Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile is generally considered by insiders to be the definitive place to discover new designs. That is fine if you are an architect, designer or interiors trade professional because this annual April fixture is primarily an industry event. If you are an industry outsider, however, where can you see – and buy – the latest products? The answer could well be a new, four-day event launching in Milan next week.

Milano Design-in-the-City is the brainchild of DesignPartners, the Milan-based organiser of Zona Tortona, the Salone’s “off-piste” design celebration. Taking inspiration from that event and the annual designer days in Paris, it is aimed at shoppers and homeowners, thereby bridging a gap between the industry-focused Salone, with its global launches and yet-to-be-manufactured prototypes, and the arrival of this year’s newly minted designs in showrooms and retail stores. “It’s a very different event from the Salone because it’s open to the public and design fans can buy this year’s new products for the first time,” explains Maurizio Ribotti, chief executive of DesignPartners.

Mapped routes (by foot or public transport) will guide visitors around Milan to more than 60 showrooms, including Armani/Casa, Driade, Flos, Gervasoni, Venini and Zanotta, each focusing on a specific area of interest, such as lighting, fabrics or kitchens and bathrooms. As Luca Fois, the project’s mastermind and DesignPartners’ president, points out: “Milan has the largest number of high-quality stores, showrooms, entertainment and cultural spaces dedicated to design, all within walking distance, of any European city.”

Stores will extend their opening hours and many, including Alias, Cappellini, Cassina, Dedar, Kartell, Luceplan, Molteni & C and Poltrona Frau, are holding open-to-all cocktail parties where visitors can mingle with designers. Nightly cocktails and live music are offered at Stone Italiana, while hot new store Skitsch is hosting an open bar each evening. The city’s hotels are also involved, mounting special installations or hosting design talks.

Given the industry’s highly competitive nature, it is noticeable how strongly participants are pulling together. Each showroom will conceptualise a theme – “the shape of dreams” – with a prize awarded by an independent jury for the best interpretation. “It’s fundamental to the event’s success that all the participants are united by a shared project,” says Kartell’s president, Claudio Luti. “I hope this is the first step towards a happening which may grow in time to be an event just as well-known and important as the Salone.”

A public competition, meanwhile, will invite visitors to describe a product they’d like to see designed. Winners will be awarded showroom-donated products and their ideas will be interpreted by Milanese design school students and presented at next year’s event.

“Design-in-the-city is a wonderful opportunity for the public to get to know the design world better and our aim is to demonstrate that design is open to everybody,” says Dario Rinero, Poltrona Frau Group’s chief executive. “It’s a good occasion for people to gain a better understanding of what design means,” adds Ribotti. “You can’t buy design by the label as people do with fashion. Design is different because you need to understand what goes into a product – the concept, aesthetics, functionality, material and usability – to perceive its true value.”

“All the prototypes on display at the Salone del Mobile in April have been put into production and people can now take a more in-depth look at the products and consider them for their own homes,” says B&B Italia’s Fiorella Villa. “I think people will appreciate seeing them in a quieter and more relaxed environment. Salone is a sort of ‘hit and run’ occasion as people are overwhelmed by the thousands of new items and all the events to attend.”

With many designers on hand, there’s also a chance to engage directly with creative stars. As Giulio Cappellini, art director of Cappellini, puts it: “This is a great opportunity to receive comments about the designs, understand what people want and to see in which direction we should be moving.”

Milano Design-in-the-City runs from Thursday to October 25, www.milano-designinthecity.com

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