That people like Matali Crasset and Marcel Wanders are enormously talented is undeniable, or that the multicultural charm of projects by the Campana brothers and Satyendra Pakhalé are a joy for the eyes and the mind. It’s good to see a crowd of young (and not so young) foreign designers in Italy, attracted by the know-how of our companies, or regularly being presented by marketing and PR events in the interior design and decoration sector. It’s always been that way. In the sixties and seventies, many foreign designers actually moved to Italy: Makio Hasuike, Andries Van Onck, Isao Hosoe and Richard Sapper, made a lifestyle change as well as a professional leap. In the eighties and early nineties, with the advent of the fax and mobile telephones, a new generation of designers began going to and fro northern Italy. People like Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Ross Lovergrove were all launched to stratospheric heights by products produced and communicated by Italian companies. Up to that moment the system had maintained a good balance between Italian and foreign designers jostling to get their chance with the big Italian names. And nearly always, the best project won. The last ten years though have seen a change: while many in the young designer star system still owe their fortune and visibility to Italian companies, the number of Italian designers who make it are few and far between.
What has happened?
Less self-important countries than ours realised early on that design is a fundamental economic resource. Accordingly they started long-term social projects to foster design. The public and private institutions, embassies, local town councils, museums and universities in Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Canada, etc. that work to assist the training and promotion of local designers would fill a phone book. Take two emblematic examples. In the early eighties when there was much talk of design, France counted only five well known names, and the profession was practically unknown. Then the French - masters at creating acronyms - set up the VIA (Valorisation de l’Innovation dans l’Ameublement), a mixed public and private body to promote furniture design, that year after year helped bring together schools, craft businesses and companies. The VIA financed dozens of young people to get work experience in companies and develop real prototypes; it created a prestigious showcase in Paris for the best projects and then exhibited them in the major “design weeks” around the globe. The result: today there are hundreds of well known French designers and about 20 of these have attained star status - like the Bouroullec brothers and Jean-Marie Massaud who was discovered by the Veneto company Magis in 1994. In Belgium, there are still relatively few famous designers but practically every month, we of the specialist press receive invitations, dvds, catalogues and books reporting exhibitions, prizes and fairs attended by the “Designers of Flanders”, a well organised and well supported group dedicated to marketing their designers’ products. The same applies to French-speaking Belgium, not to mention the publications that bring the two components together and promote them as Designers of the capital Brussels!
Of course the issue is more complex than this summary explanation makes it appear. But it is not exaggerated to talk of ‘designers designed by the state’. And it’s the reason for the imbalance mentioned before. Foreign designers are helped to make themselves known to companies in their own country and internationally, with special emphasis on Italy. Italian designers have a hard time getting the ear of domestic companies, which because of their communication and international marketing needs, look at prospective projects on a world basis. If Italian designers go abroad, they do so at their own expense. Yet despite the complete disarray of any collective design organisation in Italy, there are still many with the drive and passion to pursue the profession. Today there are at least 100 men and women between 30 and 45 with a wealth of talent, and many projects to prove it. The six shown here are an example. Their personal stories read like novels, their products examples of today’s market: unable to get a break with the furniture moguls, each turned to other less traditional channels. Their creations include Mirri’s small fun objects (the only designer enjoying long term collaboration with a cult name like Alessi), tools, the signage of architect Azzimonti, T-shirt graphics by Joe Velluto, small electric appliances by Mangiarotti, objects for urban nomads by Iacchetti&Ragni, minimal lamps by Marco Zito, a designer who stubbornly, and happily, continues to be a designer among the canals of his hometown Venice.
There are new Italian designers around. Their work covers the whole gamut of products. They deserve more attention from the few institutions that exist and from major Italian manufacturers.