Since its 2003 launch, US design firm BassamFellows has won fans on both sides of the Atlantic for its modern, minimal furniture and commitment to craft. This January co-founders Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows launched the brand’s first foray into retail, The Lifestyle Gallery in Milan’s artsy Brera neighbourhood. The former blacksmith’s shop was converted in 2009 by architect Michele De Lucchi and is intended to provide room for the brand’s exhibitions, collaborations and a selection of its furniture and accessories. “There’s nowhere else where the design and fashion industries are so intertwined,” says Fellows.
Giulio Iacchetti’s Stia chair is part of the designer’s new Milan-based joint venture, Internoitaliano. The company cuts out the middleman – in this case, design brands and their pricey showrooms – and allows Iacchetti carte blanche to come up with furnishings and then work with a network of specialist workshops and small businesses to craft them.
Given the flair Italians bring to the humble pasta shape, it’s no wonder design is the bedrock of their lives.
By Tom Morris
You are what you eat, they say. To sum up Italy’s relationship with design, it’s perhaps not the furniture, architecture or fashion heritage to which you should refer. It’s the national dish, pasta.
Bows, stars, spirals, cones, seeds, leaves, shells, flowers, ears, extraterrestrial life forms, strings, radiators, slightly flattened strings, totally flattened strings. Think about it. If they can do this to base ingredients such as egg and flour in kitchens up and down the country, no wonder they’ve produced what they have out of grander materials such as wood, foam, silk, marble, cloth and leather in the furniture studios of Brianza, the tanneries of Florence or the tailoring ateliers of Naples. In the UK, the most innovative thing we’ve done historically with carbs is mash them.
Pasta is an art form. The camp sartorial elegance of farfalle, the modernist simplicity of linguine or the meeting of form and function that takes place in each barrel of penne: no other nation in the world would take something as banal as a carbohydrate and turn it into such a design statement so many times and, crucially, with such joyful flair. It’s little wonder Miuccia Prada, Gio Ponti, Renzo Piano or Gino Sarfatti grew up with the imagination they did, being fed such folly.
Since the Renaissance, Italy has been known for designing and making things with a for-the-hell-of-it, playful attitude. (Sometimes that flair goes too far, of course. For every Ermenegildo Zegna there’s a Roberto Cavalli; likewise, for every elegant rigatoni there’s a completely ott conchiglie shell). And you need look no further than your local trattoria to realise it.
Set up just two years ago by Renato Preti, Discipline is the young pretender on Milan’s established design scene. The brand is known for its simple, Scandinavian edge, and for manufacturing international design by the likes of the UK’s Max Lamb, Japan’s Ichiro Iwasaki and France’s Pauline Deltour, all in Italy.
What are the challenges of launching a new design brand in Italy?
You need to have a clear, unique, strong, innovative identity and strategy to attract attention in a mature and competitive industry.
Two years on, how has Italy taken to your new company?
We produce almost everything in Italy but we sell almost only internationally. Italy only makes up 5 per cent of sales.
And why ‘Discipline’?
The word is used in all languages and it’s what we need after a long time of crazy and artistic design. Design is discipline. It’s what we need in design, in life, in politics.
Roman architecture studio Labics recently completed a 25,000 sq m project in Bologna, a philanthropic and cultural institution called the Mast Foundation. The expansive campus includes a staff canteen, an exhibition hall, a wellness centre and a 400-seater auditorium. The handsome low building, entered via a long rising ramp, is wrapped up in a glass façade. The transparent curtain wall sits under another layer of glazing, which is screen-printed with a pixelated design, giving the “microcity” – as the architects call it – a stunning glow at night-time.