Inside Ten: Salone Del Mobile Is The Hottest Interiors Showcase In The Cultural Cosmos

“Did you die over the metallic situation at Loewe?” “What about that diamond chain at Jimmy Choo?” “The whole Prada message was so on point.” What, at first glance, might read like a fashion transcript from editors on the frow is, in fact, eavesdropped chat from Bottega-clad fans on the streets of Brera in Milan this spring. Were they there for the fashion, you ask? Yes, but not as we know it.

They were there for Salone del Mobile, the hottest showcase in the cultural cosmos right now where your favourite houses are swapping out fashion for furniture and interior design. In its 62nd edition in April, Salone enjoyed the presence of fashion’s top brands alongside its roster of interior design legends including Kartell, Cassina and B&B Italia, with catwalk connoisseurs eager to flex their muscle in a new medium. With more than 20 Fashion Week brands on the schedule this year, it’s official: Salone is the place the fashion pack wants to be.

It’s not often you see a busy metropolitan city like Milan turn into a party town for seven days straight (Fashion Week only stretches to five, sweetie) or host exclusive events that anyone can walk into off the street, but Salone is special like that. Open to everyone from morning until night, not just insiders and VIPs, Salone is part festival, part tourist trail as landmarks usually closed to the general public open their doors to host brands’ parties and presentations.

With people filling the streets, following the noise from event to event, and stopping for Peroni pitstops along the way, it’s basically the Glasto of interior design (but make it super chic and spenny).

from left: Hermès chair; Armani Casa chair

This year, the fashion buzz reverberated harder than in any previous years. With my Nike Air Rifts strapped on and a generous layer of factor 50 applied, I quickly immersed myself in the vast crowds who had descended on the city and pounded the pavements in search of pioneering style.

First up, Dior, which made the Palazzo Citterio, a grand 18th-century building, its home-away-from-home in the city. For the second year running, the house collaborated with Philippe Starck to present Monsieur Dior’s favourite Medallion chair through a fresh lens. Suspended in a sculptural installation devised by experimental art group Soundwalk Collective, enough chairs to seat your entire extended family at Christmas floated through the air in pink and black aluminium and fluro-orange toile de jouy to oohs and ahhs from the crowd.

Next, I hopped over to Milan’s unofficial royal residence, otherwise known as Giorgio Armani’s HQ. The king of fashion opened his doors to the public for the first time this year to show an inaugural outdoor collection for his long-established Armani Casa line. Inside was every bit as awesome as you would imagine from the outside (all arched porticos, ceiling frescoes and sweeping staircases), while the collection itself gave a little more of Mr Armani’s playful personality away. Last year it was rolling pins and spaghetti measurers, this year keyring castanets and tarot cards delivered with a wink, much to the delight of the stream of people who lined the length of the street to get in. As I left, I learnt that 1,000 visitors had already passed through the door in the two-and-a-half hours since it opened at 10am.

Loewe Chairs exhibition

Next up was Prada, which hosted its annual Prada Frames symposium. This series of talks, which spanned the week, examined the relationship between design and the environment and the opportunities for low-impact production by re-thinking materials. I ducked into the lavish surroundings of the Accademia dei Filodrammatici, aptly founded in 1798 to foster freedom and equality through theatre, as the Design Museum’s chief curator, Justin McGuirk, drilled into the material flow of waste with Patrick O’Hare from the social anthropology department at University of St Andrews in Scotland.

“We tend to think of waste as post-consumer waste, but the most waste happens before we’ve even consumed anything,” said O’Hare. “It’s less about looking at what we disregard as the culture that revolves around our responsibility [to it]. We need to focus on the production of things.”

After making a note to buy his book, I hot-footed it across town to the Palazzo Isimbardi to say hello to Jonathan Anderson as he put the finishing touches to his Loewe Chairs exhibition. The designer, a long-term design aficionado, put his favourite stick chair on a pedestal, enlisting 30 artisan collaborators to put their spin on it – quite literally. Sourced second-hand chairs were woven with leather, shearling, twine, paper and emergency insulating foil, the latter the crowd-pleaser of the event.

from left: a Dior by Starck installation; Marc Newson’s cabinet of curiosity for Louis Vuitton

“There’s nothing more emotional that when you sit on something or use something, because it’s about how we interact,” he said. Obvs agree, and I made my very best effort to squeeze one of the scarlet toadstools inspired by his childhood stationery in my army holdall to bring home.

Sadly, it didn’t fit. God job really, as there wasn’t space for one in Bar Basso, either. Ah yes, the go-to watering hole of the city has been keeping the Salone massive well-oiled for many a year and with its gloriously untouched décor and OG Negroni Sbagliatos getting poured by the dozen it’s no wonder why. Here, much like everywhere during Salone, the crowd is a rich mix, and the air is filled with the kind of positive tension that comes from crossing paths with someone new or debating the day’s favourite find and highlight.

Negroni knocked back, it was back over towards Brera and Bottega Veneta to see the installation of pioneering architect Gaetano Pesce. Remember Matthieu Blazy’s second show with Kate Moss in that denim-not-denim shirt? Pesce did the set for it and he was the man of the hour here, too. His work Vieni e Vedere (“Come and See”) transformed the brand’s Via Montenapoleone store into a womb-like grotto encased in backlit hand-painted canvas that birthed two extremely limited-edition handbags on sale for £30,000 a pop.

Jimmy Choo vases

On to Hermès via a street party on Via Solferino pumping out the soon-to-be soundtrack to the Italian summer (YouTube Il Bene Nel Male by Madame and Ok. Respira by Elodie for a flavour), where performance artists Centre National de la Danse were writhing around the rod and a concrete installation emphasised Hermès’ message of “natural vigour”.

By this point what was left of my own natural vigour was waning (Salone sure gets the step count up), so a quick bite with a friend in NoLo was followed by what by Salone terms is an early night at 2am.

The next two days went on in a similar jam-packed vein as the fashions kept serving style. Donatella Versace launched her Zensational sofa; Louis Vuitton launched its new Objets Nomades and a cabinet of curiosity by designer Marc Newson; Fendi collaborated with Louis Poulsen on the great Dane’s signature Artichoke pendant lamp; Zegna launched its Zegna x 3D AI-powered look generator; Etro worked with NYC artist Amy Lincoln to create six dreamscape tapestries; and Missoni Home did doughnut-inspired poufs (why not?!).

By day I would work while I walked (and walked and walked) and by night I’d kick back in Navigli, Chinatown and Isola as I made new friends, some of whom happened upon the city during Salone purely by chance, while others had secured their Airbnb rental as soon as the last one ended. It was hot and happy, friendly and fabulous, not to mention incredibly inspiring. One young enthusiast standing outside the Trattoria Torre di Pisa restaurant with their mates, puffing on a roll-up and wearing head-to-toe Rick Owens, probably nailed it in summation when they said, “Milan is lit”.

from left: Fendi Casa’s lamp collaboration with Louis Poulsen; Armani Casa tarot cards

So, is Salone the new fashion week, I hear you ask? If the overheard whispers are to be believed, it might not be long before the annual design event shares top billing with its ready- to-wear counterpart. It makes sense. In an era of cultural polymaths and tastemakers, our association with art, design and interiors is as defining and aspirational an aesthetic as the clothes we wear, and we are collectively lapping it up, whether that’s a magazine rack from a boutique on Chatsworth Road in Clapton or a 1960s Poulsen lamp sourced on Catawiki. Now that fashion is a fully paid-up member of the Salone club, it combines the best of both worlds.

In truth, they don’t so much cut each other’s grass as they do share a taste for high-end horticulture. Salone, like Fashion Week, turns Milan into a thriving garden of creativity – with room for everyone.

Taken from Issue 58 of 10 Men – ELEGANCE, GRACE, BEAUTY – out NOW. Purchase here. @isaloniofficial 

Bottega Veneta and Getano Pesce’s installation

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