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All the fun of the fair

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The 2002 Milan Furniture Fair opened with the usual panache.For the five days of the fair, Milan is transformed with an influx of international visitors and a stream of events, exhibitions and parties. There are now 250 satellite events happening outside the main fair. Among the 'Salone Fuori', as the alternative events are titled is Designers'Block which has been transported, in a reduced size, from London's 100% Design Week and is on display at the Spazio Consoslo, a large industrial warehouse space.

The fair is a significant event for British designers, principally because Italy still has design-led companies and a strong manufacturing base.

James Irvine, a British designer who set up studio in Milan after moving there in 1984 when he joined the Olivetti design studio under the direction of Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi, showed a new range of lights for Artemide and also designed the exhibition for the German bathroom accessories manufacturer Dornbracht.

Matthew Hilton, who has had a long association with Driade, the Milanbased furniture company, talked about the benefits of forging links with the Italian manufacturers: 'The Italians are highly skilled at manufacturing and construct everything with the greatest attention to details.All the artisans take great pride in what they do and it is a valuable experience developing products with them.' This year, Hilton has produced a range of cabinets for Liv'it and for the British manufacture SCP, exhibiting alongside Cappellini. A strong supporter of British design, Sheridan Coakley opened SCP in 1985 in the then unfashionable Curtain Road in east London. Michael Sodeau, formerly of Inflate, presented a stretched version of the sofa to form an abstracted notion of the simple couch.

Hilton presented a bold and sculptural swivel chair titled 'Buffalo' .

If any trends were emerging, they could be seen in a shift away from undulating sofas and chairs and a return to a demonstration of the engineering of products. Konstantin Gricic, the German designer and formerly a tutor on the Royal College of Arts MA Course in Product Design, presented a new chair titled 'Chair One' for the Italian company Magis. The chair is manufactured using die-cast aluminium and could be described as a skeleton of a chair.The seat also functions as outdoor public seating with an alternative base of conical concrete. Achile Castiglioni, the grand maestro of design once said of Gricic's work: He is a designer not out to change the world, yet he creates objects that suggest a certain type of behaviour and pursues demanding, neutral and well thought out projects that are bound to have a lasting effect.'

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