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Eavesdrop: William Menking


For the design press, the second thing in April means but one thing: hotel rooms in gray and rainy Milan; and long, jetlagged subway rides to the Rho fairgrounds to tramp through dozens of pavilions, each the size of the Javits, in search of the latest and hottest in $150,000 kitchens and high-end plastic chairs. Yes, dear readers, we went to the annual I Saloni del Mobile—tough work, we know! There was design on display everywhere in the Lombard city, from public buses with pictures of great-looking Flos lamps to the cover of Italian Men’s Vogue, with Rem Koolhaas in a red double-collar shirt on the cover. We knew he was never a stickler for the old form-follows-function notion, but two collars?

For the foot-weary journalist, the days do not end when the fairgrounds close and we jostle past 340,000 other attendees to get back on the subway. (N.B.—thin Italian designers have very sharp elbows, so beware.) The real action at I Saloni happens after hours, at the parties. Andiamo! There’s prosecco to toss back, focaccia to nibble, and gossip to trade! Many of these parties are in the Zona Tortona, which used to be where young designers showed one-offs, hoping to interest a manufacturer, but these days, huge companies like Swarkoski and Corian play host. There is still lots to see, though, perhaps too much: MAP principal Laurent Gutierrez joked to us that “in the art world, people need to understand a work before they like it, but in design, they just need to like it.” This wise observation may help explain the scores of barely functional chairs, over-the-top shower heads, and similar objects destined either for the pages of glossy magazines, the dustbin of history, or both. But how to explain the work of the Czech design studio Koncern from Prague? It showed a line of broken glass carafes and goblets called “Domestic Violence” with publicity shots depicting a mad Czech designer attacking a young woman with a meat clever at her neck. Sex sells, sure, but uxoricide?

We were feeling very special and insider-ish when we got handed a VIP card by a fellow from Established & Sons (the London company run by Alasdhair Willis that produces the work of designers like Amanda Levete and Jasper Morrison) inviting us to skip the queue at their party at La Pelota. We were delighted by the idea of putting aside our strongly held democratic principles for a moment—the polloi can wait!—and cutting the line for some prosecco. Unfortunately, every journalist in Milan seemed to have the same card. Hopeful partiers would flash their VIP credential, only to be told to stand in line with all the other cardholders. We put a good face on things, rediscovered our principles, and waited with the crowd.

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William Menking