego Ravier

Photo Andrea Marini

I ended up not making a decision until the last minute when I got a note from the international press team at Salone saying they were about to close out my press credentials since they hadn’t heard I was coming.

So with my negative COVID test in hand I departed for Milan – excited now that I’d finally committed to go. And the whirlwind began as soon as I stepped off the train from the plane in Milan.

Nearly 300 design schools in 59 countries were invited to submit projects for a special exhibition of student work. The aim and ambition of “The Lost Graduation Show” was to share the stage at “Supersalone,” with design schools from around the world in recognition of the fact tha COVID had denied students the usual opportunity to show off their graduating projects.
Photos: Diego Ravier

Since it’s impossible to provide a comprehensive review of companies and products, or even things that caught my eye, my intention here is to provide a little background about Supesalone and then let pictures tell the story. I don’t mind having been scooped by the New York Times and others.  For a look at some interesting work seen at Fuorisalone (outside Salone) by NYT contributors click here:

My hat is off to the organizers for the outstanding decision-making they showed in dealing with the complexity of reducing the show to approximately 20% of its normal size. Rather than allowing (requiring?) each exhibitor to design and fabricate all aspects of its own stand, Supersalone hired Milanese architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri Architetti (SBA) to design and curate the entire exhibition. The team came up with a concept that was at once respectful of environmental concerns, unified in aesthetic appeal, more cost effective for exhibitors and entirely intuitive and pleasant to navigate as a visitor.

Areas focusing on a particular theme were sprinkled throughout the halls allowing exhibitors to highlight specific products and providing nice breaks to the uniformity of the rows of displays.
Photos: Andrea Marini

The SBA team designed a unified backdrop for all commercial exhibitors to use. It was fabricated from MDF and plywood, attached to steel framework using only mechanical fasteners, so both the wood and frames can be reused or recycled. To enhance and soften the display area, the team specified many hundreds of plants from large trees at the entrance and scattered throughout, to potted plants woven into the display areas in small meeting and privacy alcoves. After the event all the trees were donated to the city of Milan for planting throughout the city.

A highlight of the overall design was the food courts that were centrally located in each  of the halls. They were spacious and inviting; sparsely designed right down to the service utensils to convey a sense of safety to the COVID weary. And best of all, each hall featured the culinary genius of several top European chefs. Each station featured a special menu developed by the chef in charge, ranging from fabulous desserts to pasta to hearty sandwiches…to say nothing of the many and free espresso counters!

Photo: Diego Ravier.
Each of the four halls had an open theater space with a central stage and excellent audio visual. It seemed that Keynotes and lectures were hap-pening all the time, and usually drawing good crowds. English was the lingua franca.

With a nod to the fact that design students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 had missed the opportunity to display their graduation projects, the organizers set aside a generous area for them to access a much broader audience than their schools could have afforded. They called it “The Lost Graduation Show.”

An early press released announced that nearly 300 design schools in 59 countries had received an open call for applications to participate. The aim and ambition of The Lost Graduation Show was to share the stage at “Supersalone,” with design schools from around the world, As you might expect some of the most innovative, if fanciful objects seen at Supersalone were part of The Lost Graduation Show.

Augmenting the in-person attendance, “Supersalone,” ramped up the social media campaign with Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter registering 15 million impressions, 25,000 interactions and 50,000 video viewings.

Maker spaces were located between The Lost Graduation Show and the larger company exhibits. These were simplified, scaled down spaces allowing smaller exhibitors, start-ups, individual design studios and those without big budgets to participate in Supersalone. There was a lot of energy and innovation on display. Photos: Andrea Marini

Culture mirrors nature in that things can go along without much change until a shock like the COVID pandemic forces a complete re-thinking of the way things have been done. In my opinion, Supersalone was a great example of how to transform in the face of a seismic shift, ending up with something very special.

You should start planning your trip to Milan for Salone del Mobile.Milano 2022 to be held next April from the 5th to the 10th. Milan is beautiful in April and the show is destined to be the best ever – incorporating learnings from this year’s special Supersalone into the normal full-on show.