18 December 2020
The Milanese – even the ones we’ve acquired, adopted or simply have temporary custody of – often say: “Milan at the centre.” “At the centre of what?” one might ask. Of education, of work and of business, of entertainment, of innovation, of design, of fashion … and so on and so forth. But, turning it on its head, what is there at the centre of Milan? Or, better still, who? Michaela Proietti’s brilliant first book La Milanese, or rather “the woman the whole world envies,” is her own response. She doesn’t just deal with vices and virtues, as one might expect, but with the whims, styles, genius and neuroses that best befit a totally contemporary woman yet one who actually veers between being Jacqueline Kennedy and Jane Birkin, and is constantly rushing, keen on good works and manages, nonchalantly, to turn unknown local brands into actual icons. What’s more, she visits and appears everywhere – who knows how many Save the Dates she’s got piled up! – but, obviously, only if they involve the right places & events (note: needless to say Milanese women are anglophiles). Naturally, these include the Salone del Mobile, which she regards as totally inclusive, and which scores higher than fashion shows in her own, very personal list of top events. So, “she brags to her friends about having received an invitation to the FederlegnoArredo gala dinner, a glittering event held in locations such as the Gallerie d’Italia or even on the stage at La Scala. Another great reason to crow is an of Claudio Luti, President and Owner of Kartell (as well as President of the Salone del Mobile.Milano), whose buffet dinners bring a highly eclectic range of people together, such as Philippe Starck and Mika for example, different worlds that would normally only collide in an airport lounge.” To find out more, especially about the relationship between the queen of the city and design, we had an exhilarating chat with the author herself.
Which would a Milanese woman choose – iconic furniture by an established designer or an original, hand-made or limited edition piece by a budding young designer?
Both objects. It’s mix&match that truly excites her. The Milanese woman is a really gifted talent scout and patron, so when she comes across a new designer or a new artist, she immediately gets enthusiastic and tips off her friends, which, all things considered, is worth much more than any publicity campaign. So she will carefully choose a piece by a talented budding designer because having something no-one else has is something to show off about. Then there are also historic and iconic pieces that no home can possibly be without: Gae Aulenti’s Pipistrello, Castiglioni’s Arco, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona or the Lounge Chair by Charles and Ray Eames.
Has the Milanese woman been upset (at least in part) by the lack of news on the start of the Salone this year?
You can say that again! Given that I’m a journalist, the question I’ve been asked most often this year has been: do you know something we don’t about the Salone? Will it happen? Is there anything you can tell us? So many of my friends who work in the sector were really worried and upset about it not taking place. It certainly didn’t pass unnoticed. It has impacted Milan on a business level, a social level and on an emotional level. We’ve really missed it.
Which three designers does the Milanese woman really not want to (cannot) miss during Design Week?
I’d say all the leading designers and their installations: from Fabio Novembre to Ross Lovegrove to Philippe Starck, who’s practically a pop star. I’ve also really noticed a huge enthusiasm for designers from Milan itself, from Bellini to Lissoni and Fornasetti. But also the events in the most high-end showrooms, such as those of Kartell and Boffi or Casa Lago. Then there are the emerging ones at SaloneSatellite and the Fuorisalone, because the Milanese woman is permanently programmed to root out something new.
Your relationship with design
I have to say that it’s a relationship that’s blossomed here in Milan. In fact, this city has managed to stoke a passion that I hadn’t yet really acknowledged. You couldn’t describe my home now as “classic,” it’s certainly more contemporary and design-orientated. Just think that, with my earliest savings as a journalist, I bought the bookcase designed by Giulio Cappellini and not a dream handbag or a long-pined-for trip. Over time, I’ve really learnt how to invest in design with pieces by Kartell, Driade, Gervasoni, Flou, Flos designed by Laviani, Novembre, Paola Navone, Magistretti or Castiglioni. All pieces that I really love. Now I like adding to them, mixing them up and trying to scout out truly niche objects.
What’s your favourite piece and what do you lust after?
The Nathalie bed by Flou. It’s the piece I love more than any other, I defy anyone to touch it. I had it custom-made because I adore huge beds, with all the bed linen made-to-measure to ensure it would be super comfy. It’s the bed in which I breastfed my son, it has special memories of motherhood. I also love it because it’s so practical and intelligent. There too, there are strong Milanese associations: i.e. a gift for organising every tiny space. Although my house is quite big, there’s never enough space and I’ve always appreciated efficient design solutions. My object of desire right now is the Barcelona chaise longue by Knoll. Stupendous. I like it because it’s an alternative sofa, something to sit on, but it’s also a very beautiful piece of furniture.
What’s your favourite place at the Salone?
To be honest, the Salone del Mobile opening dinner because it allows you to discover wonderful places in the city, there’s such enthusiasm and such passion. I remember the one at La Scala, for example, when we actually dined on the stage. Then I also love the celebrations at the State University, which is a very Milanese tradition, everyone’s there. But I also love the Fuorisalone areas - Brera, Lambrate, Tortona – which are completely transformed and generate thousands of new ideas in their laboratories. Then, obviously, the trade fair itself, which I visit for work purposes too.
Which designer or architect or interior decorator would you let loose on your own home?
I’m in the process of renovating a farmhouse in Umbria and I’d like to bring a touch of personal and Milanese taste to a very authentic space. So I’m starting to have some good chats with Aldo Cibic, who appeals to me a lot as an architect because he always comes up with these rather surprising, jolly, brightly coloured solutions, and with my dear friend Andrea Castrignano, who’s an interior designer. For example, he “created” the colour for my walls at home, a cement grey that I find really exceptional and which makes all the difference.
What does the Salone mean to you?
I mentioned it in my book: obviously a hugely interesting work and social occasion, when we can immerse ourselves in design, we have a chance to meet and interview people, architects and catch up with lots of friends who descend on the unique city of Milan from all over the world. It’s also an occasion for personal enrichment, and I’m constantly learning and discovering new things. It’s a truly stimulating week, and utterly unmissable.