Karl Kolbitz’s “Entryways of Milan: Ingressi di Milano”

My new article for Cool Hunting

Over the centuries, Milan‘s style has been defined by its geographical position and illustrious history. The Italian city lies on a plain, equidistant from the sea and the mountains, and its climate is colder than Mediterranean Italy. Of course, French and Austrian dominations influenced design, architecture and overall culture. All this is clearly reflected in buildings across the city, where the great beauty is sometimes well-hidden—rigorous façades often conceal imaginative interiors, beautiful courtyards and lush gardens. That said, many Milanese buildings reveal their hidden identity starting at their entrance halls, surprising the visitors and hinting at the beauty that will be found inside.

Editor Karl Kolbitz is so passionate about this Milanese dimension that he worked with TASCHEN on a beautiful new book, aptly titled “Entryways of Milan – Ingressi di Milano.” This photographic tome shows 144 of the city’s most stunning entrance halls, focusing on the timeframe from the 1920s to the 1970s. This perhaps unexpected perspective on Italian modernism focuses on the work of not-so-famous architects as well as renowned names like Giovanni Muzio, Giò Ponti, Piero Portaluppi, and Luigi Caccia Dominioni.

Kolbitz worked on the book in collaboration with photographers Delfino Sisto Legnani, Paola Pansini and Matthew Billings. Their photos are incredibly rich, despite the architecture sometimes being sparse. Not just about visuals, the book includes thoughtful essays from international architects and lecturers such as Penny Sparke, Fabrizio Ballabio, Lisa Hockemeyer, Daniel Sherer, Brian Kish, and Grazia Signori. With detailed descriptions of each design—from materials, to architects, furniture brands, and even full addresses—this is a comprehensive guide.

A book for locals and visitors alike, Koblitz writes in the foreword, “Milan is a city that draws you in, that shows itself while screening itself at the same time. It is at once private, grandiloquent, and refined. How can it be that this city, which has exported its design all over the world, has kept so silent about its exuberant and profuse entryways?”

Entryways of Milan – Ingressi di Milano” is available online for $70.

Images courtesy of Taschen

Signs of Italy


My latest article for Cool Hunting.

The true understanding of Italian life only happens in the squares where people love to meet and share, eat and drink—all while observing what happens around them. It’s not a stereotype, but Italy and its many contradictions, its grand beauty and its occasional ugliness, meet and reveal themselves best when outside. With that said, designer and calligrapher James Clough—an Englishman in Milan—has undergone a years-long research project on the typography used in the streets of many Italian cities. Therein, he has witnessed the evolution of signs in the last two centuries, shedding insight on much more. This unique collection of images is now a book, “Signs of Italy” (“L’Italia Insegna” in the Italian version), published by Lazy Dog Press.

“I started photographing Italian shop signs about twenty years ago,” he tells CH, “because the most interesting ones were so different from what I had been used to seeing in Britain. I started showing slides to my design students in Milan and after a while other teachers invited me to make presentations in their classes. In 2007, I was asked by Graphicus, an Italian printing magazine, to write a series of short articles on Italian signs and after the experience of writing a piece every month for a year, the idea of a book cropped up quite naturally.”

As for what makes Italian signage unique, he shares “I love traveling and anywhere you go in Italy—even if it’s a village or a metropolis—you will find something in the streets that is fascinating either because it is unique or amazingly beautiful or because it is outrageously wrong—like a street name sign in three different typefaces and three baselines.” It isn’t always easy, he continues: “you have to hunt for the good stuff, much of it done by the old sign painters, because mediocrity in the shape of dejà vu and boring fonts has been taking over street name signs, shop signs and even gravestones for many years.”

Clough studied at the London College of Printing and teaches typography and the history of typography in Italy and Switzerland, as well as being a lecturer in the US and UK. This global background allows for a comparative analysis. “Sign painting has been a declining trade in Britain for several decades but during its heyday, which covered virtually the whole century, the professionals in this field also adhered to traditional letterforms; unlike their Italian colleagues who were ever so much more inventive and may not have had prescribed models to follow because no sign painters’ manuals were published in Italy.”

While the past plays the central role in his book, Clough is quick to support contemporary Italian graphic design, as well. “Yes, the past is a mine of inspiration but it is good to see that some very creative graphic designers occasionally have the opportunity to design shop signs, usually for specialized food retailers or restaurants. Architects are sometimes involved in signs today too but unlike their predecessors of the 1930s, they often have very little understanding of lettering and I show two or three quite outrageous examples in the book.”

Regarding what comes next, Clough concludes “The book deals with signs and inscriptions dating back to 1815, a time span of exactly 200 years, and therefore including the nineteenth century and Art Nouveau. But several millennia of Phoenician, Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance inscriptions are absent. And at some point in the future I would like to extend my research in that direction.”

You can purchase “Signs of Italy” online for €50.

“Manufacturing Renaissance” pop-up book


My new article for Cool Hunting

Once upon a time, there was young tailor who decided to move from Naples to Soragna, a small town in the north of Italy. Thanks to his skill and passion, the tailor’s little workshop grew and eventually became a factory capable of making beautiful suits for the country’s most elegant men. Caruso CEO, Umberto Angeloni, understands the story to be a real life fairytale, and has turned it into a pop-up book. “Manufacturing Renaissance” is a vibrant tome, conceived by Angeloni himself and curated by Sergio Colantuoni with illustrations by Evelina Floris.

The first portion of the book is dedicated to the beginning of Raffaele Caruso’s adventure. He left the sunny shores of the Naples in 1958 to open a small laboratory in the foggy flatland of northern Italy. Computers and fabrics explode from the pages of the book, reflecting the way Italian menswear is able to fine-tune itself with the latest technology. The Caruso Boys suddenly appear in the book as the true protagonists, and the leads in recent evolutions of the brand. The modern characters of this fairytale are a cosmopolitan melange of contemporary globetrotters that also appear in the latest Caruso advertising campaign.

The final chapter is dedicated to the brand’s new identity—recently becoming Fabbrica Sartoriale Italiana, a conglomerate of 14 manufacturing realities that consists of 600 people, able to produce more than 120,000 pieces of outerwear a year. The once small workshop with one master tailor and two assistants is now a bonafide global fashion force.

“Manufacturing Renaissance” is availably at the new Caruso flagship store in Milan, via Gesù 4.


My humans of New York

0 2008 2243204934_ccea0ccafd_bNegli ultimi anni ho avuto la grande fortuna di andare spesso a New York, per lavoro ma anche per divertimento. Essere fotografi nelle strade della Grande Mela è facile: puoi scattare a caso e trovi sempre qualcosa di interessante, che valga la pena di essere osservato e condiviso.

Ma la cosa più bella sono le persone che trovi, le facce che vedi, gli umani che incontri. Quegli umani che sono rappresentati in modo magistrale da Humans of New York, il lavoro titanico che Brandon Stanton sta portando avanti da qualche anno, prima su Facebook, ora anche in un libro.

Il libro mi è arrivato ieri e sfogliandolo ho riconosciuto un sacco di posti noti, parchi, incroci, strade e piazze in cui mi diverto a fare safari, a spiare e osservare gli abitanti della città più interessante al mondo.

Mi sono divertito a ripescare un po’ delle immagini che raccontano meglio il mio personale punto di vista sugli umani sbarcati a New York.

Rock me John

In questi giorni il mondo della moda ha la testa e i piedi a Firenze, dove al grido di #RockMePitti si sono ritrovati alla Fortezza da Basso tutti i fashionisti barbuti e tatuati, ricoprendosi di tartan per farsi fotografare al Pitti Uomo.

Intanto, a Milano, si attende l’apertura della Fashion Week maschile, che il primo giorno vedrà tra i suoi protagonisti John Varvatos. Uno che il rock lo conosce e lo pratica da un bel po’ di anni.

Varvatos ha recentemente firmato con Holly George-Warren Rock in Fashion, un gran bel libro dedicato alla storia dello stile legato al rock. Non si tratta di una noiosa antologia di immagini celebrative e agiografiche (in realtà le foto delle campagne dello stilista di Detroit sono davvero poche), ma di una raccolta delle immagini che più hanno contribuito a delineare il gusto e lo stile di John Varvatos in persona.

Nel libro lo stile dell’abbigliamento musicale (si racconta il rock, ma anche un po’ il pop) è letteralmente fatto a pezzi, in maniera didascalica ma efficace: i capitoli sono infatti dedicati a capelli, cappelli, occhiali, sciarpe, pattern, pelle, T-shirt, scarpe e così via. Non c’è cronologia, non c’è pretesa di interpretazione, ma solo di un racconto simile ad un sofisticatissimo moodboard.

Ed ecco che troviamo spettacolari immagini di Jimi Hendrix che sembra un santo medievale con i suoi Experience, Steve Tyler che sembra la copia di sua figlia Liv, Robert Plant che si acconcia i capelli davanti allo specchio come una qualsiasi diva di Hollywood, un Elton John poco più che adolescente, Bob Dylan nascosto dagli occhiali, le piume colorate di Todd Rundgren, David Bowie e le sue giacche  optical, Freddie Mercury coccolato dai Queen, Slash e i suoi cappelli, i Green Day e le loro Converse, Prince e i suoi ricami, Paul Weller e i suoi abiti, Michael Jackson in gilet, Iggy Pop in gessato, Marvin Gaye in trench e tanto altro ancora.

Interview: Beppe Giacobbe


My new article for COOL HUNTING

Visionary Dictionary: Beppe Giacobbe from A to Z” is the first monograph dedicated to the art of illustration master Beppe Giacobbe. Born in Milan in 1953 and having studied at the Accademia di Brera in Milan and the School of Visual Arts in New York, Giacobbe is renowned and appreciated because of his works for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Corriere della Sera, Courrier International and more. His surreal approach makes him one of the most respected artists for editorials.

In celebration of the launch of his first retrospective publication, CH had the chance to interview Giacobbe, to better understand the relationship between images and words.

Your work is often a balance between vision and psyche; what is—for you—the relationship between an idea and its visual representation?

The text introduces a topic and the idea should come from there. The idea of how to develop an image comes from my opinion on the subject and then with my work I have take a standpoint on it. I always look for a “visual trap” that connects to the theme to be treated, able to communicate directly with the neuro-visual system of the reader. I use visual paradoxes in order to capture the reader’s attention, but first of all I have to understand what are the boundaries of the banality of that topic. The illustration should never be a simple caption to the text, but an original interpretation of it.

If you just do a superficial search on the internet, you can get an idea of what is the standard of banality in the representation of a topic. To make a very basic example, if I do a search on the word “death,” I have a number of answers, images and texts. After a quick glance, here is the standard of banality on the subject: gravestones, a broken line, a cross, etc. I need this to figure out how to dissociate myself from the banality and not to fall into it. The challenge is this: to get away from the norm but represent a concept, an idea, an opinion, however, using a language that is as universal as possible because the image comes before the text in visual perception.

In your work there are also many “high” artistic references. What are the artists or artistic movements you take into consideration?

I love the color of 14th century art with the golden plates by Simone Martini, but I also appreciate the surrealist photography of Man Ray and others, or dreamlike collages by Jiří Kolář. Paul Klee because he sensed that the drawing is an organism that has its own life. “The Brutality of Fact” by Francis Bacon is a founding text to which I sometimes return, as well as the aphorisms by Elias Canetti where I find oxygen when in search for paradoxes. Anonymous popular African art is a world that fascinates me: I look at it for the greatness of its simplicity and synthesis.

Then there are the “great” illustrators like Brad Holland, the first conceptual illustrator who has not lost the characteristics of a great painter. Milton Glaser, multifaceted character of various talents, has innovated communication using tradition, but along new roads. Saul Steinberg for the biting irony, and also for its benevolent tenderness.

Are your illustrations more analog or digital? What is the balance between classical techniques and digital graphics?

This is a complex issue. I started working in watercolor and this defined me in my approach to making projects. Different from the computer, with watercolor there is no opportunity to take a step back; you can’t undo or delete. You have to be concise and be able to de-structure interventions in the construction of the whole, through a reasoned path. But it is also the technique that most of all makes you think of chance and luck, and it’s up to you to seize it. It’s just the opposite of digital techniques, but without that lesson I might not have been able to grasp certain aspects of computer use.

The medium is closely linked to the chain of production and therefore today it is an obliged choice. In the world of newspapers, with ever shorter timings for implementation and delivery, it would be unthinkable not using the same tools. This is a challenge that the computer only, as a painting medium, allows you to understand and deal with.

“Visionary Dictionary” is your first monograph. What was the criterion for the selection of works?

I didn’t choose them, I just sent a wide selection of my recent years of work. I trust my staff and I’m always curious about the external sight of the people around me. As Klee said, “Every image, once it is completed, lives its own life and is part of the world.” So it is not important for me to choose them; indeed, it may be more interesting when others do. Of course, I worked in synergy with the editorial group [at Lazy Dog] and with the authors of texts, but always tried to listen to their visions and never imposing my own. The result satisfies me a lot, as I liked to see the development that the book has taken in time, to the final result.

What job have you never been commissioned for, but would like to do?

The special correspondent in Long Island whose pen portrays people walking by the sea.

The book will be presented on 11 December at Books Import in Milan. On this occasion, the windows of the bookstore will be decorated with the work of Giacobbe’s heirs, the new wave of Italian illustrators, such as Luca Barcellona, Alice Beniero, Chiara Dattola, Emiliano Ponzi and Olimpia Zagnoli.

“Visionary Dictionary: Beppe Giacobbe from A to Z” is published by Lazy Dog and will be released 2 December 2013 for €55. Pre-order a copy to receive the discounted price of €45. The text is in both English and Italian.


Emozionare e convincere, ad arte

foto arteficiDa anni la Fondazione Cologni si dedica con esemplare tenacia alla salvaguardia e alla promozione dei mestieri d’arte, elemento fondamentale di tutto quello che definiamo come Made in Italy. Tra le diverse attività dell’associazione, una delle più interessanti è la realizzazione di libri e studi di settore.

Il più recente è “Artefici di bellezza. Mestieri d’arte nella moda italiana“, a cura di Paolo Colombo con Alberto Cavalli e Emanuela Mora. Si tratta una ricerca che la fondazione ha commissionato al Centro di Ricerca “Arti e Mestieri”  e a Modacult, entrambi parte dell’Università Cattolica di Milano. Si tratta di un interessante e completo regesto del significato, della diffusione e della varietà dei mestieri d’arte che tanto contribuiscono alla definizione e alla sostanza della moda italiana.

La qualità e le qualità del fatto ad arte, del fatto in Italia, emergono come i due elementi portanti di uno stile legato al sapere e al saper fare. Le mani artigiane sanno fare bene e fanno stare bene, realizzano oggetti e lavorazioni meravigliosamente belle, capaci di sorprendere ma non solo: la questione fondamentale sta nel fatto che questi manufatti sono “intelligenti”. Ed è questa chiave “smart” che rende una borsa più avanzata di uno smartphone, un abito più multitasking di un paio di smart glasses, un accessorio più utile di un qualsiasi smart watch.

L’artigiano è dunque un artista ma anche un ingegnere, un operaio ma anche un designer, un creatore ma anche un meccanico. Il maestro d’arte – come scrive Alberto Cavalli – incarna il meglio della millenaria tradizione italiana attraverso la capacità di emozionare e di convincere. Senza entrambi questi elementi, il futuro dell’italianità, in qualsiasi sua forma di espressione, è seriamente in pericolo.

Zero fumetti

foto-10A me i fumetti non dicono nulla, non li capisco. Di solito perdo tra i balloon, non vado oltre la seconda pagina e non passo le ore a guardare i dettagli dei disegni. Persepolis l’ho letto per dovere di cronaca, ho comprato un paio di libri di Joe Sacco senza mai aprirli e alla mostra di Daniel Clowes mi sono un po’ annoiato.

Poi mi hanno regalato “Ogni maledetto lunedì su due” di Zerocalcare. Quando Riccardo me l’ha dato, ho ringraziato cortesemente, ho sorriso, forse ho anche detto “bello!”, ma senza crederci poi tanto. Dopo qualche mese l’ho ritrovato in cima ad una pila di libri e ho iniziato a leggerlo. Ridendo, sorridendo, pensando, me lo sono bevuto in poche sere, prima di dormire. Ci ho trovato poesia, questioni generazionali, cazzate, lampi di genio, cose che avrei voluto scrivere io, cose che avevo sempre pensato e che non avevo mai visto scritte (e disegnate). Non mi ci immedesimo, per niente (non sono cresciuto a Roma né tantomeno nei centri sociali), ma ho trovato la capacità rara di far capire quello che ti è sempre stato distante, addirittura di riconsiderarlo con un po’ di affetto.

Poi, ovviamente, mi sono buttato a capofitto su “La profezia dell’armadillo” e il prossimo sarà “Un polpo alla gola“. Poi verrà anche “Dodici“, ma aspetterò un po’, giusto per non bruciarmi subito tutta la saga.

Per chi ama la sintesi ficcante, quella che arriva subito al dunque, la scrittura che parte dalla realtà delle cose, le fa volare alte e te le restituisce migliori di prima, i fumetti di Zerocalcare sono una bellissima scoperta.

Fact, fiction, faction


“I believe in the dream. I believe we only live for our dreams and our imagination. That’s the only reality we really have to know”

Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland aveva capito la moda come poche altre persone: sapeva comunicarla bene perché la conosceva nella sua essenza più profonda. La storia della prima fashion editor è nota attraverso libri, mostre e pubblicazioni varie, ma da poco è uscita in Italia un’altra tessera che contribuisce a definire il mosaico della sua immensa personalità. Si tratta di “Diana Vreeland. L’imperatrice della moda“, documentario di Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

Oltre le note di costume e le eccentricità del personaggio, emerge la sua visione della moda: un meraviglioso incrocio di originalità e sogno. La bellezza non c’entra qui, e non è una nota da poco. Per la Vreeland l’unicità è la cosa più importante: lo dimostra bene quando racconta delle modelle scelte perché avevano un naso troppo grosso, un collo troppo lungo, gli occhi troppo grandi.

E poi il sogno, il sottile confine tra fatti e inganno, che sono anche alla base della sua autobiografia. Uno dei suoi figli, Frecky Vreeland, ad un certo punto della narrazione, racconta che un giorno, dopo l’ennesimo aneddoto le fu chiesto: “Diana, is it fact or fiction”. E la risposta fu: “Faction”.

Seattle Public Library

La Public Library è uno dei pochi buoni motivi per andare a Seattle.

Questo capolavoro di architettura (costruito nel 2004 da Rem Koolhaas) sembra una scultura impraticabile, difficile da fruire,  esageratemente costruita. In realtà accade il contrario: tutto è fluido e semplice e la sensazione più bella che ti lascia è la voglia di leggere.

Mi è spiaciuto visitarla di passaggio: se ci tornerò, mi prenderò un’intera giornata libera di studio e lettura.