In recent years, the Salone del Mobile's scope has gone far beyond furniture. In particular, the Milanese buzz and global media presence has been duly noted by the world's major car makers, all of whom are busy pushing design as a central spoke of their brand identity. Where better to showcase their design savvy to the world's media than the halls and exhibition spaces of Milan, where car-influenced design - and increasingly, bespoke commissions from emerging designers - can rub shoulders with the big names in manufacturing and branding? We caught up with Lexus, one of the major players in this year's mini Milanese 'Motor Show', to determine what it hopes to get out of its Salone sojourn, and scoured the city to present a round-up of the best automative exhibits on display.
Japanese luxury carmaker Lexus is a very proactive company. When it decides it wants to do something, it corrals its hefty resources - thanks to parent company Toyota - and simply gets on with it. That was the philosophy behind the brand's birth, back in 1989, when the powers that be at Toyota decided to take on the world's luxury car makers. Now Lexus is a market leader, creator of plush, technology heavy saloons and SUVs, with the occasional random world-beating supercar - the LFA - thrown in to keep things interesting.
In recent years, the company has turned its eye to design. Not just any old car design, mind you, but the nebulous and ill-defined world of emotional design. To this end, Lexus has managed to harness some of the world's leading designers to create a series of installations, using Salone as a platform from which to trumpet its creativity to the world's press.
2012 saw the inaugural Lexus Design Award, the start of a new direction for the brand. Rather than simply seek out and endorse emerging designers, Lexus is seeking to mentor and guide them, helping steer concepts to fruition and in the process add a sprinkling of contemporary vision to the marque's global image. Salone was a natural fit, when it came to presenting the fruits of the competition - the eyes of the world's design media were on hand to ratify the company's choices.
The calibre of talent on display was not in doubt. With a jury helmed by Toyo Ito, fresh from receiving the 2013 Pritzker Prize, and jurors including Aric Chen, Jaime Hayon and Paola Antontelli, the company oversaw a design competition inspired by the concept of 'motion'. Two of the shortlisted entrants - there were over 1,000 - were mentored by Sam Hecht and Junya Ishigami. Hecht is optimistic about the car maker's new found role as patron. 'They're facilitating all this, commissioning things that would once be done by museums and benefactors. No one else is doing it,' he says, 'perhaps it's not as adventurous as it could be, but it's the first year. Hopefully they'll soon have the scale and ambition of what Toyo Ito is doing.'
Hecht is adamant that young design talents needs this kind of platform, a way of converting image-driven design consumption into physical objects that can actually be used.