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The beginning: from a bet on the future to the story of design
24th September 1961: the Salone del Mobile makes its first appearance in Milan
24th September 1961: the Salone del Mobile makes its first appearance in Milan, brainchild of a small group of furniture makers, representative of the Federlegno trade organisation (now FederlegnoArredo), and organised by Cosmit for the promotion of exports of Italian furniture and furnishing accessories.
Saturation of internal demand in the wake of the post-War reconstructions suggests exports as a possible outlet, but the small Italian manufacturers are in no position to tackle this on their own. A trade fair that would attract foreign interest seemed a viable opportunity. At the time there was still Mariano Comense’s standard-setting furniture Biennial, the selective Cantù Furniture Exhibition, the Pesaro Furniture Fair and the Permanent Exhibition of the Veneto Furniture Manufacturers’ Consortium in Padua, but these were all on very much a local scale. Milan, the financial capital of Italy, was identified as the most suitable location, and it had been playing host to the La Campionaria Fair since 1920.
A Northern Italian delegation from the Italian Federation of Wood and Cork Industries, spearheaded by Tito Armellini approaches the 13 leading Italian furniture companies of the time, and thus the Italian Furniture Fair Promotion Committee is set up: Michele Barovero, Alessandro Besana, Franco Cassina, Piero Dal Vera, Vittorio Dassi, Angelo De Baggis, Mario Dosi, Aldo Falcioni, Angelo Marelli, Angelo Molteni, Silvano Montina, Mario Roncoroni and Vittorio Villa. The official press launch is held on 25th February 1961. The Promoting Committee has, in the meantime, appointed Alessandro Colli, then President of the Federation, as its Chairman. On 24th September that same year, the first edition of the Salone is launched in Pavilions 28 and 34 at the old La Campionaria Fair.
The Salone del Mobile soon became synonymous with enduring success and assurance, a global benchmark for the Home Furnishing Sector. An invaluable tool for the industry as well as an on-going, quite extraordinary promotional vehicle.
1965 marked a year of change: the leading furniture sector companies such as Anonima Castelli, Arflex, Bernini, Boffi, Cantieri Carugati, Cassina, Cinova, Elam, Kartell, Mim, Molteni (just beginning to venture into modern furniture), Pierantonio Bonacina, Poltrona Frau, Poltronova, Rossi di Albizzate, Saporiti, Sormani, Stildomus and Tecno, are all featured together in Pavilion 30/3, creating a uniform commercial exhibition space, thanks to the forward thinking of Manlio Armellini, who takes over from his father Tito as Secretary General in 1974, and later as CEO until 2009.
1965 is also the year in which exhibitors begin to bring a great deal of attention to bear on the installations and Domus devotes its leader to the Salone. It is also the year in which the first Salone collateral event is held – a retrospective exhibition documenting furniture design in Italy.
The Fair really takes off during the first 4 years, both in terms of visitor numbers and in terms of participation from Italian and foreign operators, achieving an immediate commercial response, establishing it not just as an observatory and showcase for the sector but also and especially as a driving force. Exports shoot up from 5,837,000,000 Lire in 1960 to almost 16,000,000,000 in 1964.
1967 and 1968 are boom time for the Salone, because of greater public interest and a burgeoning sense of homepride. Meanwhile, companies are busily engaged in technological research, especially in the fields of application of new materials.
The Salone del Mobile very quickly proves to be an ideal marketing tool for what is a fairly pulverised sector (over 13 thousand firms with 205 thousand employees; a national distribution system hinging on 20 thousand outlets) with no other tools through which to channel its own overall potential.
The figures speak for themselves: from 328 exhibitors occupying 11,860 square metres in 1961 to 2,720 at the 2011 edition, ranged over 210,500 square metres. Visitor numbers rise from an initial 12,100 to over 300,000 last year. Dizzying heights that have seen the Salone del Mobile become
the undisputed showcase for the furnishing world.
The Salone del Mobile, goes “international” in 1967 (only events that are assured of a substantial number of visitors, on top of the quality of their exhibits are allowed to style themselves “international”), and over
the years another 6 exhibitions become strategically attached to it, extending and enhancing the specialist nature of the goods already on exhibit at the Salone itself, under the FederlegnoArredo system umbrella.
1974 marks the launch of Eurocucina, followed in 1976 by Euroluce, the former being the biennial International Kitchen Furniture Exhibition and the latter the biennial International Lighting Exhibition, which alternate in odd and even years respectively, forums where ideas, design, technology and innovation meet. EIMU, the exhibition devoted to the workspace is launched in 1982, renamed SaloneUfficio, the International Biennial Workspace Exhibition, in 2008. From this year on, Euroluce and SaloneUfficio are to be strategically located opposite each other, which will maximise the range of goods on offer,
especially in the design and contract sectors, and respond to the steadily growing affinity between the worlds of work and lighting. The International Furnishing Accessories Exhibition is launched in 1989, rounding off the exhibitions devoted to domestic furnishing. Then in 1998, SaloneSatellite, the acclaimed launchpad for young creative talent and a benchmark for companies scouting for the trendsetters of the future, joins he ranks of exhibitions. Last but not least, in 2006 – the year in which the Salone leaves the old Fiera Campionaria exhibition centre (now known as Fiera Milano City) to move to the cutting edge Milan Fairgrounds at Rho, designed by Massimiliano Fuksas, the Salone Internazionale del Bagno (the International Bathroom Exhibition) makes its propitious debut on a biennial basis. It is now held in even years in tandem with EuroCucina, thus activating a total synergy in the sphere of technical issues and product development.
The “Salone del Mobile.Milano” – is the umbrella name for all these events – therefore constitute a specialist yet heterogeneous trade fair, symbolising an all-encompassing way of working and interpreting modern industry. It is an exhibition system in its own right, in which large and small companies showcase their latest products, and it also provides an exceptional communication opportunity for all those operating within the sector. A single philosophy shared by organisers, exhibitors and visitors alike.
The growth and success of the Salone, unlike many other international trade fairs, is bucking the trend as its waiting list continues to grow and its range of showcased goods continues to expand, in particular.
The internationalisation process that first took the Milan Salone to New York and Moscow in 2005 with the Saloni WorldWide and in 2016 to Shanghai.
In addition to the commercial fair, the Salone has featured collateral events, an international platform enjoying the “privilege of actuality,” that take stock of the state of art and the culture of design. The story begins in 1965, when – to underscore the presence of the new 30/3 Pavilion devoted to the most cutting edge design companies, which has proven one of the aces in the pack of the strictly trade event – the “Retrospective Exhibition on Furniture Design in Italy from 1945 to the Present” is held. A great many exhibitions since then have attempted to relate the genesis of the Italian productive identity and highlight its various aspects, telling the history of the great design Masters, or exploring the cross-cutting ties between marriages of design, art, fashion and food.