CRAFT­ING A LE­GACY

A pi­o­neer in the fur­ni­ture in­dus­try, Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer Cassina has one of the rich­est cat­a­logues in de­sign his­tory, span­ning over 90 years of cre­ativ­ity

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Two heads are bet­ter than one is an adage that Cassina lives by. In just over nine decades, it boasts an en­vi­able ar­chive of iconic de­signs, a re­sult of col­lab­o­ra­tions with de­sign’s great­est minds in­clud­ing Le Cor­bus­ier, Char­lotte Per­riand, Frank Lloyd Wright, Et­tore Sottsass and Vico Mag­istretti to name a few. In­formed by a re­lent­less pur­suit of in­no­va­tion, it’s not one to rest on its lau­rels. The Ital­ian brand has also worked with the world’s top con­tem­po­rary tal­ent such as Jaime Hayón, Kon­stantin Gr­cic, Philippe Starck, and Pa­tri­cia Urquiola, who has been Cassina’s art di­rec­tor since 2015. It’s not sur­pris­ing that thumb­ing the pages of the com­pany’s cat­a­logue is like pe­rus­ing a his­tory book of 20th-cen­tury de­sign.

FAM­ILY TIES

The Cassina story be­gins in 1927, when 18-year-old en­tre­pre­neur Ce­sare Cassina and his brother Um­berto, who come from a fam­ily of car­pen­ters from Meda (a city close to Mi­lan in the Lom­bardy re­gion – famed for its de­sign man­u­fac­tur­ing) founded the brand. Ini­tially a small fam­ily work­shop that pro­cessed wood for ta­bles for the lo­cal mar­ket, Ce­sare in­tro­duced up­hol­stery to the busi­ness. Cassina came of age dur­ing Italy’s post-war Re­nais­sance in the 1950s, launch­ing in­dus­trial de­sign dur­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic boom by shift­ing from hand­crafts­man­ship to se­rial pro­duc­tion. This con­sisted of iden­ti­fy­ing the com­mer­cial po­ten­tial of a prod­uct by study­ing its com­pat­i­bil­ity with spe­cific lifestyles and new ways of liv­ing, an ap­proach that was made pos­si­ble thanks to ex­ten­sive stud­ies on ma­te­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies. Ac­cord­ing to Gian­luca Ar­mento, Cassina’s manag­ing di­rec­tor, “For change to ex­ist, you have to be will­ing to dis­cover the un­cer­tain, and Cassina has al­ways been both brave and in­no­va­tive in its ap­proach.” He adds, “Since the 1950s, the com­pany has been ex­plor­ing new pro­duc­tion tech­niques with in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als and ma­chin­ery, com­bined with crafts­man­ship to best re­spond with prod­ucts that fit the liv­ing re­quire­ments of the time.”

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL HORI­ZONS

In fact, it was Gio Ponti, at the time a spe­cial­ist in the de­vel­op­ment of lux­ury boats, who helped to pro­pel the com­pany for­ward. Af­ter the de­struc­tion and dev­as­ta­tion of World War II, shipown­ers had to re­build their fleets. Con­tacted by Ponti to cre­ate sev­eral pieces, the Cassina broth­ers fur­nished 58 cruise ships in the 1950s and ’60s, in­clud­ing the An­drea Do­ria, Raf­faello and Michelan­gelo. “By fur­nish­ing the great transat­lantic lin­ers with Gio Ponti, the com­pany was ex­port­ing Ital­ian style from a very early stage, be­com­ing an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned busi­ness,” says Ar­mento. In turn, the com­pany grew ac­cus­tomed to limited se­ries, and be­gan to nav­i­gate con­tin­u­ously be­tween ar­ti­sanal and in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion. Ex­celling in man­u­fac­tur­ing up­hol­stered arm­chairs and so­fas, Cassina em­braced the ad­van­tages of in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als in the 1960s. In 1967, the un­con­ven­tional Ciprea lounge chair, de­signed by Afra and To­bia Scarpa, emerged. Com­posed of a sin­gle block of ex­panded polyurethane foam and fea­tur­ing a re­mov­able cover, it turned the pre­con­ceived no­tion of the up­hol­stered arm­chair on its head. An­other in­no­va­tive cre­ation was the Mar­alunga sofa, de­signed in 1973 by Vico Mag­istretti. It in­cor­po­rated a sim­ple bi­cy­cle chain mech­a­nism that folded to cre­ate two dif­fer­ing po­si­tions for the back­rest. To­day, Cassina fur­ni­ture is still made in Meda, with each piece cre­ated to last a life­time. Pro­duc­tion is car­ried out on an in­dus­trial scale, but at the same time or­gan­ised around ar­ti­san work­sta­tions. Wood is worked us­ing mod­ern ma­chin­ery to­gether with the skills of the crafts­men as they over­see each stage of pro­duc­tion, from glu­ing and sand­ing to as­sem­bly.

HO­MAGE TO THE MASTERS

Cassina’s rep­u­ta­tion was fur­ther so­lid­i­fied with the I Maestri col­lec­tion, which pays ho­mage to the masters of de­sign by re-edit­ing

fur­ni­ture mas­ter­pieces – faith­fully re­spect­ing the orig­i­nal mod­els but us­ing new ma­te­ri­als – while work­ing in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the au­thors’ heirs and of­fi­cial foun­da­tions. Ce­sare Cassina de­cided to ac­quire the rights to se­ri­ally re­pro­duce iconic pieces of fur­ni­ture by the great­est 20th-cen­tury ar­chi­tects of mod­ernism and dis­trib­ute them in­ter­na­tion­ally. As early as 1964, Ce­sare had signed an agree­ment for the rights to ex­clu­sively reis­sue four mod­els de­signed by Le Cor­bus­ier, Pierre Jean­neret and Char­lotte Per­riand; to­day, Cassina has the world­wide rights to pro­duce prac­ti­cally all of the fur­ni­ture de­signed by the trio, as well as the li­cence to re­pro­duce fur­ni­ture by lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing Ger­rit Ri­etveld, Frank Lloyd Wright and Franco Al­bini.

A HIS­TORY OF COL­LAB­O­RA­TION

The con­tin­ued ho­mage to the masters has not stopped the suc­cess of other unique cre­ations, re­sult­ing from the syn­ergy be­tween Cassina’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment cen­tre and a va­ri­ety of tal­ented de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects. The com­pany has be­come one of the most well-known sym­bols of high-end de­sign, thanks to the strong per­son­al­ity and artis­tic in­stincts of Ce­sare Cassina. He wasn’t sim­ply a busi­ness­man; he also ac­com­pa­nied the cre­ative process, of­fer­ing young de­sign­ers such as Gae­tano Pesce a salary without ask­ing for any­thing in re­turn, giv­ing them the chance to con­tinue their per­sonal re­search at their own pace. There­after, when Pesce had the idea to cre­ate a vac­uum-packed polyurethane seat, he first pro­posed it to Cassina. Even to­day, the valu­able op­por­tu­ni­ties given to young de­sign­ers for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion within its fac­tory re­mains one of the house’s unique hall­marks. Gen­uine col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween the skilled man­u­fac­turer and de­sign­ers have re­sulted in prod­ucts that have come to rep­re­sent moder­nity in Ital­ian de­sign. In 2005, Cassina be­came part of the Poltrona Frau Group, a lux­ury fur­ni­ture pow­er­house that in­cludes brands such as Cap­pellini. In 2014, Poltrona Frau was ac­quired by Ha­worth, a global leader in the plan­ning and pro­duc­tion of flex­i­ble and sus­tain­able work en­vi­ron­ments.

“FOR CHANGE TO EX­IST, YOU HAVE TO BE WILL­ING TO DIS­COVER THE UN­CER­TAIN, AND CASSINA HAS AL­WAYS BEEN BOTH BRAVE AND IN­NO­VA­TIVE IN ITS AP­PROACH”

CON­TIN­UED IN­NO­VA­TION

At this year’s Mi­lan Fur­ni­ture Fair, Cassina pre­sented pieces by Kon­stantin Gr­cic and the Bouroul­lec broth­ers (in their first col­lab­o­ra­tion with the brand). The sim­plic­ity, flex­i­bil­ity and in­ter­ac­tion of Gr­cic’s Soft Props mod­u­lar seat­ing sys­tem with its iron tubu­lar rail­ing con­trasts with the Bouroul­lecs’ Baleno shelves in black ther­mo­plas­tic rub­ber – echo­ing a whale’s ver­te­brae, they bend un­der the weight of books and be­come wall dec­o­ra­tion when com­bined. These strik­ing works re­veal the di­ver­sity of Cassina’s iden­tity, in which the brand is able to bring to­gether dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties and prove that it isn’t pi­geon­holed into just one style. Rather, ev­ery new col­lec­tion re­flects a con­stant pur­suit for au­then­tic­ity, as each piece blends a strong iden­tity with im­pec­ca­ble func­tion­al­ity and un­ri­valled qual­ity.

FROM TOP Co­tone arm­chairs by French de­sign­ers Ro­nan and Er­wan Bouroul­lec; The Fon­dazione Gian­gia­como Fel­trinelli in Mi­lan served as the venue for Cassina 9.0, the brand’s site-spe­cific in­stal­la­tion; Floe Insel, a mod­u­lar sofa seat sys­tem by Pa­tri­cia Urquiola

OP­PO­SITE The 646 Leg­gera chairs, paired with the Le­beau round ta­ble by Pa­trick Jouin

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