With his love of the anti-establishment, this Italian has become one of the design world’s most treasured names
Florence might be synonymous with the Renaissance, but in the 1960s and 70s, the city was a hotbed of experimental style. It was the birthplace of the Radical Design and Anti- Design movements, whose key players included avant- garde collectives Superstudio and Archizoom. These groups wanted to shake up mainstream Italian design, and the emphasis that they believed it placed on ‘ good’ taste at the expense of social needs. The extraordinarily prolific architect and designer Michele De Lucchi – who was born in 1951 in Ferrara, northern Italy – was closely associated with both groups while studying architecture at the University of Florence from 1969 to 1975. ‘ We were influenced by the May 1968 antiestablishment protests in Paris,’ De Lucchi explains.
He and his peers were also influenced by kitsch and Pop art, and aimed to imbue design with humour and human qualities. ‘ We rebelled against objects that felt cold and distant,’ he says.
In 1973, De Lucchi co-founded forward-looking architecture group Cavart and in 1978 joined Studio Alchimia, for which he produced the eccentric ‘Sinvola’ light, incorporating a tartan pin cushion bristling with pins. In the late 1970s, he also created electrical appliances in nursery hues, such as candy pink and baby blue. He achieved greater fame designing pieces for 1980s group Memphis, notably the now highly collectible ‘First’ chair.
One of Memphis’s members, Ernesto Gismondi, the founder of lighting firm Artemide, commissioned De Lucchi to create one of his most iconic designs: the ‘Tolomeo’ desk light, whose head rotates 360 degrees. Launched in 1987, it’s a bestseller to this day.
In 1988, De Lucchi founded his Milan-based, multidisciplinary studio, now called AMDL – it’s a truly global enterprise, which has designed buildings in Italy, Japan, Switzerland and the US. De Lucchi has also created such classic homeware products as the curvaceous ‘Pulcina’ espresso coffee maker for Alessi, the solid beech ‘Radetzky’ chair for Gebrüder Thonet Vienna, the elegant ‘Sangirolamo’ bookcase for Poltrona Frau and the ‘Dehors’ outdoor sofa for Alias. While more restrained than his earlier creations, every one of these pieces still reflects the unique and idiosyncratic approach to design that was engendered by De Lucchi’s formative years in Florence.
De Lucchi and his peers from Superstudio and Archizoom were influenced by kitsch and Pop art, and aimed to imbue design with humour and human qualities