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When labels meet tables: fashion and furniture converge

When labels meet tables: fashion and furniture converge

April 11
08:55 2018

When Torre, a monumental nine-storey tower designed by OMA, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’s firm, opens this month it will mark the completion of Fondazione Prada, the fashion house’s vast arts destination on the industrial outskirts of Milan. The cultural complex, which opened in 2015, now dominates the southern district of Largo Isarco, and serves as a visual marker of fashion’s creep into the city’s broader intellectual life. Its presence also symbolises something of an artistic renaissance in Milan, where the creative pillars of art, architecture, interior design and fashion increasingly converge — nowhere more so than at the annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair.

The international fashion presence at this year’s event is arguably stronger than ever. American artist Phillip K Smith III will create a sculptural installation inside the historic Palazzo Isimbardi, drawing on the architecture of the Italian Renaissance, for the fashion brand Cos. Louis Vuitton is working with a starry line-up that includes Marcel Wanders, Patricia Urquiola and the Campana Brothers on a series of intricately worked decorative objects and furniture that explores the brand’s leather workmanship in compelling ways. Meanwhile, Spanish fashion house Loewe, with British designer Jonathan Anderson at the helm, pushes further into the realm of art and design with a collection of 50 tapestries and blankets showcasing global craft techniques, from Japanese Boro textiles to Indian ribbon embroidery.

Though fashion’s dominance at the fair is not entirely new, these projects feel more authentic and thought-through than the old model of a fashion brand simply churning out a half-baked home-decor line. And it’s no coincidence that Milan is the place where this intersection happens. “Prada charting this very legitimate foray into the art world has shown just what the possibilities are,” says the US creative director JJ Martin.

The former Wallpaper* magazine journalist, who has lived in the city for 16 years, now runs La Double J, an online clothing and decor emporium that employs riotous vintage patterns and celebrates Italy’s design heritage. One of Martin’s many outings at Salone is a collaboration with the Italian design company Kartell on a 15-piece collection of furniture, lighting and decorative objects decked with the brand’s trademark psychedelic prints. “For a long time there was not a lot happening here. For the first five years, I was not a cheerleader for the city. Now there’s a new generation in Milan who are happy to break down barriers and do new things.”

A model wears clothes from Attico’s AW18 collection at the apartment of the late architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni

Part of this group is architect-turned-interior designer Cristina Celestino, who counts some of Italy’s most prominent fashion houses among her clients. She sees little distinction between the creative disciplines. “For me a bag is like a piece of architecture,” she says. In 2016, Celestino collaborated with Fendi on The Happy Room, a collection of furniture presented to great acclaim at Design Miami. Now she’s working with the Italian footwear brand Sergio Rossi, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, on the global refurbishment of its store interiors, most recently unveiling its boutique on Milan’s Via Monte Napoleone. With its powdery palette, jewel-like touches and specially commissioned curvilinear furnishings, it’s a showcase for a softer aesthetic that borrows, often directly, from the company’s historic 1930s roots.

“I think the customer can easily see how these designs fit into the Sergio Rossi world,” she tells me. There’s the Opanca, a large leather and suede sofa, which takes its name from the brand’s classic 1970s sandal, with tapered legs that mirror the heels of the new SR1 shoe. The Mermaid is a metal and copper screen whose graphic, perforated leather borrows from a fishbone pattern that has long been one of the fashion house’s signatures. Alongside her own Salone project, Cinema Corallo, which sees her transform a 1928 Milanese tram into a nomadic screening room, Celestino will unveil a botanical chandelier for Sergio Rossi that’s been created with the lighting company Flos. “Fashion brands are much freer than design brands,” she says of the benefits of such collaborations. “Unlike design, fashion has the ability to constantly evolve. Even when brands have a very strong and particular heritage, they have to continually find a new story season after season.”

In this vein, the leather-goods brand Valextra, which is Milan’s answer to Goyard, has invited artists and designers such as Martino Gamper to both create installations in their stores and work on their collections. For spring 2018, the innovative British talent Bethan Laura Wood reinvented a series of Valextra bags inspired by the paintings of Eduardo Paolozzi, boldly covering them with Neapolitan-hued tubular lines, some with twirling 3D handles, and filling their Milan store with a giant snake-like iteration of these toothpaste-like forms. It’s been so successful that she’s now contributing to the interior of Valextra’s soon-to-open Venetian store.

The new Torre at Fondazione Prada in Milan © Fabrizio Albertini

It’s not only the fashion establishment that is getting in on the act. Emerging brands such as Attico (meaning “penthouse” in Italian), which was founded by Italian street-style stars Gilda Ambrosio and Giorgia Tordini in 2016, have quickly risen to prominence, in Attico’s case partly thanks to its clever positioning as an arty, design-literate label that highlights the interconnection between women’s homes and wardrobes.

“Attico is not just about clothing, shoes and accessories,” explains Ambrosio, who is based in Milan. “It’s a lifestyle.” During Milan Fashion Week, the pair present their collections in some of the city’s most scintillating interiors, from the apartment of design duo Dimore Studio (who recently completed the interior of the Fendi store on London’s Sloane Street) to spaces conceived by renowned architects such as Luigi Caccia Dominioni. “Interiors are always part of our inspiration,” says Ambrosio. “But it’s also a way to allow people to discover how beautiful these Milanese interiors are, how much history and charm there is behind closed doors. It’s this link between fashion and interiors that’s creating such a buzz about the city, especially during fashion week.”

Louis Vuitton Objets Nomades ‘Ribbon Dance’ seating by André Fu

There are parallels here between the current dynamism of the design scene and the excitement around the Memphis movement of the 1980s. “There has been a radical shift in taste,” explains architect Fanny Bauer Grung who, together with her husband David Lopez Quincoces, curates Six Gallery, a new design space, florist and bistro that’s housed in a 16th-century Milanese monastery. “We went from this clean aesthetic in the 1990s and 2000s that was dominated by the big furniture companies, to something much more eclectic. Now people are more interested in what makes a design unique. There is room for playfulness again. This gives designers a lot more space to create and, crucially, sell their work.” This emphasis on craft is seen across the luxury fashion market as high-end consumers move towards the handmade and bespoke in the search for uniqueness in a digital world where everything is readily available.

“It’s quite simple,” continues Bauer Grung, whose gallery presents the contemporary bronze designs of Milan-based jeweller-turned-furniture designer Osanna Visconti di Mondrone alongside collectable design classics by the late Gabriella Crespi. “You have the best artisans in the world working just outside Milan. It’s like a huge artisanal factory so, as a creative, whatever idea you have you can realise it here. Plus, unlike London or New York, it’s an affordable place to live.” With this in mind, the husband and wife team will present their own collection of armchairs, tables, lamps and screens in materials inspired by the Californian desert at the gallery during Salone.

Valextra bag inspired by the paintings of Eduardo Paolozzi

Commercially, it makes sense for the worlds of design and fashion to collide. There’s strength, and newness, in collaboration. Fashion gains cultural cachet through its art and design associations, yet it’s not an entirely mercenary exchange. This is a point that Miuccia Prada was keen to highlight during Milan Fashion Week in February, when she presented her latest show at the top of the cantilevered Torre. Staging her AW18 collection at the gallery, she said, was her revenge on an art world that still views fashion as frivolous. “Designing things for the body is still seen as less important than designing a chair,” she told journalists backstage. Yet, she added: “Fashion is actually the one that gives money to the arts.” Though perhaps the tables are turning.

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