When busi­ness makes cul­ture

Domus - - CONTENTS - Teresa Fer­aboli

Since its found­ing, the depart­ment store La Ri­nascente (Gabriele D’An­nun­zio in­vented this name in 1917) has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary cre­ative lab­o­ra­tory whose of­fer­ings in the way of ar­chi­tec­ture, art and de­sign in all its forms (ad­ver­tis­ing, dis­plays, prod­ucts, pack­ag­ing, etcetera) were a bea­con that led moder­nity into the spot­light of ev­ery­day life. In the be­gin­ning, ad­ver­tis­ing was en­trusted to Mar­cello Du­dovich, whose in­put was fun­da­men­tal. Soon, oth­ers be­came part of the con­stel­la­tion of tal­ents work­ing on pop­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion: Luciano Mauzan, Aldo Mazza, Giovanni Manca, Mario Bazzi and Wal­ter Re­sen­tera. Their posters tell the story of the com­pany’s suc­cesses and hard­ships, start­ing with the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the re­built store on Pi­azza del Duomo in Mi­lan af­ter a ter­ri­ble fire had burned it down in 1918. Al­ter­nately, the ads an­nounce the open­ing of new de­part­ments (in­clud­ing an ap­peal­ing pro­mo­tion of autarchic fab­rics in the years be­tween the two wars), the felic­ity of shop­ping, and the hard-work­ing spirit of re­con­struc­tion af­ter World War II. In 1950, the Mi­lan premises of La Ri­nascente were erected as we know them now, built to a de­sign by the ar­chi­tect Fer­di­nando Reg­giori, with the dis­play win­dows and in­te­ri­ors by Carlo Pa­gani. All was branded with the fa­mous lR logo by Max Huber. It was the start of a golden age, one that in­cluded the in­ven­tion of the Com­passo d’Oro award, for which Albe Steiner de­signed the fa­mous golden com­pass as the em­blem of the prize that of­fi­cialised de­sign at the height of the in­dus­trial boom. In 1955, ad­ver­tis­ing be­came its own depart­ment led by Gianni Bor­doli with Am­neris Latis as the art di­rec­tor and Lora Lamm as head of graphic de­sign. In 1960, Italo Lupi, Mario Bellini and Roberto Orefice be­came mem­bers of the devel­op­ment depart­ment. The en­tire im­age of the depart­ment store was over­hauled to re­flect a type of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with com­mer­cial aims but also cul­tural val­ues that were eas­ily trans­mit­ted, like Olivetti and Pirelli were al­ready do­ing. The launch of this or­ganic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween artists, ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers was based on the affin­ity of think­ing (ce­mented by fa­mil­ial and pro­fes­sional ties) be­tween Gio Ponti and the store’s owner, Se­na­tore Bor­letti. The in­ten­tion they both had, “to bring art closer to life”, was sub­stan­ti­ated es­pe­cially in the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the home seen as the cen­tre of the fam­ily unit, the ba­sis of so­ci­ety. The fur­ni­ture line Do­mus Nova, de­signed by Ponti and Emilio Lan­cia for La Ri­nascente and shown at the third Bi­en­nale di Monza in 1927, in­au­gu­rated the store’s at­tempt to ed­u­cate the bour­geois in a taste for a re­fined type of mod­ern liv­ing that (at least in in­ten­tion) was not ex­ces­sively costly. The win­dows be­came the store’s en­tranc­ing eyes open to the pub­lic. Com­pe­ti­tions were or­gan­ised in which cus­tomers could vote for their favourite dis­play. The com­pany’s in-house mag­a­zine Cronache re­ports that in 1948, when the store was lo­cated in tem­po­rary premises, Ponti de­signed a win­dow in which a group of skiers was don­ning win­ter sweaters. From 1950, in to­day’s build­ing, the win­dows by Carlo Pa­gani were aligned un­der the por­tico next to the main en­trance, il­lu­mi­nated by “La Ri­nascente” writ­ten in neon by Max Huber. The win­dows along Via Santa Rade­gonda were ex­pressly ori­ented to­ward the Duomo, the en­trance there dec­o­rated with a mo­saic by Mas­simo Campigli and vis­i­ble from the out­side. The dis­plays were de­signed by the elite of Ital­ian de­sign and graph­ics: Albe Steiner, Gian­carlo Iliprandi, Gian­carlo Ortelli, Roberto Sam­bonet, Sal­va­tore Gre­gori­etti and Bruno Mu­nari – the lat­ter was en­trusted with stan­dar­d­is­ing the win­dows of the Upim depart­ment store. Art and imag­i­na­tion were typ­i­cal fea­tures at La Ri­nascente, where in­spi­ra­tion was even found in sur­re­al­ism and Dadaism with its ob­jets-trou­vés, an art form of­ten prac­ticed by Mu­nari in the ex­po­si­tion of house­wares. But mostly, im­me­di­ate and con­cise so­lu­tions pre­vailed, al­ways co­or­di­nated with posters and cat­a­logues, such as the archetype of a house de­signed for house­hold prod­ucts by Huber in 1953. Spe­cial so­lu­tions were adopted for events and fes­tiv­i­ties, such as the lu­mi­nous fes­toons, dec­o­ra­tions and signs with hol­i­day wishes de­signed by Iliprandi for “Natale Idea 1956”. The syn­er­getic ac­tion was even more ev­i­dent in the “Grandi Man­i­fes­tazioni”, a series of ex­hi­bi­tions of mer­chan­dise held dur­ing the years of the mira­colo eco­nomico to fa­mil­iarise Ital­ians with prod­ucts from dif­fer­ent coun­tries. The dis­plays con­firmed the store’s orig­i­nal ed­u­ca­tional and cul­tural in­tent, and ac­cord­ing to the ar­chi­tect Gian­carlo Ortelli, these events were of the same cal­i­bre as the Tri­en­nale di Milano in the qual­ity of their di­vul­gence. They in­cluded Ja­pan (1956), Eng­land (1957), USA (1958), In­dia (1959) and Mex­ico (1960), each show­ing hand­i­crafts and in­dus­tri­ally pro­duced ob­jects in a set­ting that re­flected typ­i­fi­ca­tions of the re­spec­tive coun­tries. The at­mos­phere of a Ja­panese house, for ex­am­ple, was evoked by white and red lanterns hung un­der the por­tico, white pa­per on the walls, tatami mats on the floors of the dis­play win­dows and crisp geo­met­ric mo­tifs for the in­te­ri­ors. The ob­jec­tive of the dis­play’s cre­ators (Am­neris Latis as art di­rec­tor; Huber for graphic de­sign; and Ortelli for in­te­rior de­sign) was to build a co­her­ent im­age in which the posters, cat­a­logues, brochures, in­vi­ta­tions, wrap­ping pa­per and gift cards were part of one sin­gle mes­sage of ele­gance and ap­par­ent sim­plic­ity.

From top: Do­mus Nova project by Gio Ponti and Emilio Lan­cia, 1927. La Ri­nascente pre­sented Do­mus Nova as a fresh style for the in­te­rior de­sign of the mid­dle-class Ital­ian home. The for­mula was rea­son­ably priced fur­ni­ture with sim­ple and mod­ern forms...

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