Milan is still "the centre of the design world" – Jasper Morrison
Jasper Morrison

Milan's Salone del Mobile is still "the centre of the furniture design world" says Jasper Morrison

Milan 2015: Jasper Morrison has defended Milan's Salone Del Mobile, saying it is "by far the most important event for the furniture industry" and that his earlier criticisms of the fair were a "mistake" (+ interview).

"I don't think there's anything to match it," Morrison told Dezeen during an interview at the fair. "It's nice to go to Stockholm or be at the London Design Festival but it's not an answer to Milan. I think the criticism is not really warranted, it's by so far the most important event."

Last month, design critic Alice Rawsthorn accused Milan's design week of becoming a celebration of marketing over design, and quoted Morrison saying that the Salone del Mobile should be renamed the Salone del Marketing.

However, the Britsh designer admitted to Dezeen that he was referring to the satellite events that occur around Milan during the same week rather than the fair itself.

"It was a bit of a mistake because I thought Salone covered the whole event when Salone is only [the fair], and the other in town is Fuorisalone," Morrison admitted. "What I was talking about was the dishwashers and the cars and all the hang-on parasites. But again it's a sign of the importance of the event that they're there."

The event's organisers, including Marva Griffin – founder and curator of the Salone Satellite platform for emerging designers – and general manager Marco Sabetta, have also responded to Rawsthorn's comments.

"I was very sad to read Alice's article," Griffin told Dezeen. "I'm sorry but, Milan is something, Italy is the leader. Can you remember a design week 15 or 20 years ago? They have all copied Milan."

"All the world is here, and all the world arrives at the fair first," added Sabetta.

Considered one of the world's leading industrial designers, Morrison continues to have a strong presence at the Salone. At this year's event – which he described as "lively" – he is debuting a furniture collection for Emeco and a light for Flos, as well us updates of his designs for Cappellini and Maruni.

He believes the fair is an ever-more crucial place for furniture companies to be able to escape the growing marketing presence of brands that descend on the city each year, hoping to cash in on the event's magnetism and popularity.

"The fair has become more important," Morrison said. "Five or ten years ago there was a split between the companies in town and the ones at the fair and it was quite balanced, now you're in the fair or you're nowhere."

"One sign of its success is that people come here to launch washing machines and motor cars, and fashion people come, architects like to take part," he said. "It's just huge."

Additional reporting is by Katie Treggiden.

Portrait of Jasper Morrison is by Dan Howarth.

Read an edited version of the transcript from our interview with Morrison below:


Dan Howarth: What products are you launching this year?

Jasper Morrison: The three main things at the fair that I have are the chair here at Emeco, the Flos light and a new book which is coming out, which we're going to show at the Flos showroom.

Dan Howarth: What's the book about?

Jasper Morrison: It's a book on my design work and the last one I did was about nine years ago so its sort of catching up with all the new projects. And then I have some other things like at Cappellini there's a rotating armchair, lounge chair, a kind of new sofa. And for a very small Danish company called Fredericia, a little side table. For Maruni, a Japanese company, a bench that we actually did last year with a back but we did it without a back. So peripheral projects like that.

Dan Howarth: How have you found the fair this year?

Jasper Morrison: I haven't seen much because I've been on duty on the stands where I have products, but it seems very lively.

Dan Howarth: Do you think its still a relevant way of showcasing design? It's come under a lot of criticism over the past few years.

Jasper Morrison: I don't think there's anything to match it. It's nice to go to Stockholm or be at the London Design Festival but it's not an answer to Milan. I think the criticism is not really warranted, it's by so far the most important event.

Dan Howarth: Why do you think it has such gravitas?

Jasper Morrison: Tradition, location, probably just those two things. It's been going a long time. Actually the Salone has been the centre of the furniture design world for a long time, the first time I came here was 1979.

It was a much smaller thing back then but even so I knew in my first year at design school that it all happened here. In those days it was very rare to find a foreign designer in a Milan fair, there was one English designer Rodney Kinsman, so he had I think one table in the fair. And it seemed incredibly glamorous, so even at that time I had my sights set on being part of it, there was nowhere else to look and nowhere else to go.

Dan Howarth: And now it's grown so massive and seems to cover the whole city.

Jasper Morrison: One sign of its success is that people come here to launch washing machines and motor cars, and fashion people come, architects like to take part. It's just huge.

Dan Howarth: The boundaries between the disciplines are overlapping more and more.

Jasper Morrison: Still there's a difference. If you go look at Armani cars or Missoni home or any of the others, there very much still fashion targeted. Although the Kartell stand this year looks like its trying to become a fashion company.

Dan Howarth: Do you think the fashion and furniture collaborations are working?

Jasper Morrison: They probably are but in a different way. I don't think Missoni Home at the moment is going to sell many chairs to McDonalds in a contract plan, it's rather residential.

Funnily enough it's for a market that most of the traditional domestic market companies have almost abandoned because there's so, so little of it now. The main market for furniture companies these days is a contract one, much more than the rest of them.

Dan Howarth: Why has that shift occurred?

Jasper Morrison: Economics. Many people have social change, they prefer to travel than stay at home so if they have to choose between an expensive sofa and a holiday they'll go on holiday.

Dan Howarth: They're paying for experiences rather than objects?

Jasper Morrison: They go on five holidays instead of buying one sofa.

Dan Howarth: It depends where you buy your sofa from.

Jasper Morrison: Yes, true. They buy their sofa from somewhere nasty and have four holidays.

Dan Howarth: What do you mean by nasty?

Jasper Morrison: By nasty I mean something beginning with I. The lower orders, let's say. The company that won't last.

Dan Howarth: You don't think?

Jasper Morrison: Well, not very long.

Dan Howarth: For what reason?

Jasper Morrison: Well you get what you pay for. If you pay €400 for a sofa or whatever they cost, €200 maybe, it's not going to be that well made.

Dan Howarth: Are people going to realise it's better to buy quality furniture than cheap furniture over and over again?

Jasper Morrison: If you can yeah, I mean obviously it's not easy when you don't have a lot of money to buy an expensive one or one that might be more durable.

Dan Howarth: It's a problem for people of my generation because now they spend so much on rent that furniture has to come as a side. It just has to perform it's function for as long as it can.

Jasper Morrison: Well there you are, you explained what happened to the domestic market. That was never the case before, people used to set up home. Of course not everybody looked towards the Italian design companies but enough of them did for there to be a market.

Dan Howarth: Is there going to be a shift back in that direction?

Jasper Morrison: There could be, one day. If the economic climate changes but I don't think it'll be very soon.

Dan Howarth: Do you have any predictions for how the market for designers might change in the future?

Jasper Morrison: The good thing has been that while the domestic market went down, the contract market went up, especially those leisure, holiday-type hotels, restaurants, that kind of thing. Those kind of projects have been booming, so that's why all the traditional domestic companies have redirected what they do.

Dan Howarth: Have you had to change the way you design to accommodate that?

Jasper Morrison: I think in a way I was lucky because I was always in between, I liked the language of products that could work in both contract context and in the home. So I've done quite well out of it, it's been easy to adapt.

Dan Howarth: Do you think that companies like Ikea and big mass-production furniture companies are making it more difficult for designers to work?

Jasper Morrison: I think they're doing well because of what you described earlier. People are paying too much rent, so they've taken the domestic market. The young one at least. They do perform a service in that respect. I think those things have shifted around sort of like that, domestic ones have moved into contract and Ikea moved into the domestic.

Dan Howarth: I read that you suggested the Salone del Mobile should be called the Salone del Marketing, is this still the case?

Jasper Morrison: Actually it was a bit of a mistake because I thought Salone covered the whole event when Salone is only this, and the other in town is Fuori Salone. What I was talking about was the dishwashers and the cars and all the hang on parasites. But again it's a sign of the importance of the event that they're there.

Dan Howarth: If big brands continue to take over events like this, is it going to become a problem for the designers trying to present their products?

Jasper Morrison: No, the fair is the fair. So far luckily they can't get in here, although there's Technogym over there, trendy workout stuff. That's typical Milanese where we'll let you in because we know you.

But apart from that you have to make furniture. So I don't think there's a danger of the fair being swamped by those events. The fair has become more important. Five or 10 years ago there was a split between the companies in town and the ones at the fair and now its quite balanced, you're in the fair or you're nowhere.

Dan Howarth: Earlier this week, Ross Lovegrove told me that students coming out of design schools aren't able to use digital technologies. Is that something you've come across as well?

Jasper Morrison: I'm always quite impressed with the skills actually, although I have so few myself. I'm stuck on illustrator! Well I think they pick it up pretty fast. If anything's missing from my point of view it's perhaps the most difficult thing, which is the technical experience – the know-how of process and material. That's very difficult to acquire.

Dan Howarth: Would students benefit from more experience in that area as part of their education?

Jasper Morrison: Yeah, I think the design schools are too conceptual and they go for the glamorous degree-show look of concept and snazzy ideas, and not enough of the giving the students a real hardcore knowledge.

Even when I left the Royal College of Art I had a feeling that I didn't know enough about what things were made of. You have to kind of get it through experience and doing a project, and if you're lucky enough to be made then you'll start learning from how it's actually done. But schools could easily teach that.

Dan Howarth: Instead they've decided to put focus on ideas?

Jasper Morrison: It's too competitive, probably the schools are wanting to raise their profile through eye-catching projects.

Dan Howarth: Does the media have something to do with that?

Jasper Morrison: Yeah, the media is supporting that strongly.

Dan Howarth: Patricia Urquiola told us that social media, particularly Instagram and other visual platforms, are completely changing the focus that's put on designers and products. What do you think about this?

Jasper Morrison: I think it's very dangerous, there's going to be a whole generation of designers who understand that system better than they should and they miss the point – the ugly point.

Dan Howarth: What might that result in?

Jasper Morrison: The danger is the sort of superficial approach to designing, that the products are more about looks than about works.

Dan Howarth: Brands might look at the responses to images and put those products into production when they might not function best.

Jasper Morrison: That is the risk. And then the damage, the end result will be that people perceive design as something rather superficial and communicative rather than functional. It's more about saying who you are, more fashion-y and less real. Less about a wood chair at home.

Dan Howarth: Which used to be the whole point?

Jasper Morrison: Which used to be the whole point. I think good designers understand that that isn't enough.