Bellissimo Milano – 75B on Milan Design Week 2022
23 June 2022
Every year since 2013, the Fund has called on designers to submit a proposal for a presentation during the fair week in Milan. The aim is to underline the excellent quality of the Dutch design sector and to strengthen the international reputation of the creative industries in the Netherlands. This year, 75B was one of the 15 selected agencies that travelled to Milan in early June. What was their experience? Designers Rens Muis and Pieter Vos from 75B talk about their presentation at the Salone del Mobile 2022.
We often hear ‘Bellissimo!’ and ‘Who made thiez?’ (in Italian accent) from visitors to our work 21st Century Heraldry of Italy. Everyone was amazed when it turned out that these tapestries about Milan, Turin, Rome, Naples and Palermo came from the Netherlands. There were constantly groups of people standing in front of our tapestries, because discovering the 120 or so references we have incorporated takes time. We ran out of booklets explaining the characteristic mottoes, symbols, logos and icons after only two days, so we switched to a QR code.
Since our time at the Academy, we have been preoccupied with the meaning and function of symbols in the society around us. In our project, 21st Century Heraldry of Italy, a series of tapestries depicting contemporary coats of arms of five major Italian cities, we do this by representing the character of each city using the symbolism we found there. In this way, we forge one compact image in the tradition of a heraldic coat of arms. In the past, its function was to impress: you showed your exploits. In our city coats of arms, we look for the striking icons of today’s city, coming from all sorts of disciplines, sectors and levels, and ranging from high to low. This creates a picture puzzle with image-related meanings, but also a record of our time. We think that is very important. Imagine looking at these tapestries fifty or a hundred years from now! What would they tell us about the present time?
In 2019, we were guests in Naples at Il Ventre di Napoli, an artist-in-residence location set up by Dutch curator Patricia Pulles. That is where we made our first tapestry for the city of Naples, which was exhibited at the EDIT Napoli fair in 2020. We subsequently thought that a series of tapestries would give more weight, and decided to make tapestries for the five largest Italian cities. This plan took us four years. We made the last tapestry six months ago at the Textiellab in Tilburg: Milano, 2021.
All of this is on our own initiative. We invest an enormous amount of time and money in it. For fear of the answer, we do not calculate how many hours we have put in by now. And then we are only talking about the work itself. Of course, it is not the intention that the tapestries will stay rolled up in our archives, so once they are finished, another challenge starts: making this work public. Posting pictures on social media is one possibility, but physically presenting these huge tapestries in Italy is naturally more complicated. Nevertheless, we felt that these tapestries should be on display there. A tip-off led us to Masterly Milano, in the Palazzo Francesco Turati in the centre of Milan. Masterly is an initiative by Uniquole and is organized in close collaboration with the Dutch Embassy in Rome, the Consulate General in Milan, local Italian partners and the Milan Chamber of Commerce. This seemed interesting, in part because we had never been to Milan Design Week ourselves.
To get the three selected tapestries to Masterly and to stay there for a week to provide explanations (in other words, to network) required another substantial investment: the contribution from the Fund was extremely welcome here. The yield from our presentation is very uncertain and cannot be directly expressed in hard monetary terms. From previous experience at the EDIT fair in Naples, we knew that we could expect attention, from the press and the public, but what we experienced in Milan was nonetheless overwhelming: the tapestries were the most photographed item at the fair. The posters were also in great demand among the many interested people with ordinary-sized wallets.
Exhibiting and selling this series in Italy itself takes time. It involves building a long-term, personal relationship with that one right person, as we learned in a short presentation on dos and don’ts when doing business in Italy from Agnes Agterberg, head of the Economic Department of the Dutch Embassy in Rome. That is what we have started doing with this edition of Milan Design Week. We took home a large pile of business cards, so ‘to be continued’.