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Milan fair shows fashion flair

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The Milan Furniture Fair has long been the pick of the crop on the international furniture circuit and the pressure to keep ahead is reflected in the exhibiting companies' slick promotional techniques and eye-catching products. Just as skirt lengths make fashion headlines, last year's talk of the town in Milan were the low sofas - inches off the ground. This year the furniture industry was just as intent on borrowing from the machinations of the fashion industry.

Cappellini, the Gucci of the furniture world, set the pace with a strong collection of furniture conspicuous by its diversity. The collection demonstrated a strong preoccupation with fashion despite protestations to the contrary from the company's director, Guilio Cappellini. Cappellini expressed his dislike of furniture designers acting as fashion designers, and vice versa, but allowed himself to stray from his mantra by reviving the work one of the great names of the 1960s fashion world, Emilio Pucci. Pucci's limited edition of special fabrics, the epitome of '60s chic, have been used to cover a collection ofsofas and armchairs titled Rive Gauche, designed by Patrick Norguet. Norguet also crosses disciplines, having worked with major fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Dior.

Werner Aisslinger's Gel chair is an example of the drawn-out process of developing a product from the concept to production stage. The lounger chair that uses PVC covered in Technogelreg - a polyurethane substance - was first presented in Milan in 1999, then developed by the Italian company Zanotta in 2000. The technique has now been applied to an elegant set of chairs titled Gel, produced by Cappellini. There still appears to be room for product development, as the information accompanying the seat advises users to beware of the small bubbles present in the material which release a sticky substance if broken - beware of stains on your designer outfit.

Philippe Starck, as prolific as ever, presented, among many other products, a range of Eames-inspired seats titled Ero/s for Kartell, the leading Italian company producing moulded plastic furniture.

Sawaya and Moroni, known for extravagant interior design, continued its policy of commissioning big name architects and designers such as Zaha Hadid. This year it showed new work by John Maeda, professor of design and computation at MIT Boston and director of Design Lab. Maeda's signature objects, a Table 01 and Stack Tray, sadly did not successfully translate into a threedimensional form - looking very much like 2D graphic work applied to products.

Droog Design can be counted on for its refreshing approach to design, which questions the relentless pursuit of new forms. Its exhibition 'Me Myself and You' demonstrated the company's structure, which operates by inviting a variety of designers and architects to address cultural issues and their relevance to design and 'product usability'. It presented its Free-Range Kitchen, claiming the island kitchen to be 'freed from its architectural context'. The range was developed to make the user more aware of environmental issues in the domestic sphere; a foot pump feeds the water supply using wastewater treatment and the process of composting is visualised by plants fed with decomposed vegetable waste.

The Satellite exhibition, which is now in its third year, provides a vehicle for showcasing young talent within the official fair. It demonstrates a great diversity of work from design schools, individual designers and young practices. Pills, designed by the small Italian architectural practice Open Spaces, is a flexible panel system consisting of a slim box constructed using brushed sheet steel with holes punctured through the surface. A light source is fitted in the rear and caps of translucent epoxy resin are fitted behind each hole.

The panels, playfully illustrated through a series of graphic cartoons, can be used individually or in combinations to create functional luminous walls and floors.

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