Milan driven by design. Design driven by Milan.

 Fuorisalone in Milan 2015. —Photo: Natalia Molchanova  /Flickr

Fuorisalone in Milan 2015. —Photo:Natalia Molchanova /Flickr

Few events capture the so-called “Milanese mood” better than Fuorisalone (literally “outside-the-fair"). The annual appointment is a prime example of the Italian city’s knack for creating charming spaces for making social appointments outside of purely business events. Fuorisalone takes place every April in parallel  to the official Salone del Mobile Week, the international interior design fair for global operators of furnishing that takes place in the Rho Fiera pavilions.

Fuorisalone was born as a bottom-up initiative during the 1980s, arranged by and for several organizations, enterprises and young designers within the interior furnishing sector without a slot in the official event and space. The creators started clustering their exhibitions in Milan’s Zona Tortona, an area rich (at that time) of large and/or abandoned industrial sites, artist studios and craft spaces. Over time, the event has become a showcase for creative design and architecture studios, attracting thousands of visitors from all around the world, with international sponsors and companies.

Nowadays, it no longer takes place in a single location, but is spread in several districts of the city (i.e. zona Tortona, city center, Brera, Lambrate Ventura and more recently, Isola). The distinctive feature of the experience is that each place takes on a specific character depending on the organization, the exhibitors, and the nature of the design products exposed.

In some cases, organizers and exhibitors of the Fuorisalone contact a private agency that uses a web platform to enable the matching between exhibitors’ needs and available spaces. This agency provides two formats to search for an exhibit location: The first is for free and connects directly the exhibitor and the owner of the place, the second provides for payment of a fee if the customer needs the support of the agency operator.

In the Ventura-Lambrate district, the organization has established in its own particular way of operating. There, in 2010 the Organisation in Design group created a new exhibition district (Ventura projects)*, starting from a careful selection of the exhibitors: Every year they make an international call for designers, design studios, design academies, design collectives, cultural institutions, brands and labels. The curators of Ventura-Lambrate district closely review the applications and then submit to the selected projects one or more personalised location proposal.

This is how Organization in Design describes the approach:“The dynamic, curated format balances renowned designers with emerging talents, and independent studios with established brands, academies, galleries or institutions. Conceptual experiments are juxtaposed with professional presentations. In line with the widening scope of design, our open approach gives participants flexibility to present their work in a way that best suits their practice.”

Among the other types of exhibition are the city centre area and zona Tortona, characterized by events located within the showrooms; the Ventura-Lambrate has a more alternative character, pushing concepts of creativity and experimentation (even spatial experimentation), described by Alessandro Deserti (2016) as a “loose ownership”, which drove most of the institutional actors to look upon it as a non-legitimate competitors.

Antonella Bruzzese (2015) looks at the Fuorisalone phenomenon as a process of establishing “creative clusters.” Starting from  the needs of design products exhibition, the city has transformed the initiative into an urban social event that creates a meeting point between business and design communities.

In some way, Fuorisalone can be viewed more as a social rather than a business event: Showrooms used to be (and still are) open after business hours, offering an “aperitivo” and organising parties, addressing the whole community gathering around the creative professions - and to growing number of common citizens and visitors - an opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, network and have fun. At the same time, despite its “social” nature (or maybe precisely for this reason), the growth of Fuorisalone as a business has been constant…” (Deserti, 2016)

The city of Milan is not only the setting of the event but also its driver and facilitator. At the same time, Fuorisalone is an annual occasion of transformation of the city towards permanent changes. Often analyzed by urban planning scientists and researchers, this “special week” has enabled significant urban regeneration processes, with zona Tortona as the pioneer, but many others following.

The city is engaged by design, and design is engaged by the city. In that week this symbiotic mechanism shows itself in all its transformative potential!

*Note: on 2018, Organisation in Design moved to the surroundings of Stazione Centrale and to FuturDome space, in the Loreto area and the direction of Lambrate Design District now is in the hands of Prodes Italia. It aims to “go beyond the confines of design, keeping the neighborhood alive throughout the year with weeks dedicated to fashion, food, art and the green,” in the words of Enzo Carbone, CEO of Prodes Italia.  

A. Deserti, Design and the transformation of cities. In G. Concilio, F. Rizzo, Human Smart Cities, Springer, 2016.

A. Bruzzese, Addensamenti creativi, trasformazioni urbane e fuorisalone. Casi milanesi tra riqualificazione fisica e ricostruzione di immagine, Maggioli Editore, 2015