When business makes culture
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 plus good functionality. The furniture set was displayed at the 3rd International Exposition of the Decorative Arts in Monza in 1927; a display window promoting a new furniture department at La Rinascente, 1958; a display window for the Settimana della Vespa (‘Vespa week’), 1953