Design Voices | Maria Porro

Maria Porro was appointed as president of Salone del Mobile in 2020. She is also head of marketing and communications at her family’s historic Italian furniture brand, Porro.

You are the president of Salone del Mobile and you are also the marketing and communications director of your heritage family design brand Porro. How do you juggle both hats as an event organiser and brand leader?

I try my best, as I always have in everything I’ve started or have been involved in. I like challenges!

I can do both because I have a good network helping me at Salone del Mobile, Milano or Porro. Luckily, in the family as well. I strongly believe in teamwork, which is essential. We share the obsession for quality both at Salone and in my company.

You can recall attending Salone as a child with your grandfather at its former location. What’s your earliest memory of the fair?

It was always a great moment to go to Salone. I remember that my mother dressed me in a nice dress – it was like going to a party. I remember the thousands of people from all around the world. I also remember the escalator – there was a long one, and for me, it was amazing going on it – in addition to the amazing settings by all the companies.

Your formal training is in set design, having studied at the Brera Academy in Milan. How does your stage design and event management background influence how your approach to Salone del Mobile?

All your previous work experiences are like small bricks stacked one on the other to build something new. For example, creating a theatrical set or organising an Olympics opening ceremony is engaging because it brings many people together with different roles and skills who work in unison towards a single goal. I find this approach in my company at Porro and also at Salone del Mobile.Milano there is the same situation and feeling: a team working in different departments for one goal: the opening of it.

We’re interested in the evolution of the Salone and how you have questioned and redesigned the trade fair model in 2023. Why did you revise the exhibition format to be a single exhibition level?

After these past unusual years, we started asking ourselves what the new role of the Salone should be and where to begin redesigning its evolution. We worked a lot on shaping the suggestions and visions that have emerged over the last few years. We listened to the needs of exhibitors and visitors, holding more than 2,300 interviews and themed work groups. Consequently, we created an exhibition on one level to facilitate the flow and improve the visitor experience by optimising the time.

You also conceived a new layout for the biennial lighting Euroluce, moving from a stand-centric design to something more organic. How did this new vision for Euroluce foster interaction, connection and creativity?

Euroluce, the biennial devoted to the lighting world, returned after four years with a lighting world markedly changed over the past few years.

Therefore, to keep up with these changes, we needed to give it a new ‘life’ by rethinking the exhibition layout considering the needs of companies and visitors. The inspiration stemmed from the spatiality of Italian urban centres resulting in an irregular, fluid and free circular route. Therefore, rather than being stand-centric, the layout was human-centric.

We entrusted the Milanese architecture and engineering studio Lombardini22 to create the increasingly engaging and contemporary business platform. The result ensured better connections between the four pavilions. It simplified the visitor path, making it more fluid and easy to navigate while increasing exhibitor visibility, guaranteeing enough space for everyone.

In addition, we integrated the spaces for companies with interdisciplinary cultural content connected with the relationship between light, architecture, art and science.

What was the role of ‘interdisciplinary and experiential content’ such as art, architecture and science in Euroluce 2023?

The City of Lights was the concept and the common thread running through Euroluce. The power of imagination and concrete vision will characterise this interdisciplinary cultural content curated by Beppe Finessi.

Euroluce was an opportunity to promote multidisciplinary creative activities connected with artificial and natural light. There were different exhibitions devoted to architecture, interior architecture and displays, installations, painting, sculpture and photography. It was a polycentric project.

Euroluce was a positive hub of emotions and knowledge. The power of many different visions and the dialogue between even very contrasting voices added value generated by comparison to create an even more interesting ‘environment’ for visitors and exhibitors.

The posters for Salone del Mobile.Milano 2023 communication campaign, featuring the ‘new design alphabet’, contrasted with previous years with their sense of colour and playfulness. What was the intention behind this new visual identity?

In 2022, we started introducing a lot of images contrasting with the latest advertising campaigns, with Emilano Ponzi creating six posters to celebrate the six decades of history of Salone del Mobile. We selected a black and white palette plus red to underline the identity of Salone del Mobile. In 2023, we wanted to push the idea further by introducing brightly-coloured, geometric and ultra-pop elements.

This new visual intended to condense the identity, the themes and the protagonists of the event, along with its evolution. As a result, we achieved a distinctive and original visual narrative: synthesizing contemporary and future innovation and continuity.

On sustainability, in 2022 you declared, “We cannot stand still; in fact, we have a duty to move even faster in the direction of design, production and distribution solutions that are as sustainable as possible…” What series of ‘rules and advice’ for curbing the impact of stands were in place for 2023?

As you know, since last June, we have been members of the United Nations Global Compact – the leading business sustainability initiative at the global level – circulating Green Guidelines for planning and building trade fair displays, and now we are in the middle of the process towards ISO 20121 certification for sustainable events management.

Environmental, economic and social responsibilities remained priorities at the 2023 edition of the Salone del Mobile, which endeavoured to organise all the activities and events (both those directly run by the Salone and those run by the companies) in such a way as to make the least possible impact, be geared to the efficient use of resources, cutting waste and environmental impact, and protecting the human rights, health and safety of those taking part in the event and those workers involved in its organisation, and assuring benefits for all the companies taking part and the local community.

We have the duty to give our children a sustainable world.

From your perspective, why is it important to support young designers through SaloneSatellite?

Young designers are the future of our sector. SaloneSatellite has proved to be a valid opportunity for under 35 designers.

SaloneSatellite is twenty-four years old, and still today, after so many results and major recognitions, it continues to be the place where the ideas of many hundreds of young designers find a foothold, where they can meet the critics, the manufacturers and the design market, in the knowledge that they are part of the event that has put their work, made of dreams and visions, experiments and struggles, and so much more, at the very heart of what it does.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for Italian design in 2023?

The big challenge for design is to become sustainable in each aspect, starting from the materials to production, packaging, distribution, selling, dismantling and disposal. A need for sustainability is urgent and one of the pillars of real beauty.

Beyond 2023, what do you see for the future of Salone del Mobile?

I see continuity. Salone is a long story that started 61 years ago and has evolved and transformed according to the needs of the exhibitors, visitors and the public.

We have to work on its main values: quality and innovation. Everybody is allowed to exhibit here, but only if you sell quality. Salone is democratic and meritocratic: it is for everybody, but only if you excel. Another value is that it needs to be seen; you need to be part of it. Salone should continue to be itself: the point of reference for furniture design and an incredible platform to accelerate business and culture. Salone del Mobile is also the design community that rotates around it. Salone is the future itself because it presents what will be in our homes in the next years.’


And finally, your favourite:

Milan bar?

Bar Basso, a historical place famous for its cocktails, and the Camparino, another iconic place looking toward Piazza Duomo.

Milan restaurant?

Ratanà, typical Milanese and Lombard cuisine.

Historic building in Milan?

The Brera Academy, where I studied set design.

Milan showroom or store?

The new Porro store in Via Visconti di Modrone which is still a construction site designed by Piero Lissoni.

This feature originally appeared in the Milan 2023 Special Issue of est magazine. 

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