A rich and multifaceted programme of events, product launches, installations, exhibitions, and people articulated Milan Design Week 2023 this year. Where does one seek inspiration and embody the generous spirit of creativity at the Mecca of design? Perhaps, answers can be uncovered within the creative philosophies of inspiring designers and the brands that materialise their vision. Flos, one of the leading international manufacturers of top-end designer lights and innovative lighting systems, presented a compendium of their new decorative, architectural, and outdoor lighting collections. All were conceived through inventive design collaborations, in the original exhibition path at the acclaimed lighting biennial Euroluce 2023. In its 31st edition, Euroluce made a coveted comeback, coming alive in its displays of the technical dimension of light alongside the decorative.
The company boasts an extensive catalogue of iconic lamps created by legendary names in the history of design such as Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Tobia Scarpa, Philippe Starck, Piero Lissoni, Marcel Wanders, Jasper Morrison, Patricia Urquiola, Ron Gilad, Formafantasma, and more. At the lighting biennial, Flos presented their stunning new collaborations with globally sought-after product and furniture designers, namely, Erwan Bouroullec (the ‘Emi’ luminaire collection), Ronan Bouroullec (the ‘Céramique’ lamp collection), Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni (the ‘Taccia’ matte white special edition 2023), Konstantin Grcic (the ‘Black Flag’ wall light), Philippe Malouin (the ‘Bilboquet’ table lamp), and Gino Sarfatti (the ‘2097’ matte white chandelier and the ‘226/A’ wall lamp).
Flos created an ‘unexpected’ and original concept for their design exhibition at the now concluded, acclaimed design event in Milan, Italy, assigning the setup of its stand to Calvi Brambilla, the Milanese architect duo who have acted as the design curators for the brand since 2019. “The Flos exhibition design moves away from the idea of the large, open display typical of a trade fair stand, instead embracing a ‘capsule’ concept: a series of small architectural spaces formed by two intersecting volumes, cubic or cylindrical in shape,” the brand relays. The exhibition design developed along a circular route, ‘like a universe made up of many interconnected microcosms,’ offering visitors a prospect to immerse themselves in a comprehensive narrative of each product, an engaging journey through iconic pieces, avant-garde designs, and innovative technologies.
“Every Flos product is a world in itself, a unique creation that reflects the vision of the designer who created it. The Flos presentation at Euroluce 2023 reflect(ed) this attitude: the stand (was) made up of six capsules, each dedicated to a new product. Each capsule (was) a small architecture in its own right, composed of two intersecting cubic or cylindrical forms,” Fabio Calvi and Paolo Brambilla explain.
The first space of each capsule explored an ‘abstract concept,’ insight, and creative sparks from which the idea for the lamp designs found genesis. Here, monitors displayed videos, abstractly expressing the essence of each lighting design. The second part of each capsule hosted the sculptural designs, where visitors could examine the light effects of each lamp in detail and comprehend their myriad functions.
The centre of the Flos’ stark white, gently minimal stand at Milan Design Week 2023 opened up to a ‘reserved but informal space pervaded by a delicate green theme.’ The green design curated by Studio Lilo from Berlin, Germany, essayed an integral part of the exhibition and gave it a unique character. “Collaborating with Studio Lilo allowed us to work on the interconnecting space between the architectural capsules, creating an ephemeral installation based on the use of moss as a primordial carpet,” explained Barbara Corti, Chief Marketing Officer at Flos.
The Flos stand took over approximately 800 sqm of the Euroluce 2023 exhibition space, to house eleven new product designs across their ‘Decorative,’ ‘Architectural’ and ‘Outdoor’ divisions, with new collections standing out for their sustainable design features, ranging from the sourcing of recycled and recyclable materials to the elimination of glues and welding for the ease of disassembly, repair, and replacement of parts, up to the design of more minimal, plastic-free packaging.
The new lights displayed elegant evolutions of models and finishes, with the introduction of a sophisticated matte white colourway, the re-edition of a historical model, and even a special edition characterising the new offer of iconic Flos lamps designed by the great masters of the past—‘Taccia’ by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni was presented in a special edition replete with a clean white finish, accentuating its ‘aesthetic purity.’ In tandem with relaunching the ‘2097’ chandelier from Gino Sarfatti’s extraordinary designs for Arteluce (the historic company acquired by Flos in 1974) in a larger size, Flos also brought back the ‘226/A’ wall light model.
A special selection of iconic products from ‘Flos Outdoor’ and two brand new outdoor solutions—‘Ingraze’ and ‘Spine 0’ by Vincent Van Duysen were also installed in the outer areas of the Flos stand and in the central ‘square’.
For the first time, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec individually created two different collections for the Italian company, featuring skilled craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology; Konstantin Grcic introduced an extraordinary sculptural lamp with a rebellious spirit which escaped typological classification; and Canadian-born designer Philippe Malouin, in his debut with Flos, presented an original adjustable table lamp with a playful spirit and exceptional eco-sustainable features.
STIR: About your new collection launched at Euroluce 2023—it is aptly described in press releases and the product displays here, but we wanted to inquire deeper—is there something about the product, from its conceptual stage to its result, that remains in your first idea of it? Often, these outcomes are not the end of the designer’s thought, they continue.
Erwan Bouroullec:. I wanted to design a kind of ‘light canon,’ something so tremendously simple yet powerful, that it can light your full room in one shot. Light is probably one of the key setups that curate an atmosphere, in its acumen to set and control moods and scenes. I was looking for something that can be incredibly, positively efficient to shift and enhance the quality of a space—a ‘light canon.’
In a way, design fleshes culture. I don’t believe that I have a rational process for designing—I don't study sociology or psychology to create something, my intent is to try and inculcate a vocabulary that acts positively, to bring people together. It is super minimal and has a cool presence. It may not look like much, but on the face of it, it is this tiny thing, three sources that form a triangle. That triangle becomes an enigma and becomes its attractive quality. It might also make someone question—' Oh, why is that a triangle?’ Presently, I just want to do as less as possible. I am genuinely getting unhappier with unnecessary stuff.
Ronan Bouroullec: I have designed a lot in the last 30 years, using quite massive and complex systems. Now, I was looking for something that is easy, and simpler. So, this is an object that you can just load and put on a table or a chair. You don’t have to think about it. In its simplicity, it garners attention, with the detail of the ceramics, the glaze, and the sensuality of it. It is a piece you will be happy to acquire. There are some lamps created over the last 50 years or so, that can be recalled by their shape—not their technical aspects or systems, but their beauty and how they brought happiness to its user. This facet is at the heart of my designs.
STIR: Referencing your Emi lamp—the moment three dots come together, there's immediately a shape that emerges, a triangle. So that's the smallest possible combination to create a shape, stay as minimal as possible and cut all the clutter.
Erwan: I'm quite concerned about living in a world where our minds are encountering such difficulty to understand what we are seeing. There is a lack of comprehension and practise when technology is getting crazier by the minute, almost making no sense in final products. So here, I had three dots, and I made a triangle. If a child were to look at it, they would also be able to connect the three dots and make a triangle, just like I did. There remains a tiny bit of enigma there, despite it being a self-explanatory design.
STIR: Having looked at multiple projects of yours over the years, we have come to understand that they accrue a simplicity, encapsulating the rigour that has gone into their creation.
Erwan: Yes, but I might not have a good explanation for it (laughs). I was born in the countryside, and it has left lasting imprints on me, especially farming equipment and elements, from fences to buckets and tractors. Now, I'm a Parisian for the last 25 years, yet I'm still a little bit of a country boy in Paris. What I mean by this is that, because of that upbringing, I have never understood stylistic, decorative furniture—objects that serve just one primary function of being aesthetically pleasing. I honestly can't bear that.
STIR: You also practice a strong consciousness towards materiality and how, creating these objects also relates to other issues, those of socio-political, economic, and environmental concerns. We are (currently) sitting at a fair of this nature, a literal Mecca of design—is there any trend, emerging technology, or design materiality that you anticipate getting more recognition?
Erwan: There is a strong dogma inside the object and furniture design sector, that of being long-lasting. Everybody will tell you to not waste good material and create objects that tend to be solid and last forever, adopt a more conscious, sustainable strategy, to counter our lifestyles within megacities and tiny spaces. I'm partially angry at IKEA because it's been fluctuating the price of things. On the other hand, I also praise them for making their products accessible, but some of their furniture is not long-lasting. We might need to find a solution, like renting furniture. I've heard that in some countries, like in the Netherlands, in some public organisations, when they're acquiring some office chair, they specifically ask in the tender that the office chair be second-hand. The key here is to reuse, transform, to give new life. I hope that little by little, there will be more development in this area. The furniture industry needs to be a little bit more proactive in this regard.
Ronan: My way of working is quite bizarre because I'm like a monk. I never go to see exhibitions, and I do not look at a lot of things. I'm very concentrated on my work. Here is a lamp that could have been designed 30 years ago or in the next 30 years. Of course, we can create objects laden with technology, but we can also make those that have basic use of technology, and still function well. I may not be focusing on objects that can last a long time, but on those that you truly love, and that are in some way, sustainable.
STIR: Working with a big brand like Flos, there might be various commercial constraints and configurations. Is there a sweet spot in the middle, where your creative process finds balance with the more practical aspects of commercialisation, budgets, and client expectations?
Ronan: What I like about design, is the fact that friends of mine, who might not be mega rich, or especially design-oriented, what they would purchase or find in a furniture shop. This perspective is what drives my work. You do something which is good enough for a company, like Flos in this instance, and has the possibility to achieve things at a good price, to be distributed well, and be organised.
Other innovations were displayed in a dedicated room at the stand, along with a compendium of all the elements in the ‘My Circuit’ flexible track system designed by Michael Anastassiades, whose launch was celebrated at the Flos showroom in Corso Monforte, Milan, with a special installation and performance in six acts, as part of the FuoriSalone programme of events—‘A series of six vignettes of domestic life, with curated light installations and live performances, (was) unveiled day-by-day over the course of the design week.’
“Six Acts – My Circuit is more than an installation. It is an artistic representation of the endless possible arrangements that the poetic white rubber track, composed of curves and lines, and its dedicated pendant luminaires in total white finish, can offer. ‘My Circuit’ is a flexible lighting solution that reflects our contemporary lifestyles and the diverse ways in which we experience the domestic landscape… Whereas the track is usually considered a predominantly technical and cold element in architectural lighting systems, with ‘My Circuit,’ it takes on a new, extremely decorative and poetic dimension. Thanks to the ingenious flexibility of the material used, the track can be modelled with delicate signs and curves on the ceiling, similar to friezes or brushstrokes,” Flos elaborates.
The project occupied the entire Flos showroom, where, on a massive stage in the showroom’s centre, a series of stylised furnishings (also designed by Anastassiades) interpreted various types of interiors to form a dynamic modular set, varying daily in tandem with the arrangement of the exhibited luminaires. Created in collaboration with theatre director and set designer Fabio Cherstich, a group of performers (including actors, dancers, and singers) depicted different representations of domestic life, building up to the final epilogue, which closed the design week as an ensemble act. “The common theme throughout the six acts (was) the continuous up and down dialogue and interaction between the circuit and the human presence beneath it,” they add.
“I am very happy with the Flos presence at Euroluce. I believe that the new event format is a sign of rebirth, a new systemic approach that implies shared responsibilities and commitment to the development of design solutions that can support the new lifestyles. I am also very proud of what Flos represents today: an extraordinary blend of authentic design, technological innovation, and an eco-sustainable approach to lighting design. We want to communicate this to the Euroluce public, speaking a transversal language that unites both the decorative and technical worlds,” concluded Roberta Silva, CEO of Flos.
STIR’s coverage of Milan Design Week 2023 showcases the best exhibitions, studios, designers, installations, brands, and special projects to look out for. Explore Euroluce 2023 and all the design districts—5Vie Art and Design, Brera Design District, Fuorisalone, Isola Design District, Tortona District, and Milano Design District—with us.
- Contemporary Design
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- Ronan Bouroullec
- STIR at Milan Design Week 2023
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