Isola Shines Light on Talent Across Borders

There is a particular vibrancy around Lampo Milano, where Isola is being hosted. It must be the creativity sparking from the new generation of creators, of ideas being deliberated and propagated, of regeneration, of innovation and the overall high of design being the solution to problems, that rubs off on visitors. To find out what preserves the creative energy at such high octaves, we talked to one of the creators, Gabriele Cavallaro, co-founder and CEO of Isola and Isola Design Festival, an exhibition that runs parallel to Salone Milano during the Milan Design Week and brings talents from around the world to Milan.

Isola’s annual theme for 2024 “The Future is Currently Unavailable” is a statement to provoke mainly but not only the design community into action.

To say Isola brings designers from across regions to a common platform would be an understatement. One exhibition format of Isola’s many existing exhibition formats is Routes to Roots this year, co-curated by Isola and Ithra, a journey through design from the MENA regions that preserves local heritage and the Earth.

Qatari designer Maryam Al Homiad, showcases her work at Isola as part of Routes to Root.

Isola is a physical platform bringing visibility to independent designers and design studios, by connecting them to design professionals, companies, curators, journalists, and potential clients, according to its creators. Its dedicated curatorial team selects projects with a focus on sustainability, innovation, and handcraft.

And its format resembles that of a moving exhibition with various in-person events under the umbrella of Isola Design Festival, which takes place throughout the year, during Milan Design Week, Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven (Netherlands),and Dubai Design Week, hosting dozens of exhibitions, hundreds of exhibitors, and thousands of visitors.

Isola Design Festival has presented an evolution of its successful format this year, according to its creators. Venturing into new locations such as Lampo Milano, WAO PL7, and Galleria Bonelli within the Isola Design District that was never opened during Milan Design Week, Isola has put the focus on these hidden gems bringing them alive as prominent hotspots. Inspiring exhibitions, outstanding installations, lively events, workshops, live demonstrations, and design talks with more than 320 international designers, design studios, creators, and manufacturers hosted in over 60 locations, including three main hubs, describes Isola in brief.

When Design becomes the Focus at Isola.

Highlighting forward-looking proposals that mix innovation, sustainability, and craftsmanship, Isola unites diverse fields into a promising design multiverse, showcasing the potential face of this industry in the years ahead.

“This year, Isola is on a journey to prove that design is more than just sustainability, it’s a powerhouse for tackling real-world issues. Picture it like this, a traveling hub of exciting, curated, and innovative design initiatives. We’re not just building a community, we’re setting the stage for the future of design!” says Gabriele Cavallaro, co-founder and CEO of Isola Design Group tells us in an exclusive interview.

Gabriele Cavallaro, co-founder and CEO of Isola Design Group

SCALE: Did you envisage the growth of ISOLA to encompass so many mini-exhibitions, collaborations, and country representations?

Gabriele: Initially, none of this was expected as the project began as a single annual event during Milan Design Week, aimed at showcasing emerging designers and independent design studios. When the 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic, we decided to launch the digital platform Isola.Design. From that point on, the project quickly grew in scale and became more international, as it gained immense popularity. This was also facilitated by a series of partnerships. We realized that we could replicate the success of the event in other countries, much like what we were already doing in the Netherlands. This expansion led us to reach five different countries (UK, Italy, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, UAE), with hundreds of designers involved. Our next goal is to become the leading platform for independent design worldwide, particularly in the Middle East. That is why we are on the verge of opening an office in Dubai.

SCALE: What is the most significant lesson from all your design journeys through ISOLA?

Gabriele: Even if your reality seems small, it is important not to limit your ambitions. With dedication and hard work, you can accomplish remarkable things. When challenges arise, it’s crucial to persevere and work diligently to overcome them.

SCALE: Tell us about the pivoting moment for you as a designer when you travel the world and then bring it all to Milan through ISOLA.

Gabriele: One of the most fulfilling experiences is creating an international community and connecting with designers from around the globe, particularly from the Middle East, and involving these artists in Milan’s most significant event of the year. For instance, we brought exhibitions like Anatolia from Dubai and Routes to Roots from Saudi Arabia to Milan, showcasing designers from the MENA regions to a global audience. The impact of this effort is evident on our digital platform, where we have over 1,300 designers from nearly 70 countries, with more than 2,100 projects showcased.

SCALE: Do you think that the design world has become very crowded and difficult to navigate?

Gabriele: I agree. There is undoubtedly an excess of design products today, some of which are entirely unnecessary. Moreover, there is still a lack of emphasis on regeneration and circularity in design culture. That is why our curatorial team meticulously selects designers to join our community and participate in our exhibitions. Our aim is to bring clarity and shine a spotlight on those designers who truly deserve recognition and visibility.

SCALE: Your impressions of the Doha Design Biennale and how do you intend to collaborate later with them?

Gabriele: Visiting Doha was one of the best experiences of the last few years because I discovered a very elegant and sophisticated city with an incredible focus on architecture, art and design. The first edition of the Doha Design Biennale went far beyond my expectations and I think the Arab Design Now exhibition curated by Rana Beiruti was really a journey through the talent and artistry of many extraordinary talents from the Middle East and North Africa. It was a great source of inspiration for us, we also had the chance to make new acquaintances and friends and I am glad that some of these designers are already with us in Milan for the Design Week. During the event we got to know better the organisational reality of Doha Design Biennale and Qatar Museums as well as Msheireb and the Design District, we are currently in an open dialogue with them to ensure their presence here in Italy in the coming years, in addition to our presence in Qatar.