More about Italian Design

At the end of the 2nd world war Italy was a devastated country, both socially and physically; architectural movement, that had a strong relationship with the fascist regime, was not able to modernize leaving the innovation, both formal and conceptual to “industrial design”. This was made easier by the rising of artistic tendencies censored by fascist regime and by the participation of Italy to Marshall Plan, that was a great help for developing companies. These were usually rather small and to be competitive in the market they had to work for high quality products, that could be reached only with good designers.

The birth of Italian design of the 50’s come from the interaction of designers as innovators by nature and companies as innovators by duty.

For the developing of the phenomenon the avantgarde experimental art knowledge was basic: design magazines played an essential role. Among these Domus, under the Giò Ponti direction, was the most important and the works by Eames, Nelson and Noguchi and by Tange and Barragan as well as by Fontana and Matisse was spread in Italy through its pages. Ponti, furthermore, is one of the most important designers in the period and his designs (such as Superleggera by Cassina, 1951) respect high quality experimental standards.

This decade was marked by the success of designers who will cross design history up to our days:

Marco Zanuso (Lady by Arflex 1951 – Black by Brionvega – Marcuso by Zanotta)

Bruno Munari (many designs by Danese, among these Falkland fabric hanging lamp is the most famous).

Castiglioni brothers (Achille e Pier Giacomo) apply a traditional conceptual art process and supply functional solutions to living with a distortion procedure while keeping a strong ironic power (Toio and Splugen by Flos, Mezzadro by Zanotta).

This decade, respecting the motto “industrial design for industrial companies” is also marked by the rising of companies that will be in design history, beyond the designers:

Arflex (1950), Tecno (1952), Gavina (1953), Zanotta (1955) ed Artemide (1959) and the great design path made by Olivetti with Marcello Nizzoli before and Ettore Sottsass in a second time.

During the 60’s Italy experiences the so called “boom economico” decade: Italian design is characterized by two opposite tendencies: a commercial one, as result of professional designers work and an experimental one, drawing inspiration from Pop culture in a first time and from Radical by the end of the decade.

The 60’s design is mainly Pop, aiming on one side to please the rising middle class taste and on the other to upset it with meaning distortion method, scale changes and the use of original materials (plastic, steel, polyurethane, inflatable structures) and related techniques. This is the decade in which industrial design shows its deeply unclear character: “revolution” at the service of “conservation” (market).

Important work of the 60’s that are still bestsellers:

Selene (Magistretti by Artemide 1961)

Plia (Piretti by Castelli 1969)

Cubico e Falkland (Munari by Danese 1961-63)

Arco, Taccia, Noce (Castiglioni by Flos 1962, 64, 1972)

Eclisse (Magistretti by Artemide 1967)

Tizio (Sapper by Artemide 1972)

Sacco (Gatti, Paolini, Teodoro by Zanotta 1968)

Blow (De Pas, D’Urbino, Lomazzi by Zanotta 1968)

Fiocco (G14 by Busnelli 1970)

Joe (De Pas, D’Urbino, Lomazzi by Poltronova, 1970)

Serpentone (Cini Boeri by Arflex 1971)

Anfibio (Becchi by Giovannetti 1972)

beyond Zanuso and Sapper double-cube radio (1965) and televisions (1969) by Brionvega and the famous Sottsass “Valentine” typewriter by Olivetti (1969).

As we can easily under stand, Pop Design provides an opportunity to design supporting companies such as Arflex, Artemide, Cassina, C&B, Danese; Flos, Kartell, Olivetti e Zanotta to outline clearly their image. For example the partnership with designers (Giò Ponti among them) allows a quantum leap in Cassina, a former artisan enterprise, whose production will include in a few years classic modern movement re-editions (Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand designs) as well as more sperimental projects like AEO (by Radical designers Archizoom 1972).

The same track was pursued by Artemide, providing the basis for its future lighting production leadership; by Arflex, testing soft material shapes in Cini Boeri designs; by Zanotta, getting its avant-garde company reputation with the edition of Sacco and Blow; by B&B with Gaetano Pesce designs (UP using vacuum-sealed technology); by Flos that will achieve the most important Italian design lamp collection cooperating with Castiglioni brothers and with Afra and Tobia Scarpa.

1973 oil crisis will simbolically mark the end of an endless development pattern illusion with clear social and ideological consequences, to which design movement will react working out a new model that will be called post-modern.

If modernism was considered as “International universal style arising from the use of new building means and aiming to social changes, both in pattern and taste”, “Post-modern” will include several aspects distancing from the former utopia and using a partly modern and partly slightly different language.

The italian design movement will replace Modernism solid model with Post-modern abstract one, substituting quotes, used in architectural design, with research and design of new industrial products, and creating a “Neomodern” current.

Main characters of this process are two offices: “Alchimia”, with Sottsass, Mendini, Navone, De Lucchi and many others and “Memphis”, founded by Sottsass in 1980. In the standard furniture production it is stimulating to check the creative path towards the new “avant-garde” of two leader companies such as Zanotta and Driade.

Zanotta, after the 60’s success, experiences a short crisis that will be overcome through new design leading exponents (Sottsass, Mendini, Branzi) cooperation and with a the corporate image updating.

Driade, after the Oikos production commercial turn (design Antonia Astori, 1973) tried an experimental route, expecially in the soft upholstery, but without success until the first Philippe Starck products launch, that will represent an important turning point: probably these products will be sold more thanks to their designer’s fame than for their quality or their design.