Text: Viveka van de Vliet
Photography: Boudewijn Bollmann
A decade in Milan for Margriet Vollenberg. This year, she celebrates that she set up both her office and Ventura Projects in Milan ten years ago. ‘The Netherlands was changing directions, we were on the map. And not only with Droog Design’.
‘That’s where it started to pop again’, says Margriet Vollenberg, founder of Organization In Design and Ventura Projects, when she looks back at that time. Marcel Wanders, who launched his label MOOOI in 2001 in an old factory on Via Tortona, had a solo show on seventeen hundred square meters in 2007. A year later, Maarten Baas exhibited in a garage, which was very unusual at the time. ‘The Netherlands was blazing a new trail with a kind of ‘artful design’ outside of the gallery circuit. We were on the map, and from then on it wasn’t just Droog Design, but also MOOOI, Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe and the Flower Council Holland, Maarten Baas, Kiki and Joost, and Studio Job.
It was Vollenberg who organised the successful production of Marcel Wanders and Maarten Baas, followed by production and PR for a steadily growing number of Dutch brands and designers, such as Linteloo, Kiki and Joost, Studio Makkink & Bey, and Piet Boon. Then Vollenberg decided that she could also set up something like that in Milan herself. For her, 2008 was, therefore, an important year because she started a new platform: Ventura Projects, which has since grown into a comprehensive, curated platform for international designers, companies and academies.
In 2010 she took over a whole district in Milan’s Lambrate quarter. A place where she wanted to make talent visible. Talent that distinguishes itself through a good education, way of thinking, and approach. She went in search of the new generation, on the look-out for the next Maarten Baas. That is why she thought it was important to work with the academies. ‘There, you see new design trends at an early stage, like at Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, but also at the Rhode Island School of Design in the U.S. and in Mexico at An.huac University’. And ten years ago, she also sought a new location for the Royal College of Art in London with which she initiated a major project in Milan.
Furiosalone was originally a place where Italian companies and manufacturers such as Cappellini and Moroso, and later MOOOI, had their showrooms in Zona Tortona. ‘When we came to Lambrate, the locations became more and more spread out and we saw that the audience was moving along with them. There was Connecting the Dots since 2010, later palaces started to be used commercially, as Masterly opened the doors of Palazzo Turati in 2016, and there was Expo2015, the world fair that has done a lot for the city’, she recalls.
‘Three years ago, we launched something new, because I noticed that companies wanted to start doing bigger things again after the crisis and literally needed more space to show their designs’, says Margriet. This became Ventura Centrale, under the atmospheric raw arches of the Milan Central Station.
Milan Design Week has become a branding fair and remains a test case for labels and companies. It does not differ from ten years ago, she says. ‘If Milan works, it will work everywhere. You conquer the world in Milan’. What also does not really change, is that the design city is still the place to meet others, despite the fact that the role of Instagram and online has become many times larger as a means of putting new work in the spotlight. ‘Deals are still being settled in a Mediterranean manner at Bar Basso’, she knows.
Vollenberg has noticed that the international audience has not only become larger and spread out over the city, but it has also changed. Trend watchers and scouts now visit Milan Design Week. And so do companies that do not initially have to deal with design such as Sony, Yamaha, and Nike; companies that want to be inspired and look for collaborations with designers. More and more crossovers between these companies and designers have arisen, like Scholten & Baijings who collaborated with Mini and companies like Finsa, which recently began working with the Envisions collective at Ventura Projects. Vollenberg would like to see more of this; designers leaving their studios and going in search of collaborations with companies, and companies putting these kinds of fairs on their calendar. After all, they desperately need designers.
That Droog Design has done something important is clear. It originated in a small country where natural born pioneers dare to try things out, to look beyond their own borders, and to promote themselves properly. You can no longer avoid that little country, says Margriet. ‘Large companies look at us. Design is one of the top sectors, an export product. In my opinion, we should realize this even more, and show that we can do business with the world and, what’s more, benefit from it’.
Vollenberg made the considered decision to launch Ventura Projects in Milan internationally, because it is precisely the relationships between these different design concepts, prototypes, and products from all over the world that are interesting. ‘The Netherlands has its own style, it is called Dutch Design. This work has become a brand, I call it “the Dutch approach”. We are not afraid to do something, which is reflected in our ability to think big, in our concepts, and in the use of and studies on new materials’, she says.
‘In Milan we tend to turn the fair into a “Dutch party”, while it is precisely the place to do business internationally and to expand your network’, she says. ‘We sometimes think that we are the only ones, but Germany and France have always been present in Milan, and Asian and South American countries are now on the rise. We need to stay focused on what design is amid this much competition and in the changing world in which we live’.