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
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.
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.”
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”
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