Maria Porro

November 8, 2021

darc‘s Editor Sarah Cullen sits down with President of Salone del Mobile.Milano Maria Porro to discuss the impact of the global pandemic on the international design event, the Italian design community and how both have responded to its challenges.

The events’ industry has had a turbulent 18-months due to the impact of international lockdowns and restrictions, as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, 2021 saw the beginning of the events world re-opening, and with that came the latest instalment of Salone del Mobile.Milano in the form of Supersalone at Milan Design Week. 

darc sat down with Maria Porro, President of Salone del Mobile, to find out more about how Italy’s design community weathered the pandemic and how the exhibition bounced back to accommodate the “new normal”. 

“Supersalone was a real success, well beyond our expectations,” says Porro. “After 18 months away, together with colleagues, entrepreneurs, architects, designers, manufacturers, the city of Milan and the entire international design community, we created this unprecedented event that we wanted to call “Supersalone”: we set out to organise it, believing that it was essential to get together again, but above all, to rediscover, retouch and try the products that our companies have continued to create in these long months of the pandemic. 

“As you might know, the decision to do the event was taken at the end of June, so we had very little time to organise it. It was a completely new format and we had a lot to do in a strict time. So, we are deeply satisfied by its incredible results. 

“Figures speak for themselves: over 60,000 visitors from 113 countries – of these more than half were trade operators and buyers (47% from outside Italy); nearly 1,800 journalists from all over the world.

“I believe it sent a message of beauty and hope not only to Italy, but to the entire world.”

Unable to compare the previous years of Salone del Mobile.Milano to Supersalone due to its unique circumstances in which it was held, Porro is still delighted with the turnout at this year’s event. 

“We cannot do any comparison with the last edition of Salone del Mobile.Milano because this year was an emergency year due to the general Covid situation. For example, Chinese visitors – who in the past are number one in terms of quantity – could not leave China. “Supersalone” is not comparable to the 2019 edition, but by no means is it inferior: I can say we appreciated even more those who decided to visit despite the difficulties, confirming the strong relationship and affection with our design community,” she explains. 

In order to ensure the event was as safe and secure as possible for its international visitors, Porro and her team worked hard to implement as many Covid-prevention measures to limit the spread of the virus. “Salone del Mobile.Milano had laid down the bases, carefully and respectfully, to ensure that the first great trade fair in person was open, in terms of security, to as many people as possible,” she tells darc. “We had to devote considerable effort and attention to the organisational aspects involved with preventing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and, in particular, to the organisation of the spaces at the fair, the guidelines for correct visitor behaviour (the use of masks and social distancing throughout was mandatory) and to regulate access and flows. Body temperature screening and Green Passes or the EU Digital Covid Certificate was compulsory for all visitors. We also created four rapid testing stations for those who wished to take a rapid antigen test.”

With an increased demand for large events and organisations to be more environmentally aware of their footprints, Supersalone reflected this in its approach to creating a more sustainable show. Porro explains how they achieved this further: “The show reflects the general attention to the environment and embraces the concept of sustainability and the issue of reuse, recycling and circularity. This approach interprets striving for better and more responsible development of the industry. In building the event, we gave importance to hire and reuse, in order to cut material waste as much as possible. All the materials and components of the installation have been achieved using a reduced quantity of chipboard panels made from 100% recycled wood, which will then be channelled back into the production cycle with a view to circularity, saving 553,500kg of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere.”

Shifting to look at Italy’s design market as a whole, darc asked Porro about how the local industries had weathered the last couple of years? 

“These particular years have forced us to rediscover the importance of the domestic space and, for this reason, to reconsider the value of the quality of the places of living, encouraging renovation,” she says.

“The situation resulted in a positive growth in France, the US, Germany, the UK and Switzerland, the top five commercial outlets for us, as well as in the top 25 destination markets, testifying the healthy state of Italian exports.”

She continues: “The pandemic has increased the need for quality design: which does not mean only quality of materials and surfaces but also quality in the organisation of spaces, able to influence the way in which we live in the spaces. 

“The experience of the home is something universal that unites all people in all the countries of the world, but every home is different because it is created by the people who live in it: every home is unique. 

“Design made in Italy always gives a different and personalised quality solutions, making our furnishings enter the most diverse and distant homes, resulting in a harmonious encounter between different cultures and ways of life.” 

When looking at design trends occurring in Italy at the moment, Porro adds that design has been directed back inwards to the home. “During this long pandemic period there has been a lot of attention to the house and a rediscovery of the domestic space. Home has become more and more “home” and less and less “house”. A cosy place to take refuge from the outside, being comfortable and surrounded by beauty with your objects and pieces of furniture. Being forbidden to go out for some long periods, even the smallest balcony or terrace or garden became a sort of “escape room”. The boundary between indoor and outdoor is blending and home is now also a place where you can reconnect with nature. So, outdoor furniture has received a lot of attention.

“It’s essential to support companies in the process of innovation and change towards greater environmental sustainability, but first of all we need to enhance and communicate the strength already inherent in our products, which are the expression of a virtuous manufacturing system and a model that focuses on quality and durability.

“I believe we have realised that we need the essential and the functional. The superfluous is not necessary in difficult times but we probably extend this concept to normal times. The experience of the home has been something universal that united everyone.

“At the same time, our perception of public spaces has dramatically changed, and now we appreciate more and more large, un-crowded spaces, where it is possible to control the flows of people and meet safely thanks to the presence of outdoor areas.”

Looking ahead to the next edition of Salone del Mobile.Milano, Porro is enthusiastic that the 2022 show will continue to bring designers and industry heavyweights together in the heart of Italy to spark new design and creativity. “Supersalone has reiterated once again how Salone del Mobile.Milano, and its relationship with the city of Milan, is at the centre of the design scene with an irreplaceable role in catalysing all the energies of the sector, and attracting visitors, offering new enthusiasm and a creative boost to all our partners.

“All agreed that it had been a positive experience, and for everyone a signal of the restart of an entire industry and of the city of Milan, trade operators and exhibitors are all hard at work on the 2022 edition in the hope that we will be able to meet the whole design community again at Salone,” she says.

“Supersalone was a special event, a one-off piece. Salone del Mobile.Milano 2022 will go back to the original formula and we’ll once again be a fair rather than an exhibition. However, it will certainly keep some “supersalone” important turning points, such as sustainability and the fact that for the first time we had a real digital presence through website, socials, QR codes and streaming. And last but not least, the visitor’s experience at the centre for us.”

The next edition of Salone del Mobile.Milano will take place 5-10 April 2022.