Fiat Heir Designs Furniture With Automotive Flair
This would be a car fanatic’s dream room: an exhaust-pipe chandelier hanging over a crystal dining table top resting on Formula One tires.
The creations embody the identity of their designer: Lapo Elkann, an heir to the Agnelli industrial dynasty that controls the Italian carmaker Fiat, whose latest foray into the world of design was on premiere at the Milan Furniture Show, which ended Monday.
"It’s not only about automobiles. It’s also the concept of recycling, which today is essential," Elkann said.
Probably no one can tap into the Ferrari tire supply chain more easily than Elkann. He also has taken shock absorbers from trucks and tanks and made them bases for side tables, with a crystal top or one of fine, wooden kite board.
Elkann’s designs are being realized by the Italian company Meritalia. But this is not his first time working as a designer: He helped on the retro-chic Fiat 500 and has designed sunglasses. He also customizes his own cars.
The chandelier Wroom Wroom costs about $13,163, the dining table Roll Roll sells for $9,400 and the shock-absorbing side tables start at $1,343.
Elkann’s entree into Meritalia was thanks to Gaetano Pesce, the New York-based Italian designer of whimsical furniture.
Elkann, 32, and Pesce, 70, each had a storefront window of Meritalia’s central Milan store to show their creations in the hottest opening of design week, paparazzi bulbs flashing. Pesce’s was a green carpet-covered sofa with brown cushions draped with oversized fabric flowers. "Fiorita," the soft, inviting sofa, starts at about $8,730.
"I thought to make a meadow where flowers have been planted, and some have already grown," Pesce said. It was the natural segue to his "Montanara" modular sofas of last year, featuring winter mountain scenes. Expect to see Pesce’s vision of summer next year and fall the next.
Pesce said he saw in Elkann a creative power and did what he had done for other friends: suggested that Meritalia work with him. The pair of Italians with New York roots met in 2004 when Elkann opened a Fiat cafe at Milan’s Triennale design and modern art museum. While Elkann pursues a design career - showing interest in the designs of Chrysler, which Fiat now controls, at the recent Geneva Auto Show - his elder brother John Elkann, 34, became chairman of Fiat on Wednesday.
"He translated the vitality of his family. He did not pretend to make things very elegantly. That is not interesting," Pesce said.
Also of note at the Milan furniture show
The designing Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana have taken inspiration from cloth dolls handmade by women in the remote Brazilian village of Esperanca for their latest creation: a white Murano glass chandelier featuring glass figures of the folkloric dolls dressed in red and black.
The white base of the chandelier, which is called "Esperanca," creates a cloud-like atmosphere, from which jut the torsos or legs of the dolls. The chandeliers are made on the Venetian glassblowing island of Murano for Venini.
While the Esperanca dolls sell for about $10 in Brazil, the chandelier is pricier - about $53,000 for a large version, $39,600 for a small. Each is in a limited series of five.
For the more price-conscious, the brothers also created limited-edition vases with the figures, at $6,580 each.
The glasswork is the second project they have made based on the Esperanca dolls, after a chair, "Multidao," that featured dozens of them sewn onto it. That chair brought the dolls national attention in Brazil, Humberto Campana said.
The brothers liked that they were helping the village, so they decided to do more. "We wanted to reproduce the dolls in glass, which was more sophisticated, more detailed,’" Humberto said.
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Sofas... and more
The "Bend Sofa" by Milan-based Spanish designer Patricia Urquoia is understated and contemporary and could fit anyone’s living room, if not budget. Its undulating modular forms allow maximum versatility.
A brown, three-section, L-shaped model in its Milan showroom runs about $11,760. Another layout nearby showed just how versatile the design is: The long white sofa alternated backs, allowing one sofa to serve many spaces.
B&B Italia’s sofas are made in the Brianza area near Lake Como. Their classic styles have a long life, even 25 to 30 years, with the possibility of changing the velcro-attached fabric.
The B&B Italia customer "is someone who sees the difference between what we do and what Crate & Barrel does or what IKEA does," said Jonathan Friedlander, B&B Italia USA’s marketing director. "There is a great overlap with the art world. People who are culturally sophisticated, educated and, of course, people who are wealthy."
Designer Daniele Basso, who once worked for Versace in Italy and the United States, presented stainless steel mirrors by his Glocal Design company. This year’s novelty: a mirror panel shaped like the Berlin Wall, starting at about $1,070.
Recognizing the connection between design and fashion, Basso displayed his mirrors in the via Manzoni showroom of the Italian outdoor-wear maker Napapijri. After all, fashion needs mirrors.
"Design is not about beauty and aesthetics. It is a way to resolve problems," Basso said.
One thing that will not be going on sale soon but would appeal to any former kid who loved slime or rubber worms: Pesce’s armchairs made of silicon tubes. They look as if they were molded out of thick spaghetti, colorful garden hoses or glowing blue worms. Pesce has been experimenting with the material since 1996. The first chairs weighed about 172 pounds (78 kilograms); they now are down to 40 pounds (18 kilograms).
"To experiment with design is very important, because design is the art of our time. It is very mature and advanced, not just things practical, and you can tell a story, a political story, a philosophical story, a religious story," Pesce said. "That’s what art did in the past. If you go to a contemporary art store, no one understands anything. Design has the capacity to talk to anyone. That is democracy."