The story of the Milan fair in eight instalments

Fiera Milano

Couple of visitors at the Milan Trade Fair in 1963, photo courtesy of the Fiera Milano Foundation Archive

A story mapped out in collaboration with the Fondazione Fiera Milano Archive, with photographs of a changing Italy and the furnishings that have graced our homes over the last 100 years


Fondazione Fiera Milano and its precious archive 
The Archive of Fondazione Fiera Milano preserves the history of the Fiera (founded in 1920) with documents produced from 1920 onwards, building a crosscutting narrative that illustrates the development of the alternating exhibitions throughout almost the entire century. The variety of documents conserved in the archive is astonishing: posters, photographs, catalogues, newspapers, books and films as well as admission tickets, booklets, guides to hotels and restaurants in the city, business cards and signage instructions, which in turn narrate the stories of the companies, the visitors, the exhibitors and the workers – and there were a great many of them, given that during the 1960s the Fiera Campionaria drew in between 4 and 4.5 visitors each year. 


Olivetti Stand 1967

Olivetti stand at the Milan Trade Fair in 1967 (with electric calculator Logos 27-2 based on a mechanical project by Teresio Gassino and design by Ettore Sottsass), courtesy of the Fiera Milano Foundation Historical Archive


Office furniture in the 1960s, starting with the drafting machine 
Workspaces have been a key driver of the inventions that the Italian supply chain has so successfully developed, better than and in advance of others, with a constancy of progression that has no equal – a merit Italians may rightfully claim because it is irrefutable: first the Fiera Campionaria, then Salone del Mobile.Milano bear witness to this journey frame by frame, as we may see in these images from the Fondazione Fiera Milano Archives, published here for the first time. 


Alain Delon 1975

Debut of the Alain Delon furniture line at the Salone del Mobile in 1975


Sofas, armchairs, poufs: upholstered furniture are the protagonists of our living rooms 
The explosion of softness, fluffiness and elasticity in shapes, from the mid-1950s onwards (when polyurethane foam, the undisputed driver of a revolution in this segment, came to market for industrial use) has characterized companies’ and designers’ flagship output. This innovation raised the curtain on a whole new world we will be delving into, including living room conviviality outdoors, defying the weather and a wide range of temperatures. 


Manifattura Ceramica Pozzi Pavilion at Fiera Campionaria di Milano, 1962

Manifattura Ceramica Pozzi Pavilion at Fiera Campionaria di Milano, 1962


How the bathroom changed in the homes (and at the fairs) 
The bathroom is an oasis of peace with a door and a key: a zone for secret experimentation with outfits, make-up, a rehearsal room for karaoke singers… We are generally alone in the bathroom, our enjoyment there dependent on nobody interacting with us as we fix ourselves up, slap on some make-up, perhaps even brainstorm away from the molestations of noisy children, grandchildren, loud stereos and hoovers! In my lifetime, I’ve seen many beguiling inventions and innovations come and go: whirlpool baths in all shapes and sizes, multijet showers, chromotherapy, toilets with improbable jets, music and perfume diffusers to help us relax. 


Furniture Pavilion, Milan Trade Fair, 1963

Furniture Pavilion, Milan Trade Fair, 1963


Modular, freestanding or island kitchens, in the most convivial place in the home 
Over the years, the Fair and the Salone have striven to show visitors this evolution as it happened. Perhaps that’s why we keep going back to see what each new edition brings. So many people have told me they bought their first ever household appliance at the Fiera Campionaria. Imagine walking up and down the aisles at the Fair and seeing the latest products to lighten the burden of household chores all laid out in a row, or for the first time be able to tackle new types of recipes and cooking methods. 


Bedrooms furnished with functional built-in wardrobes in the furniture pavilion at the Milan Trade Fair in 1974

Bedrooms furnished with functional built-in wardrobes in the furniture pavilion at the Milan Trade Fair in 1974


Beds and closets: how lifestyles have changed 
Minimalist, Chippendale, rounded, upholstered, folding, technological and traditional, the Fair catered to all expectations and fantasies, with each market assigned its own space. Not surprisingly, the Fair was a crowded place where it was easy to get lost in the throng while sneaking peeks at imaginative and less imaginative beds… preferable nonetheless to the embarrassment of going out to look for something “weird” in a city centre store!