Milan is a strange city. A bit like liquid, its essence seems to me fluid, taking the shape of whatever event currently contains the beating heart of the city. Perhaps it has to do with its relatively small size, or its inclusive Italianess, but when an event descends on the city, the city wholeheartedly descends upon it. Unlike New York or Paris where the majority of the metropolis and their inhabitants are blissfully untouched by the raucous of fashion week, in Milan, almost no resident is exempt.
Salone del Mobile, or the international design week, which I am attending for the first time, further reinforces this Milanese notion of mine. That is to say, this city, in which I have already been three or four times in 2012, has transformed completely with the arrival of the design week into something altogether different from its otherwise normal and four-times yearly fashion incarnation-a Milanese experience the likes of which I've never had in all the years I've been coming here.
Stepping out into the typically windswept and relatively deserted streets where dense pockets of population are only found buzzing around the center or clustered about the scattered show venues), the broad and winding ways alike of Milan are teeming with activity. Over half a million visitors from around the world pour into the city to explore the official Salone along with the countless design groups, exhibits, street shows and pop-up spaces that manifest during the week, substantially more than touch down at Linate for fashion week. Call me crazy, but this may have to do with the fact that furniture is slightly broader in appeal to men, women and children of all ages than, say, Donatella's latest mesh and Swarovski body-con creation.
The complete and total scarcity of hotels testified to that (I normally book Milan from New York and have never encountered any problems). 400 parties far outstrips the soirees of the shows, and nearly every major Italian fashion brand (and publication) has a presence. The fashion crowd blends with the design and artistic as well as scores of foreign visitors, resulting in a totally different atmosphere than I've ever experienced in Milan before.
I decided to begin my exploration of the Salone in the trendy Zona Tortona, a graffiti speckled quarter that plays host to a number of designer showrooms and fashion week occasions, but in April is transformed into the beating heart of the younger ranks of the design week, thanks in part to the proximity of design universities. Over 1,500 exhibitors set up spaces to showcase their work, be they pop-up, glossed or completely makeshift and are open well into the night. Food stalls offering pizza, panini and more are erected along the streets and the atmosphere spills harmoniously from interior to exterior, uniting the whole of the neighborhood as if it were one giant exhibition space open to all. The persistence of the rain did little to deter the visitors, who instead merrily purchased oblong wind-resistant umbrellas from the nearest savvy innovator.
Next year, I hope to mount a more targeted exploration of Salone, but for now, I was content merely to amble alongside the rest, drifting from showroom to pop-up to exhibition to pizzeria to party and taking it all in. So I hope you enjoy my little stroll around Tortona, I know I did.