The powerhouses of fashion were a formidable force at Milan Design Week this year – collectively stealing the show as the interiors world gathered in the city to launch new designs and engage in big conversations, from ocean plastics to roll-up TV screens. Fashion brands have habitually appeared at the annual festival (which, in addition to the Salone del Mobile, includes myriad design events), but this time, in a maximalist, marabou-trimmed takeover, they strode confidently into the spotlight. Versace, Gucci, Hermès, Dior, Etro, Fendi and Louis Vuitton made the week their own with electrifying installations, big-budget bravado and next-level glamour.
The signs of impending annexation have been on the cards for several years. Fendi’s flourishing association with the design queen of Milan, architect Cristina Celestino, began in 2016 with an installation at Design Miami, leading to a new furniture collection this year. The launch of Gucci Décor in 2017 is seen by some as key to the mainstreaming of maximalism in interiors, and Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades 2018 show (featuring an ever-growing collection first launched in 2012) was a spectacular success, with a star cast of international designers including India Mahdavi and Atelier Oï. In fact, the fashion industry’s secret weapon has been a series of astute collaborations – and no pairing has been more inspired than Donatella Versace’s partnership with Manhattan interior designer Sasha Bikoff.
Bikoff, guru to New York’s well-heeled millennials, whose style is a mash-up of 18th-century rococo and Memphis Milano, vividly recalls her invitation to collaborate. “I got a call from the Versace team 10 days before the Oscars, and they said Donatella wanted me to design an exhibition for her at the Salone,” she says. “I thought I was being catfished! I thought, this can’t be for real because anyone who knows me and my aesthetic knows my biggest inspiration in life has always been Versace!” It transpired that Donatella had admired Bikoff’s fearless and fun staircase at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House (an event at which designers showcase their talents by furnishing a townhouse in New York’s Upper East Side) last year. “She told me she was a fan of my work and wanted me to come to Milan. This was my dream come true!” The pastel fantasia Bikoff created in Palazzo Versace on Via Gesù (Gianni’s old home, which is now family apartments and brand HQ, used for VIP fittings and meetings) was the talk of the design town and the darling of Instagram.
Bikoff’s brief was simple but ambitious. “The aim was for Versace to go back to its roots and to connect Versace Home with Versace fashion,” she says. The designer flew to Milan to research the house archive and was captivated by Richard Avedon’s photography of supermodels in the late 1980s and ’90s, particularly shots from the fall 1994 advertising campaign. By the time she returned to the States (Los Angeles, to design an Oscar party for sustainable fashion, decor and accessories brand Maison de Mode), she had an inspirational image in mind that set the tone for the show. “It’s a picture of a row of supermodels wearing metallic miniskirts and little mohair crop sweaters,” she says. “I took Versace furniture and reimagined it with metallics and mohair, and threw in a lot of candy-coloured lacquer. I wanted the show to be happy – to feel like the party of the Salone.”
During the five-day show, some 200 people per day were admitted into an immersive world – a veritable Versaciverse of marabou-clad mannequins, revolving Pop Medusa chairs (from £1,090) and gigantic silk shirts by Canadian artist Andy Dixon. Although footfall was minimal, many more enjoyed the experience on the brand’s 18.1 million-follower Instagram account. The irresistible combination of Versace’s showmanship and Bikoff’s genius for punchy, powerful interiors resulted in a very modern marketing coup – an ultra-exclusive event that scored an online audience the size of a small nation.
Elsewhere in Milan, the eyes of interiors insiders fixed on the long-standing partnership between Cristina Celestino and Silvia Venturini Fendi, creative director for accessories, menswear and children at Fendi. Celestino’s elegant and arresting aesthetic has a natural affinity with the house. “I like to play with shapes, geometry, colours and pattern, and through variations of scale and small inventions convey new messages and different meanings,” she says. “Fendi likes my approach. I think we share the same viewpoint when it comes to design.” The collaboration initially focused on installations for design shows, then progressed to boutique design, including custom furniture for Fendi’s international stores. This April, Celestino unveiled Back Home, a collection of 14 pieces including seats, mirrors, lamps and cabinets, many incorporating the famous Pequin motif, the signature stripe designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 1987.
The collection, as its name implies, represents a return to the genesis of Fendi and the unapologetic glamour of the house. “The general mood comes from the 1970s,” Celestino says, “and the interiors and furniture by Willy Rizzo, the designer and photographer who worked in Rome in the 1960s. Looking at the Fendi archive, I also took inspiration from a Karl Lagerfeld sketch from the 1980s – a Fendi logo in a flower shape. I used this reference for the design of the low tables [Effe coffee table triptych, from £17,760].” Celestino has clearly had a blast working for the Roman fashion house. “I hope this collaboration never ends,” she says, when asked about future plans, adding that one reason the fashion houses stood out among the interiors giants at the Salone was their willingness to commit to a budget “capable of generating spectacular experiences”.
And fun was the new look that captivated interiors editors during Design Week. High spirits and a euphoric embrace of colour and pattern characterised the best fashion interiors shows. Missoni, in characteristically artisanal style, presented Home Sweet Home in a showcase on Via Solferino – an entire crocheted home commissioned by Angela Missoni and created by Alessandra Roveda featuring a sofa, bookcases, food, chandeliers and cacti in a rainbow of coloured wools. So enchanting was the concept that few visitors thought to ask what was being launched (the answer: nothing at all. The brand’s new garden furniture was being showcased elsewhere at the fair. This was just fun.) The same visitors were equally entranced by the eye-popping patterns of Etro’s offering. Jacopo Etro, creative director of Etro’s home collection and arch maximalist, unveiled new designs including a second collection of extravagantly chintzy papers (from €135) and a table supported by two sculptures of Pegasus, the mythical winged horse that’s also the brand’s insignia (€20,850). “Distinctive prints and bold colours are deeply rooted in our DNA,” he says. “Being primarily a fashion house, we probably have more freedom to experiment… and more chances to dare than specialist furniture brands.”
Most decoratively audacious of all was the pop-up Gucci Décor store. The two‑storey apartment in Via Santo Spirito was wrapped in chinoiserie wallpaper and adorned with porcelain leopards and tasselled cat pillows. Highlights included Game blankets (£705) featuring appliqué rabbits, trimmed in black moiré, and the Heron wallcovering (£315 per panel), a pattern of birds and dragonflies that’s found in Gucci’s pre-fall 2019 ready-to-wear collection. The maximalist nirvana, curated by creative director Alessandro Michele, closed its doors at the end of June, but the home collection can be ordered online, and should you desire a virtual visit, simply join Gucci’s 34.2 million Instagram followers, scroll back to April 6-7 and feast your eyes. The temporary boutique was open to restricted numbers during the festival (the store fronted by two impeccably attired doormen – briefed, we must assume, to eject minimalists) and had, like the Versace show, a global social-media reach beyond the wildest dreams of the traditional interiors brands.
But the success of the fashion shows at Milan Design Week wasn’t simply due to social media – their new collections were as fresh and covetable as the exhibitions were attention-grabbing, and seen up close the craft behind the designs was world class. Spanish brand Loewe commissioned 11 basket makers, rattan weavers and straw and bamboo artists from across the globe to create Loewe baskets, a collection of practical objets d’art in woven leather, each a one-off work of virtuoso skill. True to form, Hermès also focused on luxury materials and contemporary craft. In a setting designed by architect Charlotte Macaux Perelman and curated by Alexis Fabry – La Maison Hermès’ joint deputy artistic directors – the brand revealed new designs, many with its trademark equestrian theme, such as Italian artist Gianpaolo Pagni’s brightly coloured Hippomobiles plaid blankets (limited edition, £12,000), featuring cashmere appliqués and embroidered with miyuki beads, and Joséphine Ciaudo’s mahogany watch boxes (£5,200), their lids decorated with the bright patterns of jockey silks in leather marquetry.
Consummate craft was on display at Louis Vuitton with the latest additions to its Objets Nomades collection of travel-inspired furniture, which was showcased in the neoclassical Palazzo Serbelloni. From the Campana Brothers came the Bulbo armchair (€90,000), Raw Edges presented its fully customisable Dolls seating (€14,000) and new designs by Marcel Wanders included the Diamond armchair (€45,000) and sofa (€65,000), a cage-like design formed of arching wooden slats, and Venezia (€9,000), a lamp inspired by traditional Venetian lanterns. Among the newest recruits to Louis Vuitton’s stable of international collaborators were Alberto Biagetti and artist Laura Baldassari of Atelier Biagetti, who contributed Anemona (€75,000), a glass-topped dining table with an undulating base covered with beige leather on the outside, with a deep-blue lacquer interior.
One of the most anticipated fashion-interiors fusions of the week was the Dior Maison presentation. DimoreStudio’s Emiliano Salci and Britt Moran – designers of atmospheric, opulent interiors – were commissioned to create the collection and invent a suitable setting for 14 new pieces showcased in Milan’s 15th-century Casa degli Atellani. The duo already had a five-year history of collaboration with Pietro Beccari, president and CEO of Christian Dior Couture, which began in 2014 when Beccari was CEO of Fendi and engaged Salci and Moran for a project for Design Miami. They subsequently worked together on the Palazzo Privé Fendi apartment in Rome, the second floor of the flagship store used for VIP fittings and events. After Beccari transferred to Dior in 2018, he once more turned to Dimore.
“We were given carte blanche to design a collection of objects for the home,” says Moran, who drew inspiration from the Napoleon III-style chairs Christian Dior used for seating guests at his fashion shows. “Cannage [canework, used as detailing on the chairs] was one of the starting points,” he says, “as well as precious metals suitable for a luxurious objects collection.” The resulting collection, including the De Nuit candlestick (£5,900) and an umbrella stand called Ceci N’est Pas Un Vase (£12,000), can be ordered from Dior boutiques for one year. To display their designs, Salci and Moran created a series of blackboard backdrops with chalk outlines of everyday objects, which acted as a foil for the new collection and pieces from DimoreMilano, DimoreStudio’s own line of furniture and fabrics. In one room set, a real coat rack was juxtaposed with a chalk drawing of a handbag, brolly and coat and a carefully lit real Dior Bar jacket. The concept was playful and amusing, communicating with the lightest of touches the preciousness of the new pieces, and the idea that what every smart hallway needs is a little black Dior jacket. The message? Home is no longer your castle, it’s your personal catwalk.