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Molo's lighted Hobo bag: A bright message carried around the globe

April 12, 2011 |  7:29 am

Molo-Hobo-lantern-horiz-LR
In the Facebook era, when a furniture designer doesn't even need his own website to reach potential buyers, future collaborators and fans around the globe, why do more than 100,000 people still go through the extraordinary effort and expense every April to be part of the Milan furniture fair?

It's a question I posed to a lot of early arrivals in Italy, and some of the answers are obvious: the need to touch and feel pieces, to evaluate comfort and function, to assess the quality and finish of furniture through eyes not deceived by Photoshop. There's the networking too, of course -- designers connecting with manufacturers, manufacturers courting star talent, store buyers trying to work the best deals face to face.

Molo-Hobo-lantern-detail-LR But I was most taken with the answer of Stephanie Forsythe, director and designer of Molo Design, the Canadian company best known for furniture, room dividers and lighting all made with accordion-like folded paper. She responded not just with words but by pointing to the wall in the Molo exhibit space, where a handbag hung on the wall, its Tyvek-like skin aglow like illuminated rice paper, its front painted with a big, red, rising sun.

The bag, created in a limited edition of 50, is selling for $150, and 100% of all proceeds go to Architecture for Humanity for post-earthquake and -tsunami reconstruction efforts in Japan. At last check, about 15 of the bags had sold.

Forsythe said the inspiration was Milan itself, a desire to create something smart and interesting to share with the world gathering at the furniture fair. With so much happening day and night in places such as the Zona Tortona design district where Molo is part of the Temporary Museum for New Design at Superstudio Più, the lighted bag is a beacon -- a guiding light for pedestrians navigating dark city streets, a warning to the city's speeding taxis and motorcycles and an instantly recognizable symbol of support. One look at the bag and you can infer its meaning.

The illumination comes from a ring of LEDs that very well may outlive the bag itself. It can run on two AA batteries but also comes equipped for plug-in use, perhaps hung on the patio for a party? A standard version of the bag minus the rising sun is $100. Forsythe said she hoped the design resonated in Milan, where the spirit is different from that at Maison & Objet in Paris, 100% Design in London and other shows in which Molo participates.

"The underlying difference is the Italian culture," she said. "They are less inhibited about expressing passion and joy."

And, if a few illuminating handbags go out into the dark Milan night, it will be hard not feel the compassion flowing too.

Look for more reports all week long. You also can follow me on Twitter: @cnakano.

-- Craig Nakano in Milan, Italy

Photos: Craig Nakano / Los Angeles Times

ADDED:

Milan furniture fair 2011 highlights in pictures

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