The supersalone, a special event curated by architect Stefano Boeri as part of Salone del Mobile Milano, opened its doors from September 5th to 10th, 2021, as the first major design exhibition since the pandemic. It provided a platform for creative experimentation, showcased what an international furniture fair should look like in the future, and reinforced the central position of Milan and the Salone in the international design, culture, and innovation scene.
After the world was put into a pandemic-related lockdown in March 2020, there were no more trade shows or events. Companies and designers had to coordinate processes anew, question visions, find new ways, and invest in digital solutions. In just a few months, the supersalone was organized as a special event that gives hope for a restart. However, it also raises questions about how sustainable, flexible, and hybrid a modern furniture fair should be, what aesthetics are in demand, what audience it wants to appeal to, and what offerings are necessary for this. The first four of the 24 pavilions of Fiera Milano were used to showcase around 1,900 projects in a space of just under 69,000 square meters.
Instead of elaborately designed living environments, the product essence of exhibitors was presented in a fast-paced format along the designated corridors. As only a small amount of personnel was allowed on the exhibition floor, QR codes for scanning and a dedicated supersalone app provided further information. Virtual presentations of products and brands, interviews, and podcasts were also offered in parallel.
Sustainability and craftsmanship
Two themes seemed to be hovering over every trade show booth: sustainability and craftsmanship. Furniture is to be durable again: multifunctional, usable in all living areas, and modular in design without sacrificing comfort or aesthetics. Instead of a one-sided function, a lifelike approach and the possibility of individualization beyond changing the cover or selecting colors counted.
Questioning the status quo
Challenging existing perspectives and bringing them into a new form was an approach that many product innovations at supersalone reflected. Edges and corners were rarely seen – instead, organic bodies, gentle curves, and soft covers in natural shades were highly sought after.
New value creation
While established manufacturers work to optimize processes, the considerations of the younger generation are more focused on value creation. The works in the exhibitions "The Makers Show," dedicated to self-producing designers from all over the world, and the projects of students in "The Lost Graduation Show" showcased numerous material experiments, such as leather alternatives or the replacement of plastic fibers with jute, flax, and hemp from local production. Supporting these efforts should also enable a reduction in transport routes and provide decentralized producers with new opportunities for economic growth.
So, what remains of supersalone?
After all those months without physical events, it provided a mood board for the themes that have been at the forefront of design since the outbreak of the pandemic: the search for a formal essence that culminates in a new appreciation for craftsmanship and natural resources. The experimental format was certainly ideal for trying out new ideas and making the production and presentation of product design more inclusive and sustainable. What elements of Salone del Mobile will be carried over to the regular fair will be seen next spring.