A VISUAL FEAST
How Swedish-born, London-based fashion label COS staged the most memorable moment of a Milanese design spectacular. By ELIZA O’HARE
COS and designer homewares at Milan design week.
THE ART AND DESIGN collaborations on show at Milan design week each year are proving to be next-level. Salone del Mobile.milano, the six-day showcase that once was design week, is now just one element of the madness that takes over the entire city. It’s the world’s most influential interiors fair; a global design benchmark. It’s where the trends we’ll be going crazy over in two years’ time are revealed to a discerning crowd of 400,000 buyers and media, many of whom can be spotted each evening at Bar Basso, deep in debrief over a negroni sbagliato (direct translation: “negroni mistaken” — when a Basso bartender accidentally added sparkling wine instead of gin, a new classic was born).
There are two main areas of inspiration during design week: Salone and the Fuorisalone, an event that arose spontaneously from the Salone and is concentrated within the charming streets of the Brera Design District. It’s here that the crossover of fashion, interiors, technology, food and art is more exciting than ever.the difference between Milan design week and international fashion weeks is that most exhibitions here are open to the public, making for an inspiring Italian holiday.this is ground zero for how to live your best life.
Esteemed houses Hermès, Bottegaveneta, Louisvuitton, Loewe and Marni are just some of fashion’s hard-hitters turning up for a week of truly exhilarating happenings: exhibitions, collaborations, pop-up restaurants, collection launches and parties (oh, the parties!). Swedish brand COS is a seven-year veteran of Salone, and each year the designers work with innovative artists to create something special. COS has a quiet and considered approach to
design — an aesthetic that is timeless and almost architectural — and it ensures its brand values are shared by its artistic collaborators.to date, the brand has teamed up with New York studio Snarkitecture (2015), Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto (2016) and London-based artists Studio Swine (2017). This year, the COS team decided to work with high-profile Palm Springs-based artist Phillip K. Smith III to create Open Sky, an immersive large-scale installation in the courtyard of Palazzo Isimbardi, a 16th-century villa leading onto lush private gardens.
Walking through the installation is an emotional experience — one that nearly 20,000 visitors lined up around the block to have.the sculpture — a crescent of mirrors angled at a 43-degree upward slant — gives the effect of the sky having been dragged down to earth. Smith explains that the mirrors themselves have a rich history and are “activated by the changing positions of the sun.the sky is activated by the sun and clouds moving or birds flying through, so there’s already this active, lit energy that I am using for the piece. Ultimately, I was interested in reflection.”
Visitor responses to the piece have been strong, with groups lingering in the courtyard and the gardens, Instagramming and reflecting on the grounds — and themselves. But with only 200 people allowed into the villa at any time, the biggest issue has been getting the crowds through.the point is for visitors to connect and take their time, but it’s super-slow going because it’s such an addictive, interactive piece. “there’s this dynamic shift that happens,” Smith explains. “You walk towards that centre and very quickly the architecture peels away and it’s all sky. Walking in, it’s like you’re breathing in your first breath. There’s a sense like you’re ready to take flight. that kind of emotional and physical response is something I did not anticipate, but I am very excited about.”
This concept of more than meets the eye aligns with COS’S creative philosophy. Creative director Karin Gustafsson explains: “when we first did something [at Salone], we didn’t have a store in Milan, but our creative teams had been [to design week] many times for research and felt there was obviously so much more going on than furniture design.we wanted the disciplines to come together; we love the creativity of that. Milan is an amazing city, the design elements are amazing and [Salone] is so international, bringing together lots of different backgrounds and creativity from all over the world.”
Smith explains, “When we started, they gave me a very open brief:‘ we are COS, this is what we do, what we believe in — timelessness, quality, craftsmanship, a distillation of ideas … and here’s Palazzo Isimbardi.’ The thought was to take that square of the sky and pull it down to the ground — let the sky exist on the ground in front of you so you can have a conversation with the sky just like we are having a conservation with each other right now.”
But not everyone can be in Milan to experience the exhibition, so what does the COS customer get out of this? Gustafsson says it’s all about connection. “our customers share our mindset and interest in architecture. they are culturally aware, with a big-city mindset, and like to know what is going on. For us, we hope the customer finds this inspiring.”
“Most exhibitions are open to the public … This is ground zero for how to live your best life.”
The installation Open Sky, a collaboration between Phillip K. Smith III and COS.
From top: Open Sky from above; Bar Basso; the launch for Open Sky at Palazzo Isimbardi; COS creative director Karin Gustafsson with artist Phillip K. Smith III in front of another of his works, in the palazzo’s garden.