The 2009 Milan Furniture Fair brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Italy’s design capital, as it does every April. The event has been going for 48 years, aiming to showcase new products, from lamps to beds, garden furniture, objects, textiles, chairs, rugs – anything found in a home, an office, or garden. For one week, 2,723 designers and furniture companies, a third of them from outside Italy, show off their latest designs, many of them prototypes, hoping to attract the interest of some of the 350,000 professionals – buyers, manufacturers, fellow designers and journalists.
Moroso, an Italian design and upholstery studio known for its energy and innovation, had a superb display in their showroom. The whole new collection, called M’Afrique, had a strong African influence with striking colours and patterns.
“The African continent is extraordinarily rich in creativity, materials and ideas that are sources of inspiration and nourishment for us. When applied to design, they engender products which exude tradition and modernity, innovation and history, form and beauty. I think there is so much of Africa and in this event my intent was to showcase the creativity of a few of the great artists and personalities of contemporary African culture. Going beyond the stereotypes that present Africa as a tragic or, at best, exotic experience, we want to highlight some aspects of contemporary African culture, which is in effect comparable to global culture. Looking at Africa through the eyes of contemporary art, photography, architecture and design is perhaps the most appropriate way of approaching this vast, powerful continent, so creatively rich and diverse that today it is still one of western modernity’s greatest sources of inspiration.”
The collection was designed by American designer Stephen Burks of the New York Studio Readymade Projects , increasingly known for his ecologically-conscious and artisan-based projects, was named “one of the world’s most wanted young designers” by Wallpaper magazine. He has been responsible for creative design direction for clients ranging from Artecnica, Boffi, B&B Italia, Calvin Klein, Cappellini and Missoni, as well as the non-profits Aid to Artisans and the Nature Conservancy. He was on the trend board of the 2009 Cologne Furniture Fair and was awarded this year’s Architektur & Wohnen Audi Mentor Prize as young designer of the year in Cologne during the fair.
Sitting alongside work by African artists Fathi Hassan and Soly Cissé were iconic pieces of furniture from Moroso’s archive covered in African fabrics – among them Ron Arad’s Victoria & Albert sofa and Doshi Levien’s Princess day bed. Walls were decorated with photography by London architect David Adjaye and African photographer Boubacar Touré Mandémory.
Milan based Patricia Urquiola and Philippe Bestenheider designed pieces especially for the show inspired by Africa, while Toord Boontje, Burks and fellow New Yorkers Bibi Seck and Ayse Birsel sought the expertise of African craftspeople to materialise their products. It all had the potential of resorting to cliche and resembling something you’d pick up in a London market, but Moroso managed to capture the spirit of a carnival in the furniture, and keep the products suitably chic for their price tag.
Another African influenced piece at the show that was not a part of M’Afrique was by the Fashion Designer Ermanno Scervino launch of the company’s first furniture and linens collection inspired by the designer’s East African African vacations, particularly Kenya. Sofas, chairs and a canopy bed were covered with crocheted raffia in black or natural hues. An especially interesting raffia armchair with legs aand arms made of horns of the zebu cow (shown at left) was a show stopper. The furniture is produced under license by the Italian furniture house Nicoletti.