The Milan Furniture Fair opened with customary razzmatazz and glitz, far upstaging the German fair Orgatec, despite a lot of the Milan products having been first unveiled in Cologne.
Product designer Konstantin Gricic designed backdrop seating stadia for Authentic's launch of Matthew Hilton's chair Wait, an aesthetically pleasing and robust alternative to the plastic garden chair endemic to every gas station and garden centre. Wait is one of the first contenders on the market in the race to provide a new low-cost plastic chair.
First on the track, but still at prototype stage, are Jasper Morrison's gas injection moulded polypropylene chair for Magis and Philippe Starck's Slick-Slick for French company xo which at £45 is the cheapest Starck chair on the market. Kartell, whose 50-year history of innovation in plastics has produced design classics by Joe Colombo and Magistretti, launched La Marie, also by Starck, the first completely transparent chair made from a single mould of clear polycarbonate.
Twisting the design tenets of Modernism and still having fun, London- based manufacturer scp unveiled a strong collection, including Michael Marriot's aptly-named folded aluminium Croquet Shelves in the colours of croquet balls, and Hilton's Glide, a deep-seated armchair supported on splayed chrome legs with matching ottoman.
Chrome rectangular legs were a recurring theme in the mass of upholstery on display. The abundance and variety of soft furnishings is reflected in the financial weight of the industry which generates two billion us dollars annually for Italian firms. Hence the major companies such as Cassina, b&b Italia and Driade displaying a wide range of styles. uk designers rank high in this area, with Ross Lovegrove, Pentagram partner Daniel Weil, Hilton and Starck all designing for Driade.
Situated on the same site as the main exhibition halls is the alternative fair dubbed the satellite show, where space can be rented at a lower cost.
Luxlab, a group of French designers, two of whom are employed in Starck's design studio, have designed a mock-up interior dedicated to luxury which reflects their desire to redefine the domestic realm. Their Mutable Floor is composed of a pressed aluminium frame and turf that can be deformed using airjacks and airbags. The turf overlay is automatically nourished with microcapsules and treated with anti-fungus protection. To recreate those summer barbecues on the lawn, they've designed a stainless-steel fireplace with Pyrex duct and vacuum filter which works even for those who don't posses a chimney.
If in doubt how to furnish your Luxlab interior, Dutch practice Droog, meaning dry, has produced furniture made out of recycled garden refuse. Ignoring definitive design statements, the designers demonstrated what has been described as their 'negligent elegance' with products such as Soft Vase, the Knotted Chair and the Milkbottle Lamp. Commissioned by the German culture minister to design products that would contribute to the revitalisation of the former gdr town, Oranienbaum, Droog exhibited a range of products ranging from extrusion containers which press garden waste into endless benches, to disposable cutlery made out of local poplar wood.
Other exhibitors outside the main show included Nordic designer Snowcrash which borrows fabrics such as polymer fibres and composite materials from the fashion industry. This year it produced Desk Top, a simple but ingenious table that gets rid of the problem of limited desk space when using a computer. Under the laminated and coloured glass table top is an adjustable flat screen that cuts down on glare, leaving the desk top clear except for the cordless keyboard and mouse.
Other gems included Jasper Morrison's seating for Cappellini. Low Pad, whose seating area resembles the up-turned sole of a Prada shoe, is an elegant design using a simple manufacturing process of steam-compressed leather or felt stretched over multi-density foam. German designer Werner Aisslinger's range of Soft Cell seating demonstrates what can be done with bicycle-seat gel.
To search for a prevailing trend would be to miss the point. The fair reflects the eclecticism prevalent in the international design world, and this is exemplified by the diversity of products on display, ranging from signature kitsch in the form of a garden gnome designed by Starck to Zanotta's Blow, the inflatable chair that has spawned a thousand imitations.