The story of the Milan fair in eight instalments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Textiles and accessories that have made history
Draperies and transparencies were conveying some aesthetic characteristics while concealing equally important technical features that would make the fabric a favourite for large theatres, cinemas, stores and meeting rooms as curtains, carpets and rugs in a thousand shapes, or in rolls that could be adapted to the space.
A collection of open air memories: outdoor furniture at the fair
An unexpected flourishing of new “setups” on terraces, balconies, and yards; inflatable pools, lounge chairs, freestanding hammocks, barbecues and rolls of artificial grass, all simulating the outdoors on the home front! […] Italy has form when it comes to purveying top garden furniture, whether it be made of wrought iron or harmonic steel, treasures of metalworking or suspensions worthy of nineteenth-century carriages sharing the stage with rush, wicker, rattan, and bamboo, living fibres that held no secrets for designers of the calibre of Vico Magistretti and the Italian companies still making them today.