Salone del Mobile, Brilliant Women Working Behind the Scenes: Laura Traldi

by Thea Hawlin

Design Week is upon us! The wisteria is in bloom and Milan is following suit, as secret doors open one by one across the awakening city. To celebrate this year’s famous Salone del Mobile we spoke to some of the brilliant women working behind the scenes. First up is La Repubblica journalist Laura Traldi. When she’s not working for the renowned Italian newspaper she’s still writing away on her own design blog. This year she’s turned curator with a special project at the Cascina Cuccagna ‘a natural oasis’ hidden in the heart of Milan between Fondazione Prada and the Marni showroom.
We caught her for a precious few minutes to find out more about her work and steal some tips on surviving Salone in style.

Tell us a little about what you’re up to this Salone? 

The MDW19 is very special for me because for the first time I am curating an exhibition. It’s called DESIGN COLLISIONS | The Power of Collective Ideas. It’s a collection of projects that illustrate the ways in which design can foster the creation of a collective intelligence to tackle today’s most pressing issues and to mend divisions: between man and nature but also between citizens and institutions, between those who have means and those who don’t, and amongst populations and migrants.

I’ll also be following the week as usual on my blog Design @ Large – which is my joy. So I will be running around as I normally do, and spend the (late) nights writing up what has been exciting and interesting and posting it for my readers. I won’t get much sleep!

How did you originally get into curating and what drew you to design? 

I have a Master’s degree in Museum management from the Ecole du Louvre so I suppose I am familiar with the theory of curating but this is the first time I am actually doing it.

I studied history of fine arts prior to that (medieval art, actually) so I was very far away from the design world until I got a job at Philips Design in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, as Communications Manager. This was in 1996, when the studio (headed by Stefano Marzano) was working on staging visionary projects on the future of technology. Drawing on input from scientists, and working with psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists, the designers were creating scenarios for the future that were not only possible but also preferable. I was working very closely with them, setting up traveling exhibitions about the concepts and writing the catalogues and texts. My love for design was thus born within an industry that had a very particular, conceptual approach. For me design has always been the realization of ideas more than a styling exercise, a discipline that builds bridges: between technology and people, between objects and people, and also amongst people  themselves.

Can you remember your first design week in Milan? What was that experience like? How have you noticed it change over the years?

My first design week was in 1999 when Philips Design showed its concept exhibition The Home of the Near Future at the Salone Satellite. I was living in Holland back then, and I had left Italy in 1992 and had never been at the Fuorisalone. A friend showed me the INTERNI guide and explained to me how to use it. It was like discovering a new city in the city where I had lived for 20 years and that I had left. I came back to Italy in 2002 after my first child was born and have been at each Fuorisalone ever since.

What’s been the most challenging and most rewarding parts of your project so far?

The greatest challenge was to make the exhibition come true with a tiny budget. But it also turned out to be the greatest reward. It’s not easy to find sponsors when you’re working with ideas that are not commercial. I was also invited to do this rather late, it was early February, by Matteo Ragni, a designer I greatly respect. And companies normally have already allocated their budgets by then. The exhibition has come to life thanks to the contributions of a handful of partners and especially through the beliefs of all people involved. So it’s actually great that the power of the message made so many people work, engage, get enthusiastic with no gain in sight. It strengthens the meaning of the exhibition itself. So in this way it was also a great reward.

What are you excited to see this design week?

I’m very curious about Oltre Formae by A&B Living, an installation in Brera showing off the manual knowhow of applying hay on furniture (to obtain very precious, very “design” pieces), and about how Giulio Iacchetti reinterpreted the Danese collection (Ricuciture at the Danese showroom in San Nazaro in Brolo), and the OMA Bauhaus show at the Knoll showroom. The Cassina showroom is also amazing.

At the end of last year some pretty shocking research from the Design Museum revealed that just one in five designers in the UK are women. The statistics must vary in other countries but do you think there remains a gender problem in the design world? If so what can we do to counter it? How do you think we can encourage more women to pursue a career in design?

It’s a tough question. But the issue is not just related to design but to all careers and it’s a giant one. Because women do get to the top and people say: look how many women make it. But if you look just below, there is a desert. And accessibility and equality doesn’t mean that you either get to the top or nothing.

I once wrote a story on festivals and music for a daily newspaper, and I found out that even in music, you have Adele and Beyonce earning huge amounts but all the rest at the top earners are men. In architecture, you had Zaha, Liz Diller, Amanda Levete, in design you have Urquiola. There are women at the very top (Urquiola dominates the whole Design Week in Milan, she will be everywhere), but a handful of powerful women are not enough; we should fight to grant all women access to the middle and top layers, where they normally work hard and earn less than men. I recognize the issue, and I think it will actually get worse, at least in Italy, where we have a backwards-thinking government who is trying to convince women that their place is at home. But I don’t have an answer to solve it.

An interesting remark: I recently spoke to Liz Diller who told me she never felt put behind in architecture because she was a woman but, rather, because she was working as a conceptual architect. I thought that was interesting.

Which designers inspire you (past and/or present)? 

Past: Achille Castiglioni: I love the way he used objects to talk about people and society. Present: Giulio Iacchetti, who is in my opinion, the last of the contemporary Italian maestros: he is down to earth but very philosophical at the same time, obsessed with making design a democratic exercise.

What are your tips for surviving Salone?

Don’t get stressed about seeing it all (there are 1500 events, so you can’t). Get a companion: it’s nice to share ideas. Do one area at the time and keep one day for the events that are not in the districts. If you really want to see a show, avoid the cocktail evening. If you want to have a good time, go to the cocktail evening.

Do you have any secret spots in the city you’d recommend? 

A nice place to eat, where you have a nice 1950s Italian atmosphere, is Riso e Latte, near Piazza Duomo. Also I know I’m involved in the Cascina Cuccagna but it is a beautiful place to spend time during the Fuorisalone: its beautiful garden, terraces, and the ancient walls make it a real oasis from the crowds.


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