Written by Davide Pizzi

January, February, March and then April, at least until the middle. For most people, these are months in which nothing particularly exciting happens, indeed.  Christmas is over, it is still cold and there is no particular reason to be euphoric, as the warm weather and holidays are still a long way off.

But for those who live and work in what is called the ‘design district’, whatever that means, these are the most terrible, hectic months of the year.

These are the months preceding the annual Salone Internazionale del Mobile, an unmissable event for those working in this sector.

Born in 1961 by the will of a small group of entrepreneurs, who were the first to realise the need to showcase the quality of their products and open up to the world, over the years it has evolved and changed location and frequency, grown more and more and acquired a global dimension in terms of commercial appeal, going beyond the confines of the trade fair itself to become an event that involves the entire city of Milan, a more democratic and naïve counterpoint to the famous Fashion Week.

However, it is in the months leading up to it that companies, planners, architects, designers and fitters increasingly begin to intensify their efforts, in an inexorable descent towards the start date that represents the culmination of a year’s work and the beginning of a period of calm after the storm.

Being an insider and having lived through almost 20 of them myself, I would like to tell the story of the fair from behind, from the side of those who work hard every year to get their products to their destination, in the (often vain) hope of placing a hit that will make them stand out from the competition.

In an ideal world, and knowing for dozens of years that this event falls in mid-April, it should not be difficult to arrive ready and prepared for the usual deadline… but creativity is not easy to govern, not even for the most hardened of CEOs, and the creativity of designers is almost impossible to harness in a cold Gantt chart.

We arrive in April still shattered, with the last projects coming in a bit like this, and with the most important ones that perhaps would have deserved a few more months, but that we just couldn’t help but launch now.

The last few weeks are a real hurricane of emotions, going from the terror of not making it to the excitement of the prototypes that are slowly being prepared and placed on the stands, polished for the occasion. Designers, planners and entrepreneurs finally see their ‘children’ come to life, ready to face the market in a carnival of other objects, lights, colours and handshakes between buyers and sellers, between hostesses and customers or between the merely curious and young students on a field trip… not to mention the extravagant and colourful characters that inhabit this world.

For the first time, their (our) ideas come out of the grey sheds and we find out if they can also please those who did not conceive them and see them slowly taking shape, amidst moments of euphoria and blind alleys of anger, in a curious shared gestation that results in an often painful but fortunately less painful birth.

Finally, the big day arrives, and the spaces are populated with men and women who, at least for the first four days, should only be insiders, but who are instead often skilful gatecrashers and victorious participants in the ‘scrounging for tickets’ that is unleashed from March onwards, not because tickets are so expensive, it’s just that having them for free gives you a whole different flavour.

The atmosphere is euphoric, every now and then a politician or VIP makes an appearance (with an accompanying police escort), and for those who are really in the industry, a long walk begins that will set the pedometer record as always. 

One carefully chooses the stands of the companies to visit, between those to be seen to check out the competition and those that one has to pass through in order not to avoid the usual ’round of the relatives’, i.e. ex-colleagues and ex-owners, the spring version of the round of distant relatives that one usually does before Christmas or for wedding invitations.

Our bottom muscles become sensitive and ready to test the last sofas to decide which one is the most comfortable, aware that, like every year, we arrived at 4 p.m., loaded like mules with catalogues that we punctually fail to take when they are offered to us by kind and attractive hostesses, even a heap of stones would seem a miracle of comfort.

In the meantime, we met old friends, got to know new ones, and toasted to an unspecified number of future collaborations and old successes, ready to promise each other that we will talk to each other after the fair, but around May, ‘because first I’m taking a week off that I have to recover’.  

The exhibition, for those who really live it, is just that.

A year of bets for six days of promises. 

Between those who meet to sow the seeds of future projects, between sellers and buyers who promise to place orders as soon as they get home and then promise that they will push your products harder than everyone else. 

Promises among ourselves because ‘next year we will leave earlier, so we won’t be so last minute’.

Even if what I write may seem critical and irreverent towards this institution, I do so with great affection towards a place that is a bit like home to me, because during the days of the fair there is a beautiful atmosphere, to which we have all become attached over the years. 

We know that perhaps after more than 60 years we could invent something more modern than a fair… but we cannot leave this comfort zone of ours.

It is the time to show off for those who have worked hard, it is the time to look all your colleagues and even your competitors, most of whom are your former colleagues, in the face, just as they put on their best smile and greet you proudly and proudly to show you what they have done.

It is a reunion that reminds us that time passes but that we are all still there, and if someone leaves us it is also a time to remember them together with a bit of nostalgia, in the strange and conflicting extended family that is this industry.

And when the fair gets boring, you can always escape to the Fuorisalone, and enjoy the springtime Milan pulled together, but always with the excuse that ‘I absolutely must see that installation’ because heaven forbid the brianzolo goes around wasting time.

Everyone is ready to exchange new promises, catch their breath and feel the April heat again, and throw themselves into a race, into a new year to bet that they will succeed this time too, to bet on new colleagues snatched from the competition, on new designers discovered among thousands, and on new products that will go big (and cost very little).

The salon has also ended in this 2024, I as always said I would not go because I am fed up now, and as always I ended up wandering around the pavilions, looking for the pile of stones to sit on and always looking very soft.

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