Icon 167 – Milano. In this issue, we preview next month’s Milan Furniture Fair and examine Japan’s forgotten postmodernist era.
Icon 167: Ikea never fails to rile up the design crowd. Every time the company announces a new product or collaboration, the cognoscenti do one of two things: foam at the mouth about how the flat-pack colossus is creating more landfill or take a self-consciously contrarian stance to prove they are in touch with the company’s millions of punters. It is like Brexit all over again. Recently, Ikea has generated column inches in the design press and beyond through its collaborations with high-profile designers, humanitarian projects and sudden interest in sustainability. Further challenging the perception of Ikea is an increasing willingness to work with erstwhile rivals as well.
In Milan this year Ikea is planning its most ambitious move yet, staging its own design festival in an expansive industrial space in Ventura Lambrate. It is something of a gamble. The district is traditionally home to what passes for design’s avant garde. How will they react to such an emphatic statement by a controversial corporate giant? Even more intriguing will be how the big Italian brands react. Studied indifference, perhaps? After all, they are not chasing the same markets. What is undeniable is that much of the design industry is slave to an antiquated business model, which few have the appetite to challenge. The content of the festival as described by Ikea’s design director Marcus Engman, promises to explore some of the most radical ideas concerning the future of furniture making: from open source and automation to crowd-sourcing ideas and multi-purpose furniture.
Without explicitly saying so, and in a spirit of celebration, Ikea is throwing down the gauntlet to Italy’s design establishment. Are we likely to see the challenge met by one of the big Italian brands showing at the fairgrounds? I somehow doubt it. And yet, there is the distinct possibility that Ikea’s bid for centre stage could yet go horribly wrong. Get your popcorn.