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Recap: Salone Del Mobile 2023 | Part II

NEXT UX: The city of Milan became an experience hub during the event held this past April.




AS I REPORTED in Part I of this recap series, in VMSD’s May/June 2023 issue, Salone del Mobile took place in April of this year in the city of Milan. I attended for my first time after many years of reading about it and hearing the occasional mention from colleagues.

All of us are in the business of seeing and reading trends that can then be interpreted into our work. Sometimes “long reach” trends can be hard to understand or put into context, and I can say without reservation that Salone del Mobile is a place to not only view these trends, but is also a masterpiece of inspiration. (I now have so many new people to follow on Instagram and have our studio teams watch as Salone will impact us across many practice areas.)

Recap: Salone Del Mobile 2023 | Part II

The trends witnessed at Salone del Mobile were indisputable and this was especially true for Fuorisalone, a series of events that occurred throughout the city itself during Salone del Mobile and Milan Design Week. It’s here where “palazzos” are taken over by famous brands (like Armani, Kohler, Dior) in the heart of Milan, and transformed into a backdrop for their latest offerings.

One of the key signature space experiences was called Alcova, an itinerant platform for independent design. Alcova translates design and research into dialogue in undiscovered or historically significant urban settings in Milan. For the most part, experienced patrons of Salone will share that events such as Alcova are more about stimulating what’s possible in an incubator manner rather than perusing ready-to-buy items.

Alcova 2023 was held at the Ex Macello di Porta Vittoria, featuring projects from more than 90 designers – it’s often referred to as a “trend looking glass” for five-plus years out. The Ex Macello site is an area spanning around 15 hectares (roughly 37 acres), and the location of a communal slaughterhouse (for poultry and rabbit) comprising the Milan wholesale market. Imagine a massive area of raw spaces coming to life through the work of the next generation of designers. (Now imagine all the commercial spaces that are currently dying, like defunct malls, that could be backdrops for local designers or even local trade shows.)


Participating designers and brands honored the raw spaces while transforming them into experiential salons, taking the old slaughterhouse spaces and turning them into stunning live activations.

One example is “This is Denmark,” an exhibit built upon themes of landscape and sound that examined the heritage of design in Denmark, past and present. The installation was inspired by the natural Danish landscape and utilized a walkway that suggestively “floated” on water surrounded by an archipelago of islets, creating an intriguing customer journey.

In another installation, American designer, artist and researcher Kate Greenberg collaborated with Cengiz Hartmann and Yuma Kano to explore the fields of “sensory design,” through humans’ connection to nature and the planet – from the olfactory to taste within contemporary craft. The result was a multisensory experience with lights, seating and sounds that was a metaphor for how we observe time.

Italian interiors practice DWA Design Studio was selected by Alcova to bring its “Experiences Immobiles” to the site. Inspired by the industrial architecture of Northern France, they created a duo of 13-foot-high towers designed to resemble factory chimneys. The participants were guided into smelling Les Eaux Primordiales perfume via scented clay sculptures that were infused with the fragrance. They were placed within a custom open-topped bell jar with a cleaver fan-like device in the neck – upon turning, one could catch a whiff of the perfume.

Experiences like this at Alcova may seem more similar to museum exbibits but rest assured that witnessing the use of art media as the medium to present the smell was worthwhile to experience. This is indicative of how consumers will continue to value unique experiences that blend architectural statements with product, visual merchandising and design.

The city was abuzz with hundreds of other venues throughout the metropolitan area, like showrooms and palazzo takeovers.


I walked many kilometers visiting showrooms and captivating street exhibits. The one that stood out the most was the Dior Maison by Phillippe Starck, which included simply one of the best choreographed digital shows I’ve seen, considering the contract furnishings industry. Taking place at the Palazzo Citterio, an 18th century patrician residence built in Barocchetto style that has seen many updates, including an underground hall constructed by James Sterling. This year, that hall became a magical flying backdrop worthy of a Cirque du Soleil show.


Recap: Salone Del Mobile 2023 | Part II

We entered into the stunning entry courtyard of the Palazzo with very simple “Dior by Starck” signage and well-dressed guides, who kept the attendees in line until we were escorted down into the underground theater hall. Before going to the theater hall, we entered a common space where a video about the new chair was played. Next, we were escorted into the hall where we looked toward a darkened set, only revealing the bottoms of dozens of chair legs sticking out mid-air around a circular screen. Once all were gathered, dozens of Starck’s creations began moving up and down in a dance across the screen, in one of the most beautiful choregraphed to digital displays I’ve ever seen. (I kept telling myself that the presentation is just about a chair, but the content showcasing the many applications the new armchair promised was stunning, making the $6000 USD price seem insignificant, as if subliminal messaging were at work.)

The show ran for approximately 10 minutes and never lost anyone’s attention. After this, we were invited to the back of the hall for an up-close look at the new chairs.

This was a masterclass in debuting an item, setting a new benchmark for everyone coming through the exhibit. This example is just one of many from days of jaw-dropping exhibits, ones that dazzled the eyes and drove us into creative overdrive. Simply said, I can’t wait to be back in Milan in 2024 – and with more staff, if we have any hopes to see it all!


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