De­sign and the Ital­ian dream

Does it still make sense to talk about Ital­ian style in our glob­al­ized world? As Mi­lan gets ready to re­sume its role as the planet’s cap­i­tal of de­sign, dur­ing its an­nual April ex­trav­a­ganza, sev­eral of the world’s most cel­e­brated de­sign­ers of­fer us their t

Italia Luxury - - People | Design - |by Elena Binda

Al­though the days when icons like the Vespa of the ‘Dolce Vita’ man­aged to evoke a by­gone era, the style, re­ferred to as ‘Ital­ian’, still ex­ists. Though it is dif­fi­cult to de­fine, this style is un­mis­tak­able. Ital­ians’ fa­mil­iar­ity with beauty and their ap­ti­tude for de­sign stems from their rich his­tory. This is the only place in the world where walk­ing amongst Ro­man ru­ins and 15th cen­tury fa­cades is con­sid­ered nor­mal. Ar­chi­tec­ture is an ever-present fea­ture in Italy, and this bound­less cre­ativ­ity dates back to Leonardo da Vinci. Not even the eco­nomic cri­sis man­aged to shat­ter this dream. In fact an in­trin­sic part of the na­tional char­ac­ter is the abil­ity to turn mis­for­tune into an op­por­tu­nity, to show creative in­spi­ra­tion in times of need. De­sign, de­scribed in a study con­ducted a few years ago by Sil­vana An­nic­chiarico, the di­rec­tor of the Tri­en­nale De­sign Mu­seum in Mi­lan, is no ex­cep­tion. Ac­cord­ing to her study, cer­tain rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas of Ital­ian de­sign evolved “by trans­form­ing the con­straints, con­stric­tions and lim­i­ta­tions gen­er­ated by the cri­sis into op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Beauty is a part of Ital­ian DNA

“If I hadn’t been born in Mi­lan, in a house de­signed by Piero Por­taluppi, I don’t think I would have be­come a de­signer,” says Alessan­dro Men­dini, a de­signer not known to mince his words. Men­dini was born in 1931, and be­gan mak­ing a name for him­self in the 70’s due to his in­no­va­tive aes­thetic. Men­dini was named a ‘Che­va­lier des Arts et des Let­tres’ in France, and has re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards in­clud­ing a Golden Com­pass in

1979 and the 2014 Euro­pean Prize for Ar­chi­tec­ture. His other achieve­ments in­clude the de­sign of his Proust arm­chair, in ad­di­tion to sev­eral other mem­o­rable ob­jects for Alessi, Venini, Cartier, Swatch and Swarovski. Renowned 80 year-old ar­chi­tect Renzo Piano – a Pritzker Prize win­ner in 1998, the first Ital­ian se­lected by TIME as one of the 100 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in the world and the cre­ator of Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou in Paris, feels that he owes a lot to his home­town of Genoa, a bustling port city noted for its ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­chi­tec­ture and glo­ri­ous his­tory. “I left home early, buoyed by that sense of ad­ven­ture that ap­peals to sea­far­ers; a sense of ad­ven­ture that is also a nec­es­sary trait for ar­chi­tects”, says Piano. “I carry the beauty of my city inside me. A beauty that is linked to the light­ness of ev­ery­thing sus­pended above the sea.” Strength, del­i­cacy, light­ness and ra­tio­nal­ity are the hall­mark fea­tures of his work. “What in­spires me about Mi­lan is its for­ward-look­ing ap­proach. In spite of host­ing nu­mer­ous works of art, it has dif­fi­culty in per­ceiv­ing it­self as a city of art, be­cause it isn’t ea­ger to em­brace its past but is usu­ally fo­cused on the fu­ture, to what can­not yet be seen. It is not sur­pris­ing that two of Mi­lan’s most note­wor­thy events are its ‘Salone’ (Fur­ni­ture Fair) and its fash­ion shows, events that at­tract vis­i­tors in search of new trends.” Th­ese are the words of Michele De Luc­chi one of the world’s most sought-af­ter con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers, who chose to live in Mi­lan af­ter grow­ing up in Fer­rara and study­ing in Florence, while on the sub­ject of be­ing con­tin­u­ously sur­rounded by beauty. As the cre­ator of sev­eral of the most sym­bolic build­ings of the new Mi­lan, and the de­signer of nu­mer­ous cult ob­jects in­clud­ing the Tolomeo lamp for Artemide in 1986, his ca­pac­ity to seize the mo­ment is undis­puted. In the ‘70s, just be­fore turn­ing 30, he founded Mem­phis in col­lab­o­ra­tion with his men­tor Et­tore Sottsass. This is a de­sign group that rev­o­lu­tion­ized the con­cept of de­sign in the ‘80s. Other hall­mark traits of his work in­clude his in­ter­ac­tion with na­ture and his metic­u­lous fo­cus on ar­ti­san­ship.

In search of liv­able en­vi­ron­ments

Cur­rently, the stars of Ital­ian de­sign are fo­cus­ing on top­ics re­lated to ar­ti­sanal cus­tomiza­tion and the use of tech­nol­ogy, both key trends at this year’s ‘Salone’ that aim to im­prove well­be­ing. On the one hand, there’s the theme of sus­tain­abil­ity, a re­spect for nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and the im­por­tance of crafts­man­ship and, on the other, the in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated use of tech­nol­ogy. In­stead of be­ing in con­flict with each other, th­ese two as­pects can be traced back to a sin­gle trend, whose fo­cus is no longer on the iconic ob­ject, but on the re­quire­ments of ev­ery­day liv­ing. This con­cept, first de­scribed as ‘No De­sign’, was not in­tended as a re­jec­tion of de­sign per se, but rather the search for an archetype, the ‘non-de­signed’, the essential. This is now de­fined as ‘an­thro­pode­sign’ or de­sign for mankind. It is sim­i­lar to that fa­mous icon known as the ‘Vitru­vian man’ by Leonardo… This ap­proach, where Ital­ian de­sign­ers are con­cerned, is deeply rooted in the past. Today, it is ex­pressed through an in­ter­est in

re-cre­at­ing de­signs of the golden age, be­tween the ‘60s and the ‘70s, and, at the same time, in­volves mul­ti­ple ap­proaches that can be de­fined as ‘wiki’. No-one is more aware of th­ese found­ing prin­ci­ples than Mat­teo Thun. A three-time win­ner of the Golden Com­pass award, he was in­ducted into the New York In­te­rior Hall of Fame in 2004, and is renowned for his ‘eco-res­i­dences’ and the ob­jects that he de­signed for Artemide, Flos, Philips, Coca-Cola and Mis­soni. Today, the project dear­est to his heart is called the ‘Mat­teo Thun Ate­lier’, a project es­tab­lished to nur­ture Ital­ian ar­ti­san­ship and the art of cus­tomiza­tion, based on tech­nol­ogy. Typ­i­cal ob­jects of Ital­ian de­sign, in­clud­ing chairs, vases or lamps, can be cus­tom­ized thanks to an on­line plat­form. De­sign for every­one is based on in­di­vid­ual taste. The logic of cus­tomiza­tion is also the leit­mo­tif of the events at the ‘Salone’. A visual and sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence called ‘De­Light­FuL’ highlights new gen­er­a­tions and their per­cep­tion of do­mes­tic space: fluid and cross-sec­tional, poised be­tween the pub­lic and pri­vate, be­tween ba­sic needs and new de­sires, to pro­mote cre­ativ­ity. “The Mil­len­ni­als con­sider liv­ing spa­ces as tem­po­rary ar­range­ments, ca­pa­ble of chang­ing rapidly to meet new needs, re­quire­ments and life stages”, ex­plain Si­mone Ciar­moli and Miguel Qued, the cu­ra­tors of the event. “The al­ways-con­nected Mil­len­ni­als are the gen­er­a­tion of ‘me’ and of so­cial shar­ing. The new users of de­sign seek per­son­al­iza­tion and re­ject stan­dard­iza­tion. They care about qual­ity and have a con­cept of lux­ury as­so­ci­ated with ‘ex­pe­ri­ence and au­then­tic­ity’.”

This same con­cept is en­dorsed by ur­ban plan­ner and ar­chi­tect Ste­fano Bo­eri. Named the de­signer of ‘the most beau­ti­ful and in­no­va­tive sky­scraper in the world’ by the Coun­cil on Tall Build­ings and Ur­ban Habi­tat in 2015, Bo­eri re­cently launched a cap­sule col­lec­tion of fur­nish­ings in col­lab­o­ra­tion with An­ni­bale Colombo. As his first project, Bo­eri chose to re­visit a ‘met­ti­tutto’, an item of fur­ni­ture found in Ital­ian homes since the XVII cen­tury. “In or­der to de­sign do­mes­tic fur­ni­ture, you need to fo­cus on the un­re­solved spa­ces of daily liv­ing. Hence the rea­son for an eclec­tic and mo­du­lar con­tainer de­signed to wel­come us on our ar­rival at home”, ex­plains Bo­eri. “Today there is a strong de­mand for au­then­tic­ity and min­i­mal­ism, which ex­plains why we de­cided to con­cen­trate pri­mar­ily on the evo­lu­tion of clas­sic prod­ucts, in­fus­ing them with a new en­ergy.” The re­sult is a nat­u­ral wooden struc­ture fea­tur­ing a se­ries of glass shelves and box-like con­tain­ers de­signed to house smart­phones and Ipads, per­sonal me­men­tos or plants, in a piece of fur­ni­ture that can be cus­tom­ized to suit in­di­vid­ual re­quire­ments.

Beauty that stems from a dream

How­ever, it is im­por­tant to note that the in­de­fin­able and un­mis­tak­able trade­mark of Ital­ian de­sign con­tin­ues to have an enor­mous ap­peal through­out the world. In March, 50-year-old archis­tar Fabio Novem­bre, the most eclec­tic, con­tro­ver­sial and worldly de­signer of his gen­er­a­tion, was hon­oured in Tokyo with an im­por­tant event ti­tled ‘The black box’, while an ex­hi­bi­tion, aptly named ‘Ital­ian Beauty’, has just ended in Mi­lan. Spread out over 1,200 square me­tres at Mi­lan’s Tri­en­nale De­sign Mu­seum, this ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plored the mo­men­tous ca­reer of 82-year-old Mario Bellini, an eight-time win­ner of the Golden Com­pass Award, and the pi­o­neer­ing ed­i­tor of Ital­ian de­sign mag­a­zine Do­mus in the late 1980s. The ex­hi­bi­tion was cu­rated by an en­thu­si­as­tic Deyan Sud­jic, the di­rec­tor of the De­sign Mu­seum in Lon­don, who pointed out that this show falls ex­actly thirty years af­ter the his­tor­i­cal ret­ro­spec­tive ded­i­cated to Bellini at MoMA in New York. No less note­wor­thy is the world of car man­u­fac­tur­ers, an im­por­tant de­sign sec­tor in its own right, where, for the past decade, Italy’s Fer­raris and Maser­atis have con­tin­ued to hold sway. This year, at the Geneva Motor Show, Italde­sign, founded by Gior­getto Gi­u­giaro (an­other le­gendary name in the field) pre­sented a su­per­car in an ul­tra lim­ited edi­tion de­signed to make car en­thu­si­asts dream. “De­spite the pres­ence of so many for­eign de­sign­ers in our com­pa­nies cat­a­logues, there still seems to be a com­mon thread run­ning through all of Alessi’s ob­jects that makes them specif­i­cally Ital­ian, a typ­i­cal ex­pres­sion of our cul­ture.” Thus wrote Al­berto Alessi in a book pub­lished in 2016 that tells the story of a com­pany that be­came one of the 20th cen­tury’s ma­jor de­sign in­dus­tries. “I think this thread con­sists of the cul­tural project that is the ba­sis of our work. The project is largely im­plicit and was cre­ated over six decades, fol­low­ing en­coun­ters with sev­eral of the great masters of Ital­ian de­sign in­clud­ing Alessan­dro Men­dini, Et­tore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Aldo Rossi. Th­ese meet­ings, in­spired by a re­cip­ro­cal cu­rios­ity and, at times, by chance: chance in a man­ner of speak­ing, be­cause dur­ing my ca­reer I have of­ten had the im­pres­sion that sev­eral of th­ese en­coun­ters were writ­ten some­where.” The book is called ‘The Dream Fac­tory. Alessi since 1921’ - it is all so Ital­ian.

MES­SEN­GERS OF BEAUTY From left to right, Michele De Luc­chi with his ‘Bisonti’, Renzo Piano in his stu­dio and Alessan­dro Men­dini sur­rounded by pro­to­types of Alessi Tea & Cof­fee Tow­ers. Be­low, Fabio Novem­bre stroking his ‘Her’ chair.

A QUEST FOR MIN­I­MAL­ISM Ste­fano Bo­eri poses next to a model of his ‘Bosco Ver­ti­cale’, con­sid­ered the “most beau­ti­ful sky­scraper in the world” in 2015. Bo­eri de­scribes it as “a house for trees in­hab­ited by men”. This year, the ar­chi­tect de­signed his first col­lec­tion of fur­nish­ings, in­clud­ing a ‘met­ti­tutto’ for An­ni­bale Colombo.

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