Local designer Olivia Lee named "most promising" at prestigious Milan fair

Top: The Athena Collection by Ms Olivia Lee (above) is designed to update furniture for the quirky digital habits of a modern homeowner. Left: Lanzavecchia + Wai designed table mirrors that double up as dividers in silver-plated glass with antique fi
The Athena Collection by Ms Olivia Lee is designed to update furniture for the quirky digital habits of a modern homeowner.PHOTOS: STUDIO PERIPHERY, GALLOTTI&RADICE
Top: The Athena Collection by Ms Olivia Lee (above) is designed to update furniture for the quirky digital habits of a modern homeowner. Left: Lanzavecchia + Wai designed table mirrors that double up as dividers in silver-plated glass with antique fi
Lanzavecchia + Wai designed table mirrors that double up as dividers in silver-plated glass with antique finish for Italian brand Gallotti&Radice.PHOTOS: STUDIO PERIPHERY, GALLOTTI&RADICE
Top: The Athena Collection by Ms Olivia Lee (above) is designed to update furniture for the quirky digital habits of a modern homeowner. Left: Lanzavecchia + Wai designed table mirrors that double up as dividers in silver-plated glass with antique fi
Ms Olivia LeePHOTOS: STUDIO PERIPHERY, GALLOTTI&RADICE

Olivia Lee was named one of eight most promising designers at the renowned Salone del Mobile Milano furniture fair

Singapore designer Olivia Lee was understandably nervous going into SaloneSatellite in Milan, an exhibition platform in Italy known for kick-starting the careers of many young designers.

With hundreds of designs on show in April every year at the emerging design section of the renowned Salone del Mobile Milano furniture fair, it can be hard to get noticed.

But her 10-piece collection, which includes a vanity table and a textured rug, was a darling of the critics.

The Athena Collection, as it is called, was designed to update furniture for the quirky digital habits of a modern homeowner.

Respected online architecture, interior and design magazine Dezeen was so charmed by her work that it named her as one of eight "most promising designers" at SaloneSatellite.

New York-based online design and visual arts magazine Sight Unseen included the collection in its listicle of the Best of the 2017 Milan Furniture Fair.

It's a nerve-racking experience to put  your work out there  to be judged on  an international platform, so it's incredibly validating when people pick  it up.

DESIGNER OLIVIA LEE on showing at the renowned Salone del Mobile Milano furniture fair

Another coup for Ms Lee, a Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design graduate: Wallpaper* magazine photographed a series of Sceptres - small plinths designed to hold items - for an upcoming issue.

For example, there is the Selfie Sceptre, which is a smartphone holder that can be adjusted to the ideal angle for self-portraits, and the Glorifier Sceptre on which the user can display a precious item.

This year, there were 650 designers from all over the world taking part in SaloneSatellite, the section which showcases experimental prototypes of young designers under 35. Those on show were chosen in October last year by a selection committee made up of internationally acclaimed players from the design scene, including Italian architect and critic Beppe Finessi.

Ms Lee, 32, runs her eponymous interdisciplinary studio here and has designed for electronics giant Samsung and is working with whisky distillery Balvenie. She says: "It's a nerve-racking experience to put your work out there to be judged on an international platform, so it's incredibly validating when people pick it up."

The exposure has already paid off. Ms Lee is in talks with a few brands and companies, who saw her prototypes at the show, to produce other work.

Other Singapore designers and companies also participated in Milan Design Week. Salone del Mobile Milano is the design week's anchor event, with satellite events taking place around the Italian city.

Studio Juju and Lanzavecchia + Wai, regulars at Milan Design Week, took part in Salone Satellite - 20 Years of New Creativity, an anniversary exhibition that featured works by SaloneSatellite alumni that have gone into production.

It was held at the Fabbrica del Vapore, a former tram factory turned art complex.

Studio Juju showed its 2012 table series called Rabbit & the Tortoise collection for Italian furniture maker Living Divani.

Inspired by the ancient Egyptian and Etruscan flabellums or fans, Lanzavecchia + Wai designed table mirrors that double up as dividers in silver-plated glass with antique finish for Italian brand Gallotti&Radice.

This was just one of five projects Lanzavecchia+Wai showed at Milan Design Week. The studio is made up of Singaporean Hunn Wai and Italian Francesca Lanzavecchia.

Mr Wai, 36, says: "Legends have been born out of SaloneSatellite, so to be part of it is pretty awesome. It's recognition that the platform for young, emerging talents works."

Another familiar name in Milan was celebrated local designer Nathan Yong, who put out the Spindle Bedroom Collection for Belgian furniture label Ethnicraft. The line-up includes a bed, nightstand and bench.

The bed ($2,695 for the queen size and $2,795 for the king size) and the nightstand ($595) are slated to be in Ethnicraft Online Singapore's store by the end of next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore designer a hit in Milan'. Print Edition | Subscribe