57 Years of the Milan Furniture Fair

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From a Promo Exhibition to the Global-Scale Annual Trade Event

There are few events in the world whose importance for professionals from interior design and furnishing sectors is comparable to that of Salone Internazionale del Mobile. This trade event is also known as Milan Furniture Fair, or simply iSaloni. Its history is a story of formation of Italian design, which in a short time has managed to become a trendsetter and the number 1 supplier of innovative furniture design ideas in the world. This story is a proof of how creative energy of people, their aspiration and faith in victory can help accomplish seemingly impossible.

First held in 1961, Milan Furniture Fair was organized mostly as a promotional exhibition, the aim of which was to increase exports of Italian furniture. And it was high time to do so.

Time for a change

The 1950s were extremely difficult for Italian furniture makers. At that time the mainstay of Italian furniture manufacturers still were craft workshops, small-scale family-run businesses.

Italian furniture trade was at a low ebb and badly needed expansion of demand. Ironically, low demand didn’t mean low quality of the products – in fact, just the opposite was true. Classic-style Italian luxury furniture was top-grade indeed. It was made by highly skilled Italian artisans, whose traditions and know-how in cabinet making were centuries old, but in spite of this, it wasn’t much sought after.

The market of classic-looking Italian luxury furniture was saturated. Volumes of exports were negligible, imports increased. Most consumers were charmed by minimalism, simplicity, and functionality of Scandinavian design, so lots of Italian small businesses that produced furniture in various historical styles were slouching through a recession. It became clear that factories should turn to modern design trends and co-operate with talented designers and architects – if they want to stand out of the crowd.

How it all began

But there were people who wanted to change the situation for the better and started the ball rolling. One of them was Tito Armellini, the publisher of Il Mobile Italiano magazine and director of Federlegno – the Italian Federation of Furniture and Woodworking Producers. Later he also became the Secretary General of Cosmit Spa exhibition committee. Together with Angelo De Baggis, who then was the Vice-President of the Federation, as well as a number of other representatives of Federlegno, they come to the idea to organize a large exhibition in Milan, the financial center of Italy, similar to the ones that took place in Cologne and Paris. The future event was expected to showcase achievements of Italian designers, stimulate producers of furnishings and help manufacturers establish contacts with architects.

On the 24th of September 1961 the first edition of Salone del Mobile started in pavilions 28 and 34 at the old La Campionaria Fair. The event was coordinated by Cosmit Spa, a private company that organizes and runs exhibitions and trade shows.

All in all, the idea worked well. The new trade show sparked certain interest and the number of participants and attendees grew steadily year after year. 328 exhibitors participated in the fair in 1961, attracting 11300 visitors from Italy and 800 from abroad. Just three years later, in 1964, there were 818 exhibitors and 21000 visitors from Italy and 2300 from other countries. The international importance of the exhibition grew, and so did the exports of Italian furniture – from 5,837,000,000 Lire in 1960 to 16,000,000,000 Lire in 1964.

A happy idea

Salone del Mobile-1965 turned out to be really special. First, it was the year when the first collateral event took place. Its name was “Retrospective Exhibition on Furniture Design in Italy from 1945 to the Present”.

Second, in 1965 Cosmit Spa divided exhibits according to their style. So, a separate ‘design’ floor appeared in Pavilion 30/3, where contemporary design items were shown.

This idea was accepted eagerly. Nobody has ever done this before: sometimes at trade shows neighboring stands showcased furniture made in completely different styles. Ever since then the exhibit area is divided into sectors – design, classic, and xLux – corresponding to different product styles.

There were only 30 exhibitors in the design section in 1965, but they did set the tone of the event. The journalists were overjoyed. Most of the reviews on Salone del Mobile Italiano spoke mostly of the design section. American Home Furnishing Daily, Belgian Echo du Meuble, French Meubles et decors, German Mobel Kultur – all these periodicals heaped praises upon Italian design and designers.

Time of Growth and Flourishing

Two years later, in 1967, Salone del Mobile added the word ‘International’ to its name. It indicated that Salon had become an influential trade show attracting a considerable number of attendees – only such a kind of event could be named international.

Years passed, and Salone del Mobile became more than just a trade fair, even a well-known and influential one. The Salon grew, flourished, and sprouted collateral events, complementing one another, which greatly widened the sphere covered by iSaloni.

Exhibitions devoted to kitchen furniture and equipment, lighting fixtures, workplace environment, bathrooms and numerous accessories for furniture and decorative elements – all they are extremely relevant, so they have become an inseparable part of the Salon. So did SaloneSatellite, the place where since 1998 young talented designers can showcase their innovations. Creativity of the young is by all means the driving power of every industry, and furniture design is no exception. For young creative students and graduates, SaloneSatellite is a great chance to get noticed in a highly competitive sphere of present-day furniture design.

XXI century raise the Salon to the new level. Saloni World Wide exhibitions now take place in Moscow and Shanghai. In 2018 the exhibition iSaloni WorldWide Moscow will take place from 10 to 13 October, and Salone del Mobile.Milano Shanghai will be held from 22 to 24 November.

iSaloni 2018

Thousands of well-known professionals from all over the world have booked their tickets to Milan, where 57th edition of Salone Internazionale del Mobile took place from 17 to 22 April 2018. Well-known Italian brand Bellavista Collection displayed its best products in Hall 1 xLux, stand C01.

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