Osservatorio Prada: observing from both sides of the camera

Osservatorio is the most recent addition to Fondazione Prada. Opened on December 21, 2016 it is located in the very heart of Milan and is meant to showcase “photography and visual languages” today.

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Curated by Francesco Zanot, the opening exhibition is “Give me yesterday”.

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Fourteen Italian and international artists are the protagonists. Their names? Melanie Bonajo, Kenta Cobayashi, Tomé Duarte, Irene Fenara, Lebohang Kganye, Vendula Knopova, Leigh Ledare, Wen Ling, Ryan McGinley, Izumi Miyazaki, Joanna Piotrowska, Greg Reynolds, Antonio Rovaldi, Maurice van Es.

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The art on display is eye-catching, as well as the sourroundings. Being on top of the historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, from the huge windows we can observe the glass top of the ancient arcade. This unusual point of view makes Osservatorio a real observatory over the city.

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I visited the space at dusk and had a lot of fun with my Fuji X100T. But I was not alone, since lots of photographers and phonographers were all going back and forth from looking at pictures to actually taking pictures.

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And this composition of Italian panoramas by Antonio Rovaldi is probably the most instagrammed work of the entire exhibition.

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Osservatorio is an ideal place for those who really love photography, from both sides of the camera.

New York, 1990

These past Christmas holidays I’ve spent some time scanning old film slides from my archives. The first set dates back to July, 1990 and it’s about my first time there, on a family trip.

I have decided not to retouch too much, so to keep the original mood, as well as the “reddish” touch of time, that makes everything more real.

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Yes. Times Square. Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Mita: technology was already the protagonist. I was there just a few weeks ago and the most impressive billboard was Snapchat Spectacles.

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And Canon, of course.

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Some things are still around.

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But some others have completely disappearded. Like thecamel. And those guys were actually painting the billboard. By hand. With brushes. Actually this is coming back. A few weeks ago I have spotted some guys in Brooklyn making advertising graffiti for Facebook.

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Of course finding the Twin Towers on my slides was hearthbreaking, in particular a few weeks after visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. How magnificent and powerful they were!

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Some touristic attractions, of course. I was 17 at the time and going to New York was a dream come true. Fortunately it was just the first of many others.

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Central Park was still considered to be kind of dangerous at the time. The mayor was David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani and gentrifucation came in 1994. Walking around the Park, even thou in full daylight, felt transgressive and adventourous.

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As real tourists, we didn’t miss the Top of the World Trade Center Observatories on the 107th and 110th floors of the South Tower.

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This is the television antenna on top of World Trade Center South Tower. A portion of this fallen giant is on display at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. That was the tallest thing in New York City and now it’s underground.

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This is a different view, from the oservation deck of the Empire State Building. A few things have changed since then.

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This image is incredibly vintage. We flew TWA and of course on our way back we left from the amazing TWA Flight Center, the terminal designed by Eero Saarinen at JFK Airport. I realize now that the deisgn of the windows created a frame around the plane, making it ready to be photographed. Way before the Instagram age.

Inspiring Innovators: Paolo Ferrarini

Hotel Milu, Florence

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Florence tends to be synonymous with art, but oftentimes we think of ancient palazzos, classic paintings and iconic sculptures. The city, however also has a vibrant contemporary side, driven by fashion, art and food. Hotel Milu, a new boutique property, represents these aspects of the capital of Renaissance by way of modern design and comfort for the traveler of today, all while maintaining Florence’s grandeur.

Hotel Milu officially opened in October and we had the chance to be among the first to spend a couple of nights there. The location is ideal, since via de’ Tornabuoni is an acclaimed shopping street and the hotel is just steps from the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio and literally next door to Palazzo Strozzi (while we were there, a beautiful Ai Weiwei exhibition was on).

The building that hosts the hotel was originally constructed in the 15th century. After being a private property, it has recently been restored by studioDO in collaboration with artist Carmel Ilan and Matteo Baroni. The original structure of the building is intact and the hotel is now beautifully irregular. For this reason each room is different and some are perfectly symmetrical, while others are oddly shaped, like those tiny studios that you can find in old towns, but still cozy and comfortable. If you combine this with the views of the adjacent buildings and rooftops, the authentic local spirit of an ancient town stays intact.

The entire building has been developed around a grand staircase that has been transformed into a contemporary art gallery. Most works are site specific and we spotted the hyperrealistic photos by Carmel Ilan, sculptures by Argentinian artist Flavio Robalo, mixed technique works by Shalom Nachshon, yarn birds by Maya Gelfer, a video installation by Ronen Sharabani.

In the Library Lounge guests can enjoy—together with more art—books, coffee, breakfast and a very nice view. Art pieces are also in each one of the 22 rooms: paintings, drawings, photography, everything is made primarily by emerging artists and each piece is for sale, sometimes for very reasonable prices. The interior decoration respects the idea of uniqueness and originality. Materials range from Italian marble and stone, original wooden ceilings in gentle contrast with architectural glass and contemporary design pieces. Just to mention a few brands, furniture pieces hail from Moroso, Rimadesio, Minotti, Desalto, Mdf Italia, Molteni, Magis, Bonaldo and others. It’s as design forward as it is true to its striking location.

Rates at Hotel Milu start at ‎€89 per night. For bookings and information, call +39 02 4538 6190 or visit Hotel Milu online.

Interview: Mika and Studio Job

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My latest article for Cool Hunting

Pop star Mika‘s visual world is notoriously imaginative and bright, poetic and surreal. Unsurprisingly, his forthcoming TV show, “Stasera CasaMika,” boasts a set that truly embodies this wild, joyful universe. For this, Mika teamed up with Belgian art and design studio Studio Job, to envision and produce the set and props. One day prior to the show’s premiere on Italian TV channel Rai2, we exclusively unveil the entire set, which marks a unique collaboration between music, television and design.

Mika’s stage is completely filled with absurdly big domestic objects—a clock that goes backwards, a fridge covered with white frosting, a colossal winged heart, a tall throne, a huge globe covered with colorful crystals and more. Everything is gigantic and off-scale, but the venue in the south of Milan feels cozy and warm. It’s the perfect setting for the beloved singer/songwriter to host his guests. After watching rehearsals and the recording of one of the four episodes of “Stasera CasaMika” (literally “Tonight Mika’s Home”), we spoke with Mika and Job Smeets (of Studio Job) about making this wild scene a reality.

Both Mika and Smeets are extremely satisfied with the final result, which was quite a long time in the making. “We met maybe four or five years ago,” Smeets says.”Immediately we said, ‘We should do something together once.’ We stayed in touch, things went forward and developed into different kind of projects. Basically, I help Mika with his brand identity and I like it because we’re friends.” Here, the work is a true collaboration. “Mika himself is also super creative and we’re always on the same page. It’s very simple to work together,” Smeets continues. Just a few months ago, the duo began working (with a larger team, of course) on the TV show. “We started talking about it while in London, discussing the whole layout and atmosphere. It was a constant dialogue,” Smeets says.

“You know my favorite thing about the whole show? In terms of the set of the whole show?” Mika asks us. “Apart from the giant book, the cake, the heart, the paradise caravan, the remarkable globe, the car? It’s the clock. And not even the clock as an object. The idea of the clock. Because the clock is backwards and the hands also go backwards, which means that everything is backwards, but everything is still correct. It’s really great. It’s very clever because everything is wrong but actually everything is right.” The giant clock sits behind the rainbow bed, and features a peace sign on one of the hands. “The clock is quite nice,” Smeets agrees. “We’ve already seen clocks that go backwards, but this one also has the dials in the wrong way, so five o’clock is still five o’clock.”

While everything in the room is eye-catching, to say the least, the sparkling globe—hanging in the center of the studio—captivates. “It is made of 500,000 Swarovski crystals—all added manually, crystal by crystal. It’s a huge disco ball,” Smeets says. The globe was actually made for one of Mika’s concerts (in Bercy, Paris in May 2016) and a few other props come from previous shows—his fans will be familiar with the throne, the Paradise caravan and the cake. Indeed, this set seems like a temporary exhibition of sorts. “We should do an exhibition of our props one day,” Smeets adds. “It would be cool, but maybe in a few years, when we really have a lot of them.”

Smeets says, of the design approach, the difference between pop music and culture in various countries/regions was a big deciding factor. “This is European pop. We have a huge history here in Europe so you can dig from a lot of different periods—from our heritage and iconography. American pop is fast foods, supermarkets, bananas, it’s very straight-forward, streamlined. Most of that comes from the 20th and 21st centuries. The thing about European pop is that you can go much deeper,” he says. Pointing at the throne, he continues, “Like that chair, that is based on a Louis XV chair that we have translated into something fun, something happy. The farm symbols [in the big book] are classic German iconography. The cake is the church of Sacré-Cœur, the face of the clock comes from the Big Ben. But obviously there are overlaps. Our fridge is a typical American thing, it’s a Coldspot. And we chose Miami deco colors—also very ’50s and rock’n’roll.”

Some of the objects have been produced in Italy, while others (such as the cake and the chair) were made in Smeets’ atelier in Belgium. They are handcrafted in papier-mâché and it’s beautiful to observe the precision of the craft and details. “These pieces have to be beautiful on their own. They’re not just stage pieces. You don’t want to throw them away, but you will bring them to the next show or to an exhibition,” Smeets explains. “Our goal is to create pieces that have a long life.”

Stasera CasaMika” will air weekly beginning Tuesday 15 November at 9:10PM UTC+1 on Rai2.

Interview: Christian Louboutin

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My latest article for Cool Hunting

Being in Christian Louboutin’s Paris studio is overwhelming. We meet Monsieur Christian Louboutin in his museum-like studio (like a tiny Louvre, which, coincidently, is just a few blocks away) for an exclusive preview of ShoePeaks, his latest (and possibly most imaginative) design. It’s a clutch, but it’s much more than that, since it’s a real sculpture and at the same time something organic and surreal, apparently derived from an elegant genetic manipulation, unusual yet sexy. However, the French-born designer’s enthusiasm for design in general—from architecture to shoes—is evident as our conversation flows from process, inspiration, a love of curves, and what success in the fashion industry means to him.

Sitting at his desk, Louboutin begins by telling us about ShoePeaks’ inception. “It was born quite a long time ago,” he tells us. “I started to work on morphing shoes together because I did an exhibition with David Lynch, where I had to see the fetishism. I see many people have a hard time packing shoes, because they put one shoe in and then they put the other shoe in, and it just doesn’t work. I always say that it’s very easy if you just put one on the top, one on the bottom and you marry the shoes. So it’s actually a natural thing for shoes to melt one to the other.”

Louboutin’s father was a carpenter—probably a reason he developed a passion for the most concrete side of shoemaking, starting from lasts (aka wooden shoe molds). “I’ve always loved the shape of lasts—the concave and convex, the yin and the yang. So going around that, it really made sense to have two shoes combined. The first shapes were made with very high heels from the fetish project, but they were big. This is not even a size 36, it’s completely reduced. It’s really been a study on morphing. When it was bigger it reminded me of a pillow, or small bones from a vertebral column. I also thought that it looked like giant ‘osselets’ [a traditional French game, similar to knucklebones]. So that’s how it was born. Actually it’s funny because it was very unconscious.”

The final result is a very lightweight aluminum clutch in two finishes, black in lacquered metal and gold in polished metal, both enclosed between two iconic red soles. The inside recalls the shoes too, with a soft lambskin leather lining. The removable chain can be worn both over the shoulder and across the body. The process of design and development was complex and slow: “It took almost three years from the beginning, which is fine. I’m working in a place where everything’s pretty useless. I always think, ‘It’s ready when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, it’s not ready.’ It took time, but it’s nice,” he says.

Design today also involves a lot of digital steps, but Louboutin began in a very traditional, hands-on place. “I really made a wooden last and then a mirrored copy of the last. Then I covered the rest of it. It went digital in order to have the shape and correct angles, but it was really born as a real object and shape. Digital is very interesting and very important, definitely very useful for architecture, where you can see plans much better. But I think that in the universe of shapes people forget that digital starts all the same, by someone putting data in a software. I can see that because I draw,” he says.

The world of Louboutin is made of dichotomies: soft pinks and sharp studs, sexy lines and sharp edges (his punk leanings are clearly still part of him). He says that the way to marry all his design desires is through his enduring passion for curves. “The relationship comes from something thing that I always loved, which is architecture. And in architecture I love curves, but also other elements which are a great marriage of opposites. I have a passion for curves, but I still like the universe of forms and shapes in general. A perfect example is obelisks and pyramids, but I favor cones.”

Considering how celebrated and respected he is in the industry, Louboutin’s thoughts on originality are refreshingly candid. “I always laugh when people say, ‘You really did something which is completely different. Do you know if it’s going to work?’ I have no idea, but when it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t work, I will be proud of everything I’ve been doing,” he tells us. And as for his consistent success and appreciation, he says, “Success is another story. Recognition is an added value for sure, but the reality is I don’t understand people who are working for a long time on something which is boring. If it’s successful, there’s been a purpose. But if it’s unsuccessful and you’ve been working on something which has no substance, I would have the feeling that I wasted a lot of time.”

When discussing production the designer shows a mixture of discretion and enthusiasm, it’s as though he’s talking about something very private—almost intimate. “Every month I go to the factories at least one full week. It’s intense, but it’s very, very nice. I sleep in the factory, so [I’m there] from the morning until the evening because my brain stays with my work. I sleep very well, but I don’t really stop the working process. Staying a full week in the factory I can literally do what people are doing in a month. I built an apartment on the roof and my office is just above my apartment, so I end up working in the evening. Correcting the lasts, the shoes, the prototypes happens during the day and in the evening I put things together, do marriages, look at the overall collection, the things where I don’t need technicians.”

A true artist and designer, Louboutin wants to genuinely add value, rather than add to the noise. Quite simply, he wants to make beautiful things for people to enjoy. “I think that this is almost a duty; if you make a new object it should be beautiful because there is so much crap. I’m not talking of fashion, I’m talking in general. It’s important for the environment that if you add things, they should be beautiful. Otherwise, just stay on the side,” he says.

For all the thinking, designing, molding, pondering shapes and sleeping in factories, it’d be easy for one to think Monsieur Louboutin is somewhat obsessed. “Passion, not obsession!” he tells us, “I mean, I have obsession, but I don’t think it’s obsessive. I always hear you should never sleep in your office. Well, I slept for years in my office and I never had a problem with that. If it comes from your passion, you work so much but it’s fine.”

Tra natura e artificio

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Un articolo che ho scritto per #MClikes, in edicola con Marie Claire di ottobre 2016

PROVIAMO A IMMAGINARE un mondo in cui la natura si contrappone al progresso tecnologico, un tempo nel quale il partito della plastica va in direzione opposta rispetto a chi vuole solo materiali natural-eco-bio, una fase che vede da una parte chi vuole un progresso fantascientifico e dall’altra gli amanti del “si stava meglio quando si stava peggio”. Stiamo ovviamente parlando degli anni 60, quando PACO RABANNE sorprendeva con abiti fatti di dischi di acetato e alluminio e Joe Colombo arredava le case con mobili di plastica bianca. Gli stessi anni in cui i figli dei fiori volevano solo fiori di campo e non fiori usciti da uno stampo, pensavano solo a fare l’amore, possibilmente dopo essersi sfilati larghi abiti di cotone, scarpe di canapa e cappelli di paglia. La storia si ripete, ma non torna mai uguale a se stessa. Anche oggi nutriamo fiducia nel futuro tecnologico, ma ne temiamo le conseguenze e calibriamo le nostre scelte con cibi biologici e auto ecologiche. Forse stiamo diventando tutti animisti, come i giapponesi, e stiamo iniziando a percepire che dentro tutte le cose c’è una piccola parte vivente, un’anima che esprime la natura stessa di quello che tocchiamo. E non importa se sia fatto dall’uomo o da Madre Natura, se sia artificiale o naturale: la vita dei materiali è diventata un argomento via via più interessante.

Oggi la materia delle cose diventa ricca di storie da scoprire e da raccontare, a partire dal cibo per arrivare agli oggetti di design e di moda. Non è solo una questione di salute, intolleranze o allergie, ma di conoscenza e rassicurazione. In Italia il mercato del cibo biologico cresce senza sosta, ma possiamo anche trovare facilmente capi in cotone bio, persino da ZARA e H&M. Il legno FSC (quello raccolto senza danneggiare le foreste) è ormai alla base di moltissimi progetti di design di qualità, dai mobili ai pavimenti in parquet. Abbiamo fatto tanti passi avanti dai tempi della canapa grezza e ruvida dei frequentatori dell’isola di Wight: oggi buono e bello vanno a braccetto, e sarà sempre più vero nei materiali del futuro. Il cortocircuito tra cibo bio e moda bio porta nuova consapevolezza, ma crea anche qualche situazione al limite del surreale. Come per esempio quando si va da Stella McCartney e si scopre che le sue scarpe sono «per vegetariani». Vuol dire che ce le possiamo mangiare anche nei venerdì di quaresima? Ovviamente no, ma possiamo stare certi che nessun animale è stato toccato per la loro realizzazione. Stella sarà sicuramente felice se MODERN MEADOW riuscirà nell’intento di mettere in produzione i suoi pellami coltivati in laboratorio. Infatti la start up inglese sta sviluppando molti materiali ecologici partendo da cellule bovine e ovine. La somiglianza con la pelle reale è impressionante e sono arrivati addirittura ad avere un’innovativa pelle trasparente. La soia fermentata è considerata un superfood, ma al MIT DI BOSTON sono riusciti a trasformarla in un alleato per il design. BIOLOGIC è un processo di stampa 3D che consente ai tessuti di diventare vivi. I batteri derivati dalla fermentazione della soia sono sensibili a calore e umidità e possono reagire di conseguenza. Con una speciale stampante, sottili strisce di batteri vengono depositate su lamelle di tessuto, che si possono così aprire quando il nostro corpo è caldo o chiudere quando è freddo. Ed ecco che l’abbigliamento diventa tecnologico e biologico allo stesso tempo, grazie a bio-trigger che funzionano con la rapidità e l’efficacia di un microchip. O di un Bifidus Regularis.

La vita degli oggetti non è fatta solo di materiali, ma anche di idee, di hardware e software. GOOGLE è forse l’azienda più immateriale al mondo, ma sperimenta parecchio con la dimensione fisica. Il progetto “Jacquard”, sviluppato con LEVI’S, è da togliere il fiato: i tessuti più classici sono integrati con fili sensibili e invisibili, che in sostanza trasformano ogni superficie tessile in un touch screen. Le applicazioni sono varie: dal bracciolo del divano che diventa un telecomando al polsino della camicia che toccheremo per aprire la porta di casa. Basta solo immaginare. Vita, morte, ma anche miracoli. Miracoli laici, per carità, quelli della scienza e della tecnologia, che oggi ci indicano abitudini che con tutta probabilità avremo in futuro. Molto spesso è una questione di contesto, di materiali che esistono già, che vengono perfezionati, e messi in un posto che mai ci saremmo aspettati. Quando abbiamo avuto per le mani i primi dispositivi mobili (pc portatili, ma anche databank, scacciapensieri e Tamagotchi vari) ci saremmo immaginati un futuro fatto solo di plastica e un po’ di metallo. Nella sua autobiografia, Steve Jobs racconta che senza lo schermo in vetro l’iPhone non sarebbe mai nato. Pensiamoci: portiamo in tasca un grosso pezzo di vetro. Pericoloso? No, perché non è vetro comune, ma un vetro reinventato e ipertecnologico. Chi immagina gli aggeggi mobili di domani prefigura la scomparsa dei materiali di contorno, a favore di un semplice rettangolone di vetro robustissimo e flessibile, sul quale comparirà per magia tutto il nostro mondo digitale. E dove potremo magari scaricare il file per stampare le nostre scarpe. UNITED NUDE vende sul suo sito non solo scarpe fatte e finite, ma anche i file per le “Float Shoes”, da acquistare proprio come facciamo per musica e film. Serve poi una stampante 3D per trasformarli in oggetti indossabili.

Non si tratta di un fenomeno di massa, ma se torniamo per un attimo in Giappone vedremo che le utopie tecnovisionarie sono spesso già parte della vita quotidiana. Andiamo per esempio a osservare i materiali che usa UNIQLO, il gigante del retail che ha recentemente dichiarato di voler diventare il più grande produttore di abbigliamento al mondo. E ci vuole arrivare unendo moda e tecnologia. Infatti le sue linee di maggior successo sono fatte di colori vivaci, capi semplici da indossare, ma anche di materiali hi-tech e performanti, come i capi “AIRism” e “HeatTech”, freschissimi per l’estate e caldissimi per l’inverno. Non hanno bisogno di manutenzione particolare e possono essere sbattuti in lavatrice. Ma sta già accadendo ben altro. La luce negli abiti e negli oggetti è ormai una realtà, soprattutto grazie all’evoluzione della tecnologia a led. Abbiamo visto sulla passerella di VERSACE aitanti runner in abiti luminescenti con fibre ottiche. Non è difficile immaginare che tra un po’ tutti gli appassionati di running indosseranno abiti e accessori dotati di luce propria, per rendersi più visibili (autisti e ciclisti urbani sanno essere pericolosi) ma anche per farsi notare (lo stile prima di tutto, anche nello sport). Se gli adolescenti italiani sono già impazziti per le suole psichedeliche delle scarpe WIZE & OPE, NIKE ha annunciato la messa in commercio delle HYPERADAPT, scarpe da running con luci segnaletiche che si allacciano da sole, proprio come quelle di Marty McFly in Ritorno al futuro. Sempre parlando di scarpe, ma passando ai prototipi, vale la pena di citare le VIXOLE SHOES. Sneakers dal design contemporaneo e pulito, le Vixole sono dotate di un monitor fatto di microscopici led e possono cambiar pelle, come un tecnocamaleonte. Si può cambiare il colore, ma anche trasmettere immagini, persino video. Che ovviamente si possono collegare anche con le notifiche di POKÉMON GO, per vedere – letteralmente – i mostriciattoli nei dintorni e prenderli. Realtà virtuale? Realtà aumentata? Forse, ma quello che sicuramente troveremo nel futuro saranno materiali a sensibilità aumentata, piacevoli per il corpo e la mente.