Probably because we’d lived within the crumbling, graffiti-covered ancient walls of filthy, corrupt, chaotic, ravishing Rome, we snubbed Milan, an Italian success story showcasing the best of contemporary fashion, design, art and industry. A modern city boasting well-maintained, utterly breathtaking old buildings, the international talent Milan lures is glamorous and driven, thriving on work. Roma, la città eterna, the Eternal City, feels louche, its infrastructure collapsed, its populace appearing resigned to the capitol’s decadence. Rome ruled the world; now, menefreghismo, or indifference, is the Roman state of play. While Milan, sleek and hungry, put the sex into successful, Rome, once a great beauty, is an Italian tragedy, in which nothing, and no one seems to work.
We visited Milan during Design Week to check out Salone Del Mobile, the furniture fair drawing 400,000 industry players from around the globe, spanning 22 blinging pavilions thronged with caffeinated design seekers crashing Instagram feeds with artfully #designed pics of seductive furnishings, fixtures and fittings. FuoriSalone, the fiera’s edgier little sister, features artful pop-ups in interesting neighbourhoods throughout the city, repurposing swanky shops, subverting historic palaces, reinvigorating disused factories and even reimagining the canals with a digital vision of a futuristic Milan, marking 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci: artist and inventor who’d conceived i Navigli, Milan’s innovative system of navigable dams at the end of the 15th century. But there was a two- hour wait canalside, and the Irish, like the Romans, prefer to seize the day, as the future is bound to disappoint. Besides, Fondazione Prada, its radical campus developed by Rem Koolhaas’ architectural firm OMA, had enticed American film director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) to design its Bar Luce, and we were thirsty. A charming throwback to Milanese café-bars, Bar Luce is an homage to Italian midcentury neorealist films. What better setting in which to enjoy a bittersweet, refreshing Negroni, or Mi-To, short for Milano-Torino, a perfectly designed cocktail!
Our approach to doing design week was haphazard, stumbling across wonderful things we’d likely never find a place for: a Fortuny floor lamp with a huge gold-leafed black carbon fibre pleated shade, a citron Eileen Gray daybed, sensual glass vessels by Arcade for Murano, shimmering wall coverings inspired by kimono fragments, meditative roomfuls of rigorous pale oak and bronze furniture upholstered in a declension of beautifully boring shades of taupe by Chi Wing Lo for Maroni – we’d buy it all, but first we’d need to give away our dogs and plug into the Matrix.
Wandering, we wondered about the place of design in our own messy lives. We considered cathedrals, destroyed and rebuilt, the cathedralesque melting glaciers that spell our demise, the matchless design of disappearing flora and fauna. Perhaps the urge to decorate is as instinctual as nest-building, a source of comfort in an upside down world.
Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love is set in Villa Necchi Campiglio, a 1930’s mansion in the heart of Milan described by the film’s protagonist Tilda Swinton as “part palace, part museum and part prison.” Not content with directing a trilogy of devastatingly beautiful movies thematically linked by desire, including Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino designed the stunning interiors of La Filanda, a weekend refuge for friends with vision and resources, in a former silk mill on Lake Como. I. Am. In. Love. Design this thrilling can probably cure cancer. Or at least give us back the will to live.
This month’s Moodboard
1. I’m making a pilgrimage to www.rossanaorlandi.com to see vanguard design through the eyes of this visionary gallerist. 2. I’m switching on a Cymbal pendant light by Irish designer Shane Holland. 3. I’m spending happy hour in Bar Luce at Fondazione Prada, Milan. Cin-Cin! 4. I’m drooling over filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s foray into interior design, La Filanda. 5. I’m dithering over what colour Bell Table I’d choose. By Sebastian Herkner at www.classicon.com. 6. I’m visiting Emo Court and Gardens in Co Laois to see “In Living Memory”, an exhibition by www.oliversearsgallery.com featuring a screen by Irish artist Sasha Sykes. Until September 29. 7. I’m exploring Eileen Gray’s Modernism at the National Museum of Ireland. Buy her Non Conformist chair at Minima, Hanover Quay, Dublin 2. 8. I’m sipping a Negroni at Marco Pierre White Steakhouse on Dawson Street, inspired by La Dolce Vita. 9. I’m admiring the sculptural quality of Versace Home’s Pop Medusa in lime green, from a comfy chair.
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