Kartell: The Culture of Plastics

Kartell-monograph-1-thumb-425x227-54124My new article for Cool Hunting

From the very beginning of Kartell‘s history plastic and design have been the mantra. Founded by Giulio Castelli, a chemical engineer, the Italian furniture brand is the most influential proponent of plastic industrial design, building a sizable following through quality production processes and design contribution by innovative designers. The homes of the 1960s and ’70s were very keen on accepting this experimentation and thus the company grew rapidly. Even though today Kartell is owned and directed by Claudio Luti, the founding ideals remain the same, making a strong argument for the chemical formula of success.

In order to celebrate this tradition Taschen has recently released a substantial, meticulously curated monograph entitled “Kartell: The Culture of Plastics.” The work of editor Hans Werner Holzwarth, professor of visual communications at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, and Elisa Storace, curator of the Kartell Museum, describes in its 400 pages more than 60 years of activity, nine Compasso D’Oro ADI awards and the colorful design icons created by the likes of Gae Aulenti, Joe ColomboPhilippe Starck, Vico Magistretti, Antonio Citterio, Ron Arad, Piero Lissoni, Ferruccio Laviani, Patricia Urquiola, Marcel Wanders and Tokujin Yoshioka, to name a few.

This self-proclaimed “big book of plastics” is strictly organized in chronological order, leading us through the astonishing shapes and space-age aesthetic of the ’60s, the experimentation of the ’70s, the almost subversive style of the ’80s, the “transparent revolution” of the ’90s and the sensorial approach of the last 10 years. Authors of the book include international design experts, museum directors, philosophers, journalists and artists such as Silvana Annicchiarico, Franca Sozzani, Gillo Dorfles, Deyan Sudjic, Chantal Hamaide, R. Craig Miller, Marie-Laure Jousset, Giovanni Odoni.

Kartell: The Culture of Plastics will be published on 1 March 2013 by Taschen in two editions, the first in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese and the second in English, French and German. The historic accuracy is also guaranteed by an index of each product and award. Find it from Taschen directly or pre-order on Amazon for $40.

Jean-Marie Massaud for FPM

My new article for Cool Hunting.

Founded back in 1946, FPM-Fabbrica Pelletterie Milano is a leather goods brand that has come back in recent years with new captivating projects, with the mission to work “in the name of movement”. With the aim to connect with the world of design, the brand has released collaborations with worldwide renowned figures such as Stefano GiovannoniMarc Sadler and Marcel Wanders.

FPM’s latest collaboration involves French archistar and designer Jean-Marie Massaud, also known for his previous works with B&B ItaliaAxor HansgroheDiorPoltrana Frau , FoscariniLancôme and Renault.

For FPM he has designed a collection of luggage called Globe, due for release in September 2012. The suitcases come in four sizes and are made of 100% pure polycarbonate. The shapes are a synthesis of function and aesthetics, where the technical solutions serve also as visual marks. We had the chance to meet Massaud for an exclusive interview and a preview of the Globe line.

Could you introduce us to Globe?

This project is a collection of luggage for every kind of situation: it’s lightweight, solid, resistant, efficient, high level in terms of quality and looks. We tried to reduce instead of adding elements, both functionally and visually. As a result it looks like the archetypal professional luggage for photography equipment and electronic devices, but redefined for common use. However, in order to enjoy it you don’t need to carry complicated electronics or optical products. The shape is just a parallelepiped with smooth edges, with the addition of some ribs (two horizontal and two vertical) that give a bit of structure to the luggage.

How did you define the concept?

The request from FPM was to have no design, no fashion references, no special attention to fancy colors. That’s why we chose a dark blue that is very close to black, a deep and intense khaki (to stay away from a strong military feel but to give a neat sense of efficiency), a red which recalls Chinese lacquer and a very light and warm grey. There’s also a special edition in white, just because we like white.

FPM wanted to make an affordable product: it’s the less expensive of the collection but not because we sacrificed on quality. For this same reason we also searched for a permanent basic item, meant to stay in the collection for a long time. It didn’t have to look trendy or fashionable—on the contrary, the focus was a simple shape and a large volume, so that we could invest more in the study of details and mechanical fittings. We didn’t want to have a simple basic article without allure or identity, but something meant to be long-lasting as a collection and—from the consumers’ point of view—able to stand the patina of time.

How was the design process developed?

We have designed every single part of the suitcase in the constant quest of efficiency and lightness. We strengthened the structure of the wheels to protect and make them super strong with reinforced plastic and glass fiber. The zipper and the stitches are clearly visible to show how good they are. It’s a strong piece of luggage—efficient and robust—and it has to look like it.

How is the project going to evolve?

We are planning a constant advancement of the project with new materials and innovative production processes, like different fibers for the shell and vacuum-formed neoprene on the inside. This is just a starting point—that’s why we have thought of a very efficient and gimmick-free volume, where the function is the first thing you can read.

At first glance, the surface could recall a sort of monochrome Mondrian painting. In the future development of the project we foresee adding some pockets, to be placed in the central area defined by ribs. They could be used to place magazines and other flat items, and every customer will have the chance to choose the color, so the suitcase will actually look like an abstract painting. Customization is a clear request from the market—it could be spontaneous (like with souvenir stickers) but we are willing to let people choose some elements of their suitcase.

In this project and in other designs you made sure there’s always a rhythm, a sort of visual melody. Do you have any creative relationship with music?

The first piece I did for an Italian company was the Inout sofa for Cappellini. When the press saw it they wrote it was “minimalistic and organic”. I thought, “I never care about style, I focus on content. I strive to find a symbolic approach in terms of shape, able to express what’s inside.” I was a little upset with this interpretation, but then I realized this is how my work could be read.

In general I don’t like soft lines and shapes, but at the same time I don’t like a Cartesian way of thinking, where it’s nature against culture. I’m happy when I find a sensual and natural contour, that could be originated by mechanic needs but at the same time could be considered as the link between what’s hidden inside and what is visible outside, between meaning and structure. A simple parallelepiped with smooth edges is boring, unless you read smoothness as a quality. I like to create this kind of dialogue, and in music it’s the same.

I’m not a big connoisseur of contemporary music, but I have studied piano and classical music. In music you need structure and rhythm—if you have complete freedom you get lost but if you only have beat, then it’s boring, the sound becomes artificial and rigid. The combination of these tensions, both in music and design, shouldn’t be a compromise but a constant dialogue.

Flos 50th Anniversary

My new article from Cool Hunting

In its 50-year tenure Flos has truly embodied the spirit of Italian design, serving as a laboratory of experimentation for designers such as Ronan and Erwan BouroullecAchille CastiglioniAntonio CitterioPaul CocksedgeRodolfo DordoniRon GiladKonstantin GrcicPiero Lissoni,Jasper MorrisonMarc NewsonTobia ScarpaPhilippe StarckPatricia Urquiola and Marcel Wanders, just to name a few. Entrepreneurs Dino Gavina, Arturo Eiseinkeil and Cesare Cassina established the brand in 1962 based on the simple values of talent, art and culture, and in 1964 Flos— meaning “flower” in Latin—moved to the Brescia area under the guidance of Sergio Gandini, the visionary who brought in legendary talents like Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni and Tobia Scarpa.

Gandini thus began the brand’s remarkable story of passion, hard work and a near obsessive devotion to experimentation, research and innovation—all of which has been diligently documented in the Flos Historical Archive by Gandini’s wife and the 2011 Compasso d’Oro winner Piera Pezzolo Gandini. With the help of a team of professionals and friends, for the last six years Pezzolo Gandini has undertaken meticulous research, restoration and classification work to bring together prototypes, designs, original drawings, packaging, graphics, advertising, photographs, film clips, books, catalogues, awards and appearances at trade fairs, exhibitions and museums. The archive takes various forms—multimedia, paper and collections of products and objects.

In order to celebrate this important anniversary, Flos is launching an iPad application developed by Mobile Dream Studio. We recently had the chance to preview the app in Milan, and it is not simply a catalogue, but a true journey in the history of design. Sergio and Piera’s son, Piero, the CEO of Flos, collaborated with writer and journalist Stefano Casciani and photographer Ramak Fazel to create a real family history focused on “precision, project and poetry”.

The app—available late April 2012—offers a detailed chronological sequence of facts, full of archived images of the people who started the company, as well as sketches, prototypes, games, products and videos of the production processes.

Parti del tutto


In natura il macro e il micro si assomigliano in maniera impressionante, dagli atomi ai pianeti, dalle cellule agli oceani.

Gaudì è il grande maestro che ci ha insegnato che i dettagli sono parte integrante della sostanza del tutto. Ogni sua opera può essere osservata partendo dal generale per scendere al particolare, ma anche con il movimento opposto. Si possono osservare le guglie organiche della Sagrada Familia per poi osservare ogni dettaglio delle colonne che creano il bosco al suo interno, ma si possono anche analizzare fino all’ossessione tutti i pezzetti di ceramica che decorano il Parc Güell per poi osservarlo dall’altro ed immaginare che sia costruito sul dorso di un dinosauro dormiente.

Oggi moda, design e tecnologia stanno imparando questa lezione, dando vita a capolavori di operosità, di una meravigliosa complessità che scompare nel momento in cui si adoperano o si fruiscono. Questo è vero per gli abiti di Riccardo Tisci ma anche per l’iPhone, per il Bird’s Nest di Herzog & de Meuron tanto quanto per gli oggetti di Marcel Wanders.

Questi progetti e personaggi mettono in pratica un vero e proprio di trencadis, una tecnica che consente di vedere l’intero progetto in ogni piccolo dettaglio.