By  on April 21, 2005

MILAN — As if there wasn’t enough evidence already, the latest Salone del Mobile proved that fashion designers are becoming even more serious about the home.

The six-day furniture and design exhibition, which closed here Monday, offered home collections by fashion designers from Armani to Alexander McQueen and also marked designers’ entrances into several categories, including more furniture, lighting and even bathroom accessories.

At Giorgio Armani, forget the solid wengé tables and minimalist design of the early Casa stages. The designer showed a more glamorous and sophisticated collection than usual, almost an echo of his foray into couture this January. Armani displayed a focused selection of luxurious pieces inspired by Art Deco, Surrealism and the Orient — all with a Twenties twist and Armani’s passion for black-and-white cinematography.

“You could almost see Jean Harlow walk in with a satin slip, no?” quipped the designer at his presentation in his Tadao Ando-designed theater in Milan. While maintaining a restrained hand, Armani explored black and red lacquered surfaces, showed sleek satin sofas with black lacquered armrests and cocktail bars with ceramic and wood chessboard mosaics. “I feel I’m still experimenting [with this line],” said the designer. “My first collection was more massive, now it’s more feminine — after all, women buy most of the furniture.”

Five years into the Casa division, Armani showed product families, such as a sofa with a love seat or a chaise longue, for example, and introduced categories such as lamp shades, carpets made by Nepalese artisans and brown oak bathroom accessories. “My staff was all against me venturing into the bathroom category, but, in the end, I believe this is one of the most important rooms, it’s where you really check yourself out,” said the designer, who last week opened a Casa store on Via Manzoni, across from his own megastore on the same street, which also hosts a Casa corner.

Versace also introduced lighting elements, which were placed strategically against new baroque, intricately carved silver- or bronze-framed mirrors. A company spokesman highlighted the artisanal craftsmanship of the collection. Case in point: Versace’s historical Vanitas chair was introduced in a limited-edition teak wood model. “Teak is one of the toughest woods to mold and bend,” said the spokesman. The seat was upholstered with an allegorical sea motif print and the teak was waxed with whale oil so that it is suited for the outdoors — a new category for Versace this year. The company also showed wicker and banana-wood sofas and armchairs.At Versace, metal glimmered throughout the collection: Gold, silver and copper enhanced brushed or glossy leather and other surfaces. Versace reworked its staple damask, baroque and neoclassic pieces with a stylized Deco, Japanese, Klimt-like and Seventies touch. The company also introduced the new Hot Flower tabletop collection, with zebra stripes and decoupage roses in orange and turquoise, for a more informal setting featuring fewer gold elements than in the past. Versace marked its 14-year collaboration with tableware licensee Rosenthal by showing 12 theme tables with the company’s historical collections.

Rosita Missoni, who took the home collection in her hands four years ago, is steadily building this division, which has sales of 20 million euros, or $26 million at current exchange rates, up 15 percent from last year. Missoni expanded the house’s tableware collection, which was launched last year, and introduced a Thai-inspired bed, alluringly called the “alcove” and new seating and al-fresco elements: Enter the king-size hammock in flamboyant, tropical colors, the practical tables shaped as leaves handy for a fruit juice or a good book, endless poufs and large pillows in the company’s colorful patterns.

As relaxation was high up on the agenda this year, Rosita Missoni elaborated on an original Verner Panton rocking chair she found at a flea market by using the Harlequin fabric that spells out the company’s name in a futuristic pattern. Missoni, who is known for her passion for the home and antiques, said she “fell in love” with the chair, contacted the late designer’s heirs and convinced them to start producing the chair again, with the Missoni fabrics.

The company also showed the Mademoiselle chair, designed by Philippe Starck for Kartell, upholstered by Missoni’s graffiti black-and-white patterns or colorful, stylized flowers.

Borbonese, controlled by the Arpels group and designed by Alessandro Dell’Acqua, is also expanding its product offering. The company inked a new license with Desarts for tableware featuring the company’s historical partridge-eye motif and an orchid print, and a license with ABC Carpet and Home for carpets. These came in geometrical, floral and ethnic designs in natural and earth colors.

Malo’s home collection feeds off the brand’s luxurious lifestyle concept. For the most part, that means stacks of colorful cashmere sweaters in your closet and pumpkin orange shaved mink cushions or cider green, small rectangular crocodile ones on your sofa. Other items included shearling blankets, waffle plaids handwoven on 19th-century looms, leather newspaper holders trimmed with Malo’s signature braided velvet and a travel set complete with neck rest, slippers, a tracksuit and an eye mask, all in cashmere. Valentino and Alexander McQueen worked with Moroso to create a series of chairs bearing the designers’ imprints. Patricia Urquiola wrapped the seats in vintage Valentino prints of coral, flowers and dragons. Furniture designer Tord Boontje and McQueen created a group of chairs inspired by the designer’s spring 2005 collection. The chairs were either covered in materials similar to the ones used in the collection or dressed in actual pieces by the designer such as a gown embroidered with carousel horses.

Trussardi, which already offers a home collection of bed linens, blankets and pillows, is starting to diversify into furniture. The brand presented its debut piece: a laser-cut aluminum chair trimmed in leather. Trussardi envisaged the piece — dubbed the “O’Chair” for its conical shape — to furnish its corporate headquarters, but the company liked it so much it’s opting to sell it in its stores. “It’s very ergonomic. It wraps around you when you sit and protects you,” said company chairwoman Beatrice Trussardi.

Even those fashion brands that haven’t branched out fully into home furnishings capitalized on the Salone to lend store or showroom space.

 Dolce & Gabbana transformed the courtyard of its men’s store into a mirrored sala of Murano glass chandeliers from Barovier & Toso in hues like lime green and bright orange.

Celine’s Via Montenapoleone store hosted Philippe Starck’s latest collection of crystal goblets, vases and lamps for Baccarat, including a set of six chalices, of which only one is perfectly formed and each of the others is marred by a slight defect such as a glass bubble or a slightly wider brim. The Sportmax store also got into the Salone spirit, hosting an exhibit of minimalist white ceramic dishes and table settings by Gaia & Gino.

The Bulgari Hotel created a couple of parking spaces in its garden for two futuristic-looking plastic campers filled with cacti surrounding a bed in one and a table in the other.  Loris Cecchini, the artist who has used the camper format for several exhibits around the world, said he liked “the contrast between the idea of rest in a private place and plants that are a bit aggressive.”Krizia once again lent its show space to design firm Ingo Maurer, which displayed an eclectic collection of items like a giant mirrored egg-shaped pendulum and a chandelier made of broken bits and shards of china.

Fendi showed off rectangular lamps of hanging crystal and an array of sofas, cushions and chaise longues in luxe materials like suede, fur silk and velvet for its home collection Fendi Casa. The house also teamed up with Milan-based fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni for furniture week. Fendi provided six leather couches and design students decorated each with a theme. One harkened the Seventies era with a retro record player, a guitar and crocheted flowers. Another appeared to pop out of a rain forest with a leafy canopy.

And while Stella McCartney has yet to launch a home collection, the designer’s husband, Alasdhair Willis, helped make an impact in Milan this year. He’s one of the founders of the new British-based furniture design and manufacturing company Established & Sons, which aims to simultaneously nurture young talent and help revive the shrinking manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom. Established & Sons presented its first furniture collection here made up of an eclectic mix of a kidney bean-shaped couch, lamps made from folded aluminum and a writing desk with a curved felt hood. “What you see here is the start of an ongoing collaboration,” said Sebastian Wrong, a founding member and designer.

Meanwhile, contemporary architect and designer Alessandro Mendini showed the furniture he designed for the new Byblos Art Hotel, a 17th-century villa-hotel, museum and Chenot spa opening next month in Milan.

Mendini, who is known for blending references from the past and present and plays with mock antique design, is decorating the hotel outside Verona, owned by the Facchini family, which controls Byblos. The hotel is a veritable museum, with contemporary works owned by the Facchinis, by artists such as Vanessa Beecroft, Anish Kapoor, Peter Halley and Sol LeWitt. During the Salone, Mendini showed some of the furniture and renderings of the hotel: antique styled chairs with modern, graphic upholstery in bright colors, contrasting with Mod cocktail bars.

— With contributions from Amanda Kaiser and Alessandra Ilari

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