The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING W - FIONA McCARTHY

This past April, in the seven days of Mi­lan De­sign Week, more than 22,000 peo­ple filed through the court­yard of the Palazzo Isim­bardi, tak­ing in its fine 16th- and 18th-cen­tury de­tails: the el­e­gant gran­ite col­umns sup­port­ing rounded arches, the por­tico elab­o­rately dec­o­rated with re­stored fres­coes, and the hints of green from the ro­man­tic “English” gar­den fash­ioned in the early 1800s.

But what the crowds had re­ally come to see was Open Sky, a con­tem­po­rary re­flec­tive stain­less-steel art­work by Cal­i­for­nian ar­chi­tect and artist Phillip K. Smith III, com­mis­sioned by the fash­ion brand COS.

COS, which has grown an enviable cult fol­low­ing since it launched out of Lon­don in 2007, reached Aus­tralia in 2014 and now has stores all over the world in­clud­ing in Mel­bourne, Syd­ney and Perth. For the “high fash­ion at af­ford­able prices” brand, this in­stal­la­tion proved the per­fect means to con­nect with ex­ist­ing and po­ten­tial COS cus­tomers.

“Art, mu­sic and cul­ture have al­ways played a big part as in­spi­ra­tion for the brand,” says Karin Gustafs­son, cre­ative di­rec­tor of COS (Col­lec­tion Of Style). “When we think of our cus­tomer, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily see a par­tic­u­lar per­son, age or type, but more a mind­set. They share our in­ter­est in art and de­sign, they’re re­ally cul­tur­ally aware and very de­mand­ing when it comes to the ser­vice and qual­ity of ev­ery­thing in their lives.”

So rather than big-bud­get cat­walk shows or splashy ad­ver­tis­ing bill­boards, COS in­vested in the arts. For Open Sky, Gustafs­son and team had started talk­ing to Smith a year be­fore. “We’d come across Phillip’s work in 2013 when he cre­ated the Joshua Tree light in­stal­la­tion Lu­cid Stead,” she says. Smith took an aban­doned homestead shack and ap­plied mir­rored strips to re­flect the desert land­scape by day and ra­di­ate a vi­brant colour spec­trum, im­i­tat­ing the hues found in na­ture, by night. “We thought it was in­ter­est­ing the way it in­ter­acted with its sur­round­ings and we knew that for this year in Mi­lan, we wanted to do some­thing out­side.”

A Coachella na­tive, with un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees in ar­chi­tec­ture and fine arts from the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, Smith aims to help cap­ture “the beauty that sur­rounds us be­fore it shifts, trans­forms and dis­ap­pears”, he says in his re­cent book Phillip K. Smith: Five In­stal­la­tions, pro­duced by the La­guna Art Mu­seum. “It’s those pure mo­ments where last­ing mem­ory is cre­ated, a con­nec­tion to an ex­pe­ri­ence that is worth re­mem­ber­ing, worth shar­ing and worth telling the world about.”

“There’s some­thing very mod­ern and clean about his work but at the same time it has an ever-chang­ing feel­ing,” says Gustafs­son. Where many of his works are about “hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the en­ergy of the desert, want­ing peo­ple to look at the land and sky afresh”, for Mi­lan, Smith tells WISH, “the ex­pe­ri­ence was whit­tling down a fo­cused space for cap­tur­ing the two el­e­ments of the man-made palazzo and the sky”.

Open Sky owes much to Smith’s other ac­claimed in­stal­la­tions, in­clud­ing ¼ Mile Arc, com­mis­sioned for the La­guna Art Mu­seum’s an­nual Art & Na­ture fes­ti­val in 2016, with 250 mir­rored pol­ished stain­less-steel re­flec­tors stretch­ing along the town’s Main Beach, “a vis­i­ble marker be­tween the man­made and nat­u­ral worlds, re­flect­ing the chang­ing colours of the ocean, sky and shore­line through the day and night,” he says.

Sim­i­larly, The Cir­cle of Land and Sky, com­mis­sioned for Desert Bi­en­nial’s Desert X ex­hi­bi­tion in Coachella Val­ley last year, a 50m-di­am­e­ter cir­cle of 300 mir­ror­pol­ished stakes an­gled at 10 de­grees, cre­ated the il­lu­sion of the sky be­ing pulled down to the land and the land lift­ing up to the sky. Scale is key to Smith’s work. “The piece needs to be big enough to in­vite the sur­round­ings in, yet in­ti­mate enough to feel like a shel­tered space within that en­vi­ron­ment,” he says.

Just as Smith pushes the ideas of form and ma­te­ri­als – “my medium is light, but it can be re­vealed through many things, like glass, acrylic, con­crete, car­bon fi­bre and steel,” he says – the COS cre­ative team con­stantly chal­lenges the fab­rics they work with. “When we started, we knew we wanted to cre­ate some­thing of high qual­ity and to do this, we had to think of ev­ery sin­gle lit­tle de­tail. Some de­sign­ers work on the com­puter but we work with our hands to re­ally ex­plore the way ma­te­ri­als fall and drape on the dress stand or model straight away. I feel when you work closer to the material, you get a bet­ter qual­ity de­sign in the end,” says Gustafs­son, re­cently voted one of Fast Com­pany mag­a­zine’s most cre­ative peo­ple of 2017.

This was the sev­enth year COS has ex­hib­ited at Mi­lan; pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tions have in­cluded work­ing with Lon­don-based de­sign duo Stu­dio Swine on an in­ter­ac­tive, mul­ti­sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence in the city’s his­toric Cin­ema Arti in 2017, where del­i­cate mist-filled “bub­bles” dropped from a 180cm alu­minium tree, al­lud­ing to the shape of the grand chan­de­liers hang­ing in the Mi­lanese palaz­zos. With New York stu­dio Snarki­tec­ture, they played with hun­dreds of me­tres of translu­cent white fab­ric cut into strips to cre­ate a tun­nel-like in­stal­la­tion in 2015. Other col­lab­o­ra­tors have in­cluded Gary Card, Bon­soir Paris, Nendo and Sou Fujimoto.

Each time, the brand gives the artist or de­signer carte blanche. “We care­fully choose who we work with – in no way are we ar­chi­tects or artists or set de­sign­ers, so we don’t feel it’s right to in­ter­fere. We re­ally want to share with our cus­tomers the peo­ple we be­lieve in, the peo­ple who share our DNA and our val­ues.”

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