The great figures of Italian design
If modern design had to have a nationality, it would definitely be Italian… After the Second World War, Italy provided a fertile ground for the development of a flourishing furniture industry. How did it do this? Thanks to an explosive cocktail of craftsmanship and industry. At the same time, the country’s most brilliant architects tried their hand at industrial design, reinventing a dialogue between art and industry. And so it was that small, often family-run, industrial companies exported the Italian “style” around the world. From the beginning of the 1950s to the end of the 1980s, Italy experienced a golden age in which artists and industry worked together. We propose to illustrate this with 6 great figures of Italian design, to which we must add the talent of great publishers.
Gio Ponti (1891-1979) is the key figure of modern Italian design. An architect, designer and painter, he played a considerable role in the development of Italian design. He created iconic pieces of post-war design, such as the Leggera and Superleggera chairs, but it is above all his contribution to the advent of prestigious institutions and events that gave impetus to the intellectual and artistic life of his time that makes him indispensable. He was responsible for the creation of the famous international magazine Domus in 1928, which is considered the bible of design and architecture and still exists today. He was also the founder of the ” Compasso d’Oro ” award in 1954, one of the most influential and longest-running international product design awards. He also actively contributed to the recognition of the Milan Triennale (1923) and trained several generations of the most talented designers…
The Castiglioni brothers (Achille: 1918-2002, Pier Giacomo: 1913-1968) infused post-war Italian design with a kind of “quiet timelessness”, designing elegant and, above all, functional furniture. Not giving in to various fashions, their style is distinguished by the search for great sobriety. Until Pier Giacomo’s untimely death, they produced a large number of objects in the 1950s and 1960s for industrial publishers such as Flos (lighting specialists) and Zanotta (home furnishings). Achille Castiglioni won no less than 9 Compasso d’Oro awards.
Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007) is perhaps the most renowned Italian designer still in France and in the world today. His popularity is due to his protean talents, which have allowed him to touch on everything: industrial objects, furniture, ceramics, graphic design and, of course, architecture, since he graduated from the Polytechnic School of Turin in 1939. His career was marked by his collaboration with Poltronova, Olivetti, for whom he designed the famous Valentine typewriter, and the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres. Avant-garde, even radical, he exhibited in 1972 at MoMA during the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, prototypes of container furniture on casters illustrating the evolution of lifestyles. In the early 1980s, he founded the Memphis movement and invented a colourful language.
Joe Colombo (1930-1971) was the shooting star of Italian design. He died prematurely of a heart attack at the age of 41, and during his 20 years of activity he revolutionised design and the forms of the individual home. In the 1960s, he developed the concepts of modular furniture and “living cells”. As an avant-garde designer, he kept up with the times and designed transportable furniture. His seats, such as the extraordinary Tube Chair, lamps, shelves and storage furniture, such as the famous Chariot Bobby (1970), are distinguished by their modularity and flexibility. Joe Colombo was a workaholic and a visionary…
Another great figure from the golden age of Italian design: Gae Aulenti (1927-2012). A graduate in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic in 1953, Gae Aulenti, like Gio Ponti, played an important role in the intellectual and architectural life of her country, collaborating for 10 years (1955-1965) with the avant-garde magazine Casabella Continuità. The author of furniture pieces that became bestsellers, such as the Pipistrello lamp, she quickly made her mark in a very male-dominated field, architecture. She is an architect, a designer, an intellectual, but also a teacher, first at the University Institute of Architecture in Venice, then at the Politecnico in Milan. As a scenographer, she is known for rehabilitating old buildings into museums. One of her major projects was the initial interior design of the Musée d’Orsay (1980-1986) when it was transformed from a former railway station into a museum devoted to Western art from 1848 to 1914.
In addition to these 6 great personalities of Italian design, we should add another player: the publishing houses and and industrialists who have made its development possible. For example, the very old company Poltrona Frau, founded in Turin in 1912 by Renzo Frau, which quickly propelled the brand to the top of the high-end furniture symbol of “made in Italy” know-how. Another key reference reference: Kartell, created in 1949 by Julio Castelli, which has constantly which has constantly innovated in the use of plastic materials. Joe Colombo has for the Milanese publisher the Chaise Universale (1967), considered to be the first chair moulded entirely in plastic! It is impossible not to mention the publisher Cassina, which has one of the richest catalogues of of furniture in the history of design