Hotel Milu, Florence


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


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


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

Senza titolo.001 rid.jpg

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.

Grundig and the Future of Food, Design and Interaction


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

When it comes to designing and engineering household appliances, one of the most significant issues is energy and water consumption. But the waste of other precious resources (like food) is also the driving force behind Grundig‘s most recent projects. The brand—whose mantra is “Respect For Food”—was founded in 1930 by Max Grundig and started off making radios, now they make 500+ products for every room of the house. Today Grundig is part of Arçelik, a Turkish company that counts more than 27,000 employees, 10 brands and 14 production facilities all over the world.

Arcelik’s CEO Hakan Bulgurlu says, “Future is making something about today,” and this is true of the company’s approach to smart homes and sustainability. The brand’s newest appliances focus on keeping food in the best conditions for as long as possible—ultimately limiting waste. A new cooling oven refrigerates food until it’s time to cook, and can be controlled with a dedicated app (perfect for starting dinner on your way home). Grundig’s most advanced refrigerators feature a “freshmeter,” a sensor that measures the freshness of food analyzing its gas emissions.

Our favorite new product is the herb garden for its clean design, but also its practicality—growing herbs at home isn’t just sustainable, it’s cost effective. Every step is automated, from the regulation of the intensity of light to the level of humidity and temperature, like in a smart greenhouse.

Grundig’s Head of Industrial Design, Serdal Korkut Avci, tells us, “I have been analyzing consumers for years and you can see the change of expectations and requests… We know that everybody needs time. So we’re trying to just focus on the time and trying to make things as quick as possible, as simple as possible, in the devices as well as in the services.” It’s this practical approach, firmly based in making technology work for humans, that results in user-friendly products. Avci continues, “In today’s world, with all that technology and expectation of the consumer, you cannot just focus on the form of the product. We are not saying ‘form follows function’ anymore, instead we’re trying to say ‘form follows interaction.’ That’s what we try to focus on and provide solutions before they’re requested.”

Of course this isn’t just about saving time and family budgets, food waste is a global issue. According to UN statistics, one-third of the food produced in the world goes to waste—that’s more than a billion tons per year. Grundig is thus supporting Food For Soul, a non-profit organization run by chef Massimo Bottura. While many of us feel small compared to such huge issues, every step in the right direction—no matter how big or small—is important, and thinking globally is always for the best.

Venice Architecture Biennale 2016


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Over 100 tons of perfectly ordered rubble is what greets visitors to the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. It’s not a provocation, but rather a statement, in perfect harmony with this year’s theme: “Reporting from the Front.” President Paolo Baratta and curator Alejandro Aravena made a strong choice here; between pure avant-garde and local traditions and the overarching reaction many visitors have is paradoxical. The event isn’t about shocking or surprising at any cost, but to make people think. And this alone is the true vocation of every Biennale.

The first installation is curated by Aravena (the Chilean architect who won the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize) and is repeated at both locations of the exhibition, the Arsenale and the Central Pavilion at the Giardini. It’s a ceiling of vertical metal structures, hanging like stalactites, surrounded by a wall of plasterboard clippings. Made from materials used for the construction of last year’s Art Biennale, the piece offers a powerful message. And it’s not one of guilt or criticism, but one of encouragement and hope.

This is not the Biennale of certainties, but of questions that can be answered. It is no coincidence that in several areas there are many peremptory questions, written on walls and installations. Is it possible to create a public space in a private commission? Does permanence matter? Do we really need to produce so much waste? Why does the theme of the common good seem so pervasive? Many projects are striking for their ingenuity. We saw many examples of ideas so simple they seem obvious, but are perfect solutions for many issues that we face all over the world—from displacement and immigration to traffic, pollution, waste and more; themes that Aravena has made explicit in the beautiful exhibition catalog.

The theme of immigration and displacement is found in two projects coming from opposite sides of the world. The first is the Neubau by BeL Sozietät für Architekturwho have designed a system of neutral public housing that can be changed radically from those who live here, both inside and outside. From India’s Rahul Mehrotra and Felipe Vera (who have studied the Khumb Mela, a Hindu festival which is held every 12 years and sees the participation of 19 million people) is a completely sustainable booth, made of canvas and bamboo. Inside they display data and solutions that can be applied to migration affecting the urban areas of every megalopolis. The underlying conclusion is that cities are more ephemeral than previously believed.

A surreal effect also emerges from a certain use of the materials, which often aren’t what they seem or are found in unexpected contexts. This is the case with Austrian-based architecture firm Marte.Marte’snforced concrete that looks like stone. The firm (founded by Bernhard Marte and Stefan Marte) focuses on infrastructure that has a strong social impact.

A masterful use of material can also be found in the work of Colombian architect Simón Vélez, who defines bamboo as “vegetable steel” and calls work “vegetarian architecture.” For years he has used bamboo for many projects, mixing it with other materials to create fascinating pieces. Likewise, Anupama Kundoo Architects combines paper, fabric and urban waste as building materials to create unique color combinations and textures.

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (who will be designing the new Hans Christian Andersen museum in Denmark) creates structures—in plastic, metal, and wood—that give a new outlook on materials whose lightness, flexibility, and robustness are used in surprising ways.

An equally strong and peculiar approach by Madrid-based José María Sánchez García appears in the form of a wall punctuated by glass bottles, a smart way to save material and use leftovers.

Plenty of “starchitects” are represented, albeit in small spaces in which they have small projects—again proving that the Biennale is truly for designers of all levels. Norman Foster, who with his foundation, has proposed an almost sci-fi project. He imagined a drone-port, a place to land drones capable of carrying medicines, food and other goods to the most disadvantaged and developing areas. This domed structure is modular, can be constructed quickly using local labor and materials and can be adapted to different needs.

The 2016 Biennale of Architecture is significant for its analysis of the boundaries of sustainability and technology, between desire for novelty and preservation of resources, between modernist and traditional architecture. There’s a sense that the future is already here, and what is really needed is to recover the past—but without nostalgia.

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is open now through 27 November.

Pal Zileri and the Future of Tailoring


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

What is the difference between tailored and factory menswear? Often we consider these two categories as distant or even conflicting. However, there are many who actually know how to combine these both, companies that use industrial processes to achieve quality products, in which the experience of the hand and the precision of the machine operate on the same wavelength. This is what happens at Pal Zileri, a historic Italian menswear brand.

At Quinto Vicentino, in north-east of Italy, the Forall Confezioni factory was founded in 1970 by Gianfranco Barizza and Aronne Miola. Here, the Pal Zileri collection was launched in 1980 and since it has targeted the contemporary man, in love with sartorial tradition and modern lifestyle. During a recent factory visit, we witnessed the production process of men’s formal suits, and in particular of jackets. Here, hundreds of skilled artisans make clothes, for which quality is the ultimate obsession. Each jacket is made in 140 to 180 single step, which include cutting, assembling, sewing, ironing, adding linings, pockets and shoulders, but also spare parts such as buttons, zippers and labels. The front part of the jacket dictates the entire process and the amount of hidden details is impressive. Most phases are industrially executed using laser cutting, sewing machines, presses, conveyor belts; nevertheless, some steps are still completely handmade, like in an old tailor workshop.

Since July 2014, Mauro Ravizza Krieger has been the artistic director at Pal Zileri. After plentiful experience with many prestigious national and international menswear brands, Ravizza Krieger is now successfully working on the next chapters of the brand. Pal Ziler has a very long tradition of formal menswear. A few years ago new investors joined the company. Qatar-based Mayhoola for Investments (also owner of Valentino) and Arafa for Investments and Consultancies from Egypt, helped define this new course for Pal Zileri. Ravizza Krieger plays a very important role in this delicate passage.

“First of all, I tried to understand how the company works. The concept of creativity is far more difficult to apply to an industry. We are making a path of transformation from an industry to a brand, fostering a closer bond with the creative process,” Ravizza Krieger explains to CH. Today men’s tailoring is undergoing a renaissance, but it is necessary to update its codes and logistics. As Ravizza Krieger says, “It is important to rekindle an interest in the world of tailoring, without distorting its canons, evolving them without revolutionizing, focusing on the contemporary world, on updates that do not lose the previous values of the company.”

Vicenza, where the factory is located, is a land of art and excellent crafts, characterized by the magnificent architecture of Andrea Palladio and a centenary tradition of jewelry and fine leather-making. And Ravizza Krieger loves to find his inspirations in arts. “My references are very tied to the art world. Our previous collection was inspired by Joseph Albers, who has spent his life calibrating colors on a square shape, something not banal,” he says. “His vibrations, his color combinations create always different moods. And when I work on an artistic period, I always try to bring it to the Italian references.”

As a matter of facts, at Pal Zileri they do not want to rely on a stereotypical vision of Italy, a postcard-like view of something that does not exist anymore. They focus on a less obvious Italy, like that of abstract, optical and kinetic art of the 20th Century. “Creativity should not be sought after at all costs and simply glued to a collection, it should be a thing that belongs to you in each step,” he continues. “For example the inspiration linked to kinetic and Italian optical art gave origin to a capsule collection with optical prints, as well as a variety of fabrics for the evening all in black and white. From abstract Italian art we originated the research on the color palette. The color range definition is an important step because it kicks off the creation of fabrics. In fact 80% of the fabrics that are seen in the catwalk and in the collection are exclusive.”

The evolutionary process of traditional men’s fashion has to be constant, organic and slow. “[We proceed] slowly, without exaggerating. We must not forget that we are in menswear, where there is also a deep need for culture. We do not want to create some weird things and force change. I focus on the contemporary tailoring, where I want to evolve established codes, until they become usable. The continuity of tailoring will only be guaranteed by a continuous updating of its historical values, through the easing of a number of values,” says Ravizza Krieger.

As the technicians explained the difference between the types of construction, we realized that they often used the term “sports jacket.” As many know (at least in the States), in the world of tailoring, the very concept of “sport” takes on many meanings, here being an inherently comfortable suit jacket for more casual events. “Formal classic style is struggling today,” Ravizza Krieger observes, “because the world is less formal, relationships are less formal. Social networks and mobility have made us more informal, so we need to give our clothes different connotations.”

Ravizza Krieger’s ideas are very clear on this contemporary balance of formal and informal. “I believe that the dream of many people is to have a profession that lets them free, where they can be themselves. [For this reason] I think a lot more about freelancers rather than managers, because they are self-determining. They dress themselves, it’s not us who dress them. I think of a style for non-homologated people, who know how to interpret clothes.”

Design Studio Garcia Cumini on their Cesar Unit kitchen


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

The design of kitchens for the last 20 years seems to have focused primarily on two styles reflecting two opposite poles: classical or country versus contemporary or industrial. It’s become very difficult today to find real alternatives, contemporary designs able to make a kitchen look non-obvious and original. That said, there are options, one of which happens to a newly revamped Italian company. Cesar carries nearly 50 years of history in the kitchen sector. Gina Cester, Cesar’s CEO, is determined to define the next chapter, and has called upon the support of Garcia Cumini‘s design studio—the newly appointed artistic directors of Cesar.

The first project designed entirely by Vicente Garcia and Cinzia Cumini is Unit—a system that wants to shift the idea of a kitchen as a fixed object to that of a concept with free elements. During a recent meeting, Garcia and Cumini told us about their new work, starting with their relationship to both the industrial and the domestic kitchen. “The Bauhaus movement,” Garcia explains, “was a pioneer in defining functions, even for this area of the home. It triggered the basic principles of modularity. Since then, many things have changed, but the kitchen remains a very technical space, even though it’s an emotional and special area. In the last decades the offer from kitchen manufacturers was centered on that—technical and material aspects—but the formal side has been linked mainly to modularity and design of cabinet doors. This happened for so long that sometimes it’s hard to see the differences between kitchens from different manufacturers.”

Unit is designed to meet this need. “The objective of Unit is to connect the practicality and ergonomics of the professional kitchen with the humanity of the home kitchen,” Cumini continues. “With our research, we tried to carry the product in a freer design dimension, where the kitchen becomes a single object—such as a table or chair, and no longer an object tied to the size of one single space, or a space designed to measure from wall to wall.”

To achieve this goal the technical choices the duo made were very important. “From an ergonomic point of view,” Cumini shares, “it allows a more comfortable position while you cook because you can put your feet under the containment volume. Research and development at Cesar has allowed the creation of Unit in such a way that frees 2.4 meters of floor space.” This allows occupants the ability to move freely while cooking, without being impeded by their own appliances. Further, “the internal construction has been engineered so completely different from the rest of the kitchens on the market—combining lightweight materials that do not belong to the world of cooking, with traditional materials in this field. As it happens, for example, in the automotive industry when different metals are used in different parts of the chassis depending on their function.”

From an aesthetic standpoint, it is the handles and the materials that compose them which seem very different from the standards to which we are accustomed. “We wanted to bring back the handle as a functional element but also as a decoration,” Garcia adds. “For these reasons we designed two handles for Unit with two completely different personalities, in five finishes. Shell is a handle with a compact size that has been inspired by the classic recessed handles of country kitchens. Eero, instead, has been designed around the idea of realizing a bridge handle. Also the adjustable feet are small functional details that we wanted to become graphic elements.”

“The materials and the colors are also a very important point in this project, because it is that which gives human touch and bring the flavor of the professional kitchen at home,” Garcia explains. “When you imagine a professional kitchen you always think of the practicality of stainless steel, but we also wanted an object that would give warmth and cheer or simply be able to express the taste of the people, not just another finish. [We have therefore chosen] wood, mortar, steel, rolled products, magnetic lacquer—coordinated to Amani and Carrara marbles, slate, Piacenza stone, steel, ceramic and Corian.” All of this lends the kitchen something beyond what we’ve come to expect.

Another addition to the Garcia Cumini line for Cesar is the Wall Waiter: a vertical system that was designed as a horizontal kitchen top. Here classic—albeit lit up—shelves can become containers since they can be folded up to hide objects. As a simple yet clever solution to the stagnation of the kitchen, anyone who lives and uses such a room will surely appreciate what the brand has done to shed new light.

Daniel Libeskind + Alessi’s Time Maze Wall Clock


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Undoubtedly a huge name in architecture and design, Polish-American Daniel Libeskind is responsible for designing Berlin’s Jewish Museum and NYC’s World Trade Center—among so much more. One of his most recent and (as always) striking creations is “Time Maze,” made in collaboration with iconic Italian design brand, Alessi. We spoke with Libeskind (who also works as a professor and set designer) about the clock’s bold design and the value of time.

While designing the sharp, abstract “Time Maze” clock seems a world away from a 104-story building, Libeskind tells us the problem solving and creative process is actually almost identical. “I think it’s exactly the same,” he says. “You have to have a revelatory idea, something has to strike you. Then you work on it, refine it, work on the geometry and the technology, but it was the kind of same thing.

For the clock, Libeskind eschews the traditional circular clock-face—a design that has reigned for hundreds of years. Rather, he has opted for a more complicated and obscure shape which reflects the esoteric concept of time itself. The designer tells us, “This is neither linear clock or a circular clock, it’s a labyrinth. It’s a maze. I discovered the word ‘amazing’ basically has the word ‘maze’ in it. That’s what it is—to be amazed is to be in the maze. You can tell time easily in any device, but I think to have an emblem that really makes you think about something, and have something beautiful for the wall instead of just a circle.” Not only does design actually make the time slightly difficult to read (as he says, making one think a little longer, rather than just glancing at the time) thanks to its discontinuous lines, it also reflects Libeskind’s bold architectural style.

Libeskind believes that time is the ultimate luxury, and spending time relaxing rather than racing around or worrying about “wasting” time is of utmost importance. “I guess when they first put the clock on the Gothic cathedral in 15th century, it was more to force people to know when to go to church, but now it’s a different idea,” he says. “So I like the maze—I think is a good geometry for it. I chose red because it’s like a stop sign. Stop, don’t run.”

On the production of the clock, Libeskind tells us he worked closely with Alessi—Alberto Alessi in particular—and was wholly satisfied with the outcome, despite it being a difficult design to bring to life. “This is metal, it’s metallic, and it’s not easy to produce such a perfect line that seems to intersect but is completely perfect in its angles, in its geometries, and I think it’s very beautifully made in terms of its thickness, elegance. It’s a very elegant thing. It’s very puristic in the way the line works, as a line should work. And of course, Alessi is a great company with details, the details of small objects. It’s one thing to have an idea of the clock; another is to produce one that really works, that’s got to be beautiful.” As for collaborating, he says, “I think it’s important to say that Alberto is a very special person. He’s not one of those people that just produces things to make quick money. Of course, profit is important, but it’s the idea of design that is part of the incredible company which everybody loves. Anywhere in the world, Alessi is the gold standard. It’s incredible, it’s an encyclopedia of design.”

Studio Job + Alessi’s Comtoise Clock


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Best known for their unique creative approach that merges art and design, Studio Job‘s creations are oftentimes easily recognized. The two Flemish designers leading the studio (Job Smets and Nynke Tynagel) have a knack for using plenty of symbols—from the esoteric to the digital, and the classic to the obscure. During Milan Design Week we spoke with Smets about the industry as a whole, and the studio’s latest creation: the Comtoise Clock, designed for iconic Italian design house Alessi.

Studio Job (which is now made up of 20 people) is in the process of creating several products for Alessi, and the collaboration has been a long time coming. “I met Alberto Alessi for the first time, I think, in 2003 and then we didn’t have any contact for at least 10-15 years,” Smet tells us. “I thought [a collaboration] would never happen.” In the end, the timing has proven to be perfect, because a decade ago, the studio was leaning toward art more than design. But now, Smets says, there’s a balance that has aligned them with Alessi’s desires.

After gaining a little more understanding about Alessi’s production methods and catalogue, thanks to a visit at their plant and a brainstorming session with the team, Smets says Studio Job asked themselves, “‘What has never been done within Alessi?’ And tin—like tin that can be used for soup cans—never really had been adopted there.”

The result is the Comtoise, which is smothered in classic and modern-day symbolism—from hands forming a peace sign to arrows, diamonds, pills and bananas. The clock has an overall nostalgic visual language. “[We wanted] embossing and color, to make it become like an old cookie tin. Everyone has an old cookie tin, everyone still knows what it is,” Smets says. “For us, it was perfect because we’ve got the perfect combination between what Nynke does and what I do. The shape of the clock refers to the 18th century, something which my parents had hanging on the wall when I was young. That makes the design personal and that’s what we need these days,” Smets tells us.

Like so many industries, design has evolved a lot over the past decade. Smets is positive about all the changes, however, and predicts a kind of design renaissance. “We are living again in this sort of post-modern era, and also the identity of a designer becomes more and more important in the way that they develop personal products instead of modernist products… The fields are overlapping a little bit and this is really great. If you look at our office, we work in art, we work in design, we work in fashion and music and architecture, graphic design, 3D design, product development and corporate identities.” In many ways, the Comtoise Clock represents an intersection between art and design, and again, the past and present of both.