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.

1*LF2dBf_aH_aYqIET7ODV_g.jpeg

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.

1*8EcGRpbTozznoqOuD6-4yA.jpeg

And Canon, of course.

1*6sqw9yZDJKRLCzewCDTOCA.jpeg

Some things are still around.

1*rQhPk9MIz-M_8eUFETnNSw.jpeg

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.

1*Eqyqs9-L2fZvLi9Alc0mPQ.jpeg

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!

1*sCAAfM01adZgDp-D4EfPmg.jpeg

1*Z_fOPZ2xATpW6zdjph9uMA.jpeg

1*YenTkvy7XbStbxe_QD41IA.jpeg

1*F_8zBl92w-rGfj4iHsTQZg.jpeg

1*Zy98ifPfZ0pkw464bKfx5g.jpeg

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.

1*KpqynQEN_s5pfD7nsYC49w.jpeg

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.

1*DshJfXyqdCyc5F42t1NR4A.jpeg

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.

1*s0fzuwufxe3kkNcAJhH6IQ.jpeg

1*d9wHoDtr4OjxHL0_IVEKJQ.jpeg

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.

1*l0UXaimOKBZLRl-srts15w.jpeg

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

1*ReLKRLf-icjJ0ebRZq3vlA.jpeg

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.

Annunci

Inspiring Innovators: Paolo Ferrarini

Milano Design Awards 2016

large_milano_design_award_01.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Now in its sixth year, the Milan Design Award has become one of the most anticipated moments of Milan Design Week. Dedicated to the most interesting installations of the week, the award (whose physical prize is a sculpture of a little horse, the mythical Sleipnir Troll Mini, made by Italian artist and architect Duilio Forte) goes to a designer or team whose work combines design, performance, technology and entertainment. In 2016–as with previous years—the winners conjured up fascinating creations that were much more than just installations; instead they were exciting experiences for anybody lucky enough to take a wander.

This year’s winner was “The Shit Evolution—Il Museo della Merda,” a highly innovative project that combines design, art and sustainability, all set in the picturesque cellars of SIAM (Historical Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Crafts). The exhibition was conceived by Luca Cipelletti, curated by Massimo Torrigiani, and co-produced by 5Vie Art+Design. It displayed several objects made of “merdacotta”—a terracotta derived from cow dung. Photographs by Henrik Blomqvist projected around the installation depicted the cows in farms where the raw material is collected. Roberto Coda Zabetta’s paintings were made using poop and pigments. The mysterious “Giga Shit Brick” opened the exploration, while fossilized feces from some 200 million years ago ended the journey. Strange, interesting and of course a little humorous at times, the installation was a wild ride for festival attendees.

Scooping up the Best Concept Award was “The Boring Collection” by Lensvelt Contract, who presented their new affordable office furniture collection in a large loft. Visitors were given a balled-up press release, to throw in wastepaper baskets spread all over the space—playing off stereotypical boring office life. The result was a delightful mess.

Poetry and data were combined in Jelle Mastenbroek’s “Data Orchestra” for which the emerging designer wanted to make people think a little deeper about big data and the organizations that collect it. Wining the Best Tech Award, the installation posed plenty of questions about privacy. Visitors could swipe a credit card—or any sort of chip we carry with us—and data was turned into sound created by everyday objects such as dishes, pens, glasses and cutlery.

Nike’s “The Nature of Motion” (awarded Best Storytelling) was a spectacular installation—and was rumored to be the most expensive in the history of Milan Design Week. Between walls made of white shoeboxes, visitors experienced spaces within a former factory—all surrounded by design experiments, colorful projections, and prototypes from the company’s R&D division.

Aisin (collaborating with Masaru Suzuki, Hideki Yoshimoto, Setsu and Shinobu Ito) created “Imagine New Days” which manifested lifestyles of the future, when high-technology (the core activity of the Japanese company that was awarded Best Engagement) meets common activities—such as expressing our creativity. After experiencing a dark hi-tech hall, visitors entered a white environment made of transparent strips of fabric, where they could play with sewing machines.

Yet another standout was Panasonic’s “Kukan—The Invention of Space,” the first winner of the new People’s Choice Award, chosen by the users of the official app of Fuorisalone. Seven pillars made of 140 HD monitors created a dramatic and almost overwhelming atmosphere. The screens showed imagery of Japan—from classic paintings to bustling current-day cities—and the constant movement made the entire installation buzz with energy.

Factory Visit: Cotonificio Albini

large_Albini_Group_Factory_Tour_02.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Visiting the Albini Group—a glorious Italian enterprise that specializes in fabrics for shirting—is an experience of contrast. It’s a facility that feels futuristic, while remaining in the tradition of its deep history. It’s a busy, mechanical factory located in the picturesque Italian town of Albino—in a valley surrounded by the Alps. Founded in 1876 by Zaffiro Borgomanero, today Albini is run by the fifth generation of the original family, and we witnessed the production of fabrics that will become sophisticated, quality shirts sold all over the world.

Every year Albini Group produces an enormous 20,000 new fabrics and over 4,000 exclusive variations conceived for specific clients (these are developed by 30 textile designers). The list of international clients is incredibly long and—in some cases—strictly confidential. As well as working with some of the most talented independent tailors around the world, they provide fabrics to the likes of Burberry, Etro, Brioni, Armani, Zegna and more.

While production is a quintessential, time-honored Italian mix of machines and handmade processes, Albini is a multinational company. In addition to five factories in Italy, they own sites in Egypt and the Czech Republic. There’s a balance of tradition production and future-forward technology: some phases are completely automated (including the coloring, weaving and warehouse organization) while others are entirely manual.

Albini Group’s president Silvio Albini tells CH, “After many years of hard work, today we can finally say that our company controls the entire production—from the cotton seed to finishings. In this long process we can control the most intrinsic qualities of our product. We have also reached a complete traceability and we know where every meter of our fabric was made.” While showing us each single step of the production process, the staff reveal an authentic enthusiasm and a rare generosity—along with true pride for their part played in the creation of such quality products.

While fabrics may be flat, they’re not two-dimensional. Weaving is not just about wrapping and wefting, but if the technology is sufficiently advanced the woven fabric can come out of the machines in unlimited tridimensional variations. Optical effects and peculiar shapes can be created using different techniques, threads, colors and materials. (In fact, there can be over 16,000 threads in one single square meter of fabric.) Some fabrics are so precious that they are called “diamonds,” but unlike a diamond, they are soft. Touch is—of course—one of the most important factors in shirting. It differs when fabrics are single- or double-ply. In the second case, two separate threads are rolled up together so that they’re more resistant and colors become more shiny and long-lasting. You can tell the difference when caressing the fabrics. Other important processes include the various washing steps and mechanical procedures aimed at fixing colors. Finally, after these last stages, the fabric is ready to be quality-controlled, before heading off to become a shirt.

When wandering through Albini, it’s the contrast between the sci-fi-esque plant and the archive room that embodies what they stand for most. Walls of ancient books and catalogues with the fabrics glued inside (which date back to 1796) are still in usable condition, lovingly preserved, with colors so bright they seem to have been produced mere minutes before.

Le Sonneur’s Love Letters

large_Le_Sonneur_01.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

“I am at your door, almost in your home. I play with these limits and I begin a gentle intrusion,” Le Sonneur tells us. Rather than the beginning of a psychological thriller, these words seem to be proof that street art can be poetic. The anonymous French artist—whose work adorns homes from Paris to Mexico—sticks fake doorbells on entryways. He even writes love letters, leaving them on random doorsteps.

The mysterious artist took time to email with us (to protect his identity) and shared photos of his latest “interventions” in Paris, exclusively for CH. On his anonymity, Le Sonneur (in French: “the ringer”) says, “I am a discreet person. I like to do things out of sight. Anonymity and imagination are central to my work. Being anonymous among these strangers whom I told the story is my natural attitude.”

Le Sonneur believes that his work is all a matter of storytelling. “Each doorbell tells you a story. Sometimes it surprises you or makes you smile. Maybe it will make you look differently at those anonymous details we usually cross without even noticing,” he says. It’s perhaps not common to find such a delicate and sweet form of street art, but Le Sonneur says he’s not alone: “Street art takes many shapes and provides passers with touches of lightness and emotion. My interventions divert archetypes of domesticity such as doorbells or mail. In a way, they are similar to ‘street hacking.’ They offer a reinterpretation of what’s ordinary and tell stories inspired by every day life.”

With letters, for every one, from the likes of Prince Charming and A Refugee to Marty McFly, Le Sonneur’s references are broad—sometimes familiar and universal, while other times seemingly niche. “Literature, poetry and film inspire me. Music and theater, too. Heroes and icons of popular culture populate my imaginary city. My interventions ignite a reflection on anonymity and indifference in the city. Your neighbor could not be who you think. Who are these strangers around us? Who is hiding in the crowd?”

“Many artists nourish my reflection. I refer in particular to the Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck and his work on ‘in-betweens’—those boundaries between spaces that become actual places, interfaces. By intervening on doorsteps with my doorbells or my love letters, it is in this same gap that I act on in order to create an episode. In their own way, the work of the ‘Situationists’ and their way to project the event in the city also inspires me, as Georges Perec and his novels ‘Life a User’s Manual’ and ‘An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.’ I share their way of observing the life of anonymous people, how they tell and nobilitate the obvious.”

The artist has a nostalgic and almost wholesome outlook on his work. It’s almost like a personal memoir—albeit scattered over the planet. “It’s a diary of my trips and my travels; a story of my observations and my inspirations in the city,” he says. “I look for places—crowded or empty, surprising, secret and remarkable. I watch thresholds and doors. In recent weeks—from Hong Kong, Dubai or Singapore—strangers inspired by my work offered to join the project. I’m grateful and I gave it a thought. I’m trying to imagine a common score that everyone could interpret freely, to write an ‘open text’ in the manner of Umberto Eco. It would be a nice way to recount the cities we imagine and dream and have them meet.”

Factory Visit: Christian Louboutin

large_christian_louboutin_factory_5.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Since setting up his eponymous label in 1991, French designer Christian Louboutin’s shoes have become synonymous with power, prestige and class thanks to their sexy, edgy design and extreme creativity. Lesser known is the fact that Louboutin produces men’s footwear as well—something that should be on the radar of all shoe enthusiasts.

On a very hot day this July, we had the chance to visit a factory in Naples, Italy, where skilled artisans create these rare, esteemed objects. This area is already known around the world for the production of high-end footwear, continuing a tradition rooted in the 19th century that exploded culturally after Word War II. The production process behind Louboutin shoes is entirely led by hand and consists of a minimum 30 steps. Fine leathers and precious fabrics (like cashmere and grosgrain) are cut, sewn, shaped and combined—but everything starts with a drawing.

Louboutin and his staff’s sketches are fleshed out into shapes and turned into a tridimensional design. The pattern-maker obtains a series of flat pieces that will be used for prototyping and—once the final prototype is approved by the designer—for production. The cutting process is key and is also done by hand. Depending on the piece of leather, the single parts are carefully positioned and cut in order to leave as little scraps as possible. It takes almost 15 years of experience to become a professional cutter and it’s incredible to see how fast and precise their hands work.

Precision is of the utmost importance when it comes to working with precious materials such as alligator. In this specific case only one animal skin can be used per shoe. The leather is chosen very carefully in order to make the two shoes as similar as possible, since each animal is unique. Once again it is a matter of fine eyes and expertise. The pieces of leather are flat after cutting, but soon take the shape of the part of the foot they will hold. The curvature is obtained by using machinery that combines pressure and temperature.

Stitching takes place next. The different pieces that will form the upper unite meticulously. “One single upper can be made of 12 different materials,” reveals one of the production managers who took us through the production lines. The artisans focus on their sewing machines with intensity as each stitch is a matter of millimeters, especially with Louboutin’s complex designs.

A red sole acts as a declaration and Louboutin’s signature. Interestingly, this color is obtained not by tanning, but with a secret lacquering process. “This complicates the process quite a bit,” the production manager shares. The soles arrive to the factory from a different production facility and, to avoid scratches, they are protected by a transparent film. It is only removed before when the shoes are boxed.

One artisan spreads a special mix of cork and glue onto the interior of the sole before it’s joined to the insole and upper; this padding will make the shoe much more comfortable. This (also secret) blend is kept inside a yellow tin with the logo of a very famous French champagne house. We asked if the blend includes chopped champagne corks, but the Louboutin staff simply smiled without an answer. The phase of sewing the sole consists of making several tiny passes—also rather complex. The hands of the artisans seamlessly switch from cutters to brushes, from cogwheels to wax sticks. Their elegance recalls that of a skilled classical musician.

As soon as the shoes are fully assembled, it’s time to polish. Leather is carefully and repeatedly caressed with pure cotton cloths for almost one hour, using French polish and other potions. Alligator leather, however, comes to the Louboutin factory in white (these blank skins are called “crust”) and it’s not dyed until the shoe is complete. As a final step, the artisans imbue a cloth with the color and literally paint the white upper, very rapidly and with extreme precision. This process guarantees deep and intense shades of color, since the pigments have never been warmed up or even touched during production.

Before leaving the factory, the shoes are inspected and all the edges painted tone-on-tone with a marker, making the shoe sharp and visually uniform—the process comes full circle with more drawing. It’s a gesture that truly feels like a signature by the team of these Neapolitan artisans—and a bond with Paris and the creativity of Christian Louboutin.

Rest in peace, Elio Fiorucci

large_Fiorucci_posters_02.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Yesterday, 20 July, one of the most colorful lights of the international fashion faded away. Elio Fiorucci has, for decades, been a reference for those who consider fashion as a synonym for freedom, color, fun, love. Fiorucci could seek and understand trends before there was a business around that practice; a creative mind able to transform his passion for beauty into a global enterprise. He was always looking for inspiration from the streets in each form, from art to fashion, food, design and anything that has to do with the total independence of thought.

In the early ’60s Fiorucci often travelled from Italy to London and get a glimpse of the goings-on in Carnaby Street, King’s Road and Portobello. Thus, he decided to set up in Milan (his hometown) a store that would resemble what he saw in London. On 31 May 1967 the historic store in Galleria Passarella opened—in the very heart of Milan. There, he sold shoes made by the family business and clothing and accessories from England, France, USA, South America and Asia.

His own creations have always been eclectic and influenced heavily by pop culture. Icons of his store were a hot pink jumpsuit, overalls made from machine-washable paper, plastic sandals (aka Jellies, designed by a young Manolo Blahnik), platforms and clogs covered in flowers, sock-boots and—perhaps most notable—his super-bright galoshes.

By 1977, the artistic direction of the house was to be managed by a group called Ufficio Dxing. While Fiorucci himself was overseeing, he gave lot of freedom to the team. The structure wasn’t hierarchical and was based on what they called “visual tourism.” Research was constant, and members of this creative group were constantly traveling on buying trips—seeking new, interesting products and artifacts from every possible field. Some were simply collected, others became part of the collection on sale at Fiorucci’s stores. Ufficio Dxing was also in charge of the conception of signature clothing and accessories, labels, shopping bags, store design and events. It could be said that they systematically reread the history of fashion since World War II, and this work has given rise to a map entitled How to Read Fashion, which summarized and compared the basic stages of fashion, film, art, music, historical events and customs.

Fiorucci’s work during the ’60s was intrinsic to some significant changes to the fashion industry. Several factors at play were altered forever: comfort (his jeans were among the first in Italy to be developed with stretch materials), youth (in his stores young people were catered to with magazines and loud music), nudity (his posters became advertising icons with almost-naked girls featured).

In the years to come, Fiorucci started legendary collaborations with the likes of Madonna, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and many others. Whether they were emerging artists or superstars, Fiorucci just wanted them to have something to say about the future of fashion and creativity. Despite his stellar career, Fiorucci remained incredibly humble; it was incredibly easy to talk to him, and he was often spotted on the subway in Milan. His passion for discovery and innovation, his eye for style and authenticity, and his desire to surprise have carved out a historic and important position in the history of fashion.