TOUCH of class
Clean lines, sophisticated shapes, innovative materials - there's something about modern Italian design that sets it apart.
With the launch last month of 'Design Italiani: The Taste of Class' by the Italian Chamber of Commerce, the country's unique flair is having its moment in the spotlight.
'Italy has so much to say about design and we hope that people in Hong Kong, as well as buyers and designers in different fields, will appreciate the enthusiasm and innovation that goes into it,' says Manuele Bosetti, the chamber's general manager.
Modern Italian design, from Artemide, Kartell and B&B Italia, can be traced to the radical design movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, when architects, engineers and scientists in Milan started designing products with an eye to how they fit in with everyday life.
Over the years, it has become known for minimalist shapes, bold use of colour, advanced production techniques and innovative materials such as moulded plastic and die-cast aluminium.
'Italian design has three main pillars: technology, research and innovation,' says Santina Bonini, a native of Tuscany and co-founder of Hong Kong-based design consultancy firm Design-bs. 'And all of this is done with a very precise attitude towards humans, which comes from our humanistic background.'
Bonini cites Artemide co-founder Ernesto Gismondi, who began designing lamps by studying how light affects people. 'That's the way we think when making products,' Bonini says. 'That's probably the very point that makes the difference. Even [with] the most common product, like a light or a sofa, you have to see behind the scenes to understand Italian design.'
Italian design can also be a lot of fun. It is 'full of confidence, playfulness, experimental in some ways, and full of passion', says Tony Luk, owner of lifestyle retailer Andante. 'With the long history of Italian culture in fashion, fine art, architecture and music, I will say Italian design is a true reflection of their history and society.'
The influence of fashion, in particular, can be seen in the choice of rich fabrics and textures from linen and velvet to cashmere and chenille. Andante's Louvre Gallery focuses on fashion-related brands such as Fendi Casa, Visionnaire and Molteni&C, while its Andante showroom features products from Minotti, a brand known for innovative textiles with new fabric and leather collections introduced each year.
One of Italy's most famous exports, leather, is also the centrepiece of family furniture company Cierre. The company takes its 'Living in Leather' motto to heart, upholstering everything from dining sets to lamps in animal skins.
Their newest sofa collection, Pattinatore, was inspired by the twirling motions of a figure skater. It can be customised with eight grades of leather and more than 200 colours.
The blend of high-quality materials and contemporary design often results in products that Luk describes as 'timeless'. But while many products - whether an egg-shaped polycarbonate chair or a sleek wooden dining table - appear simple to the untrained eye, the work that goes into creating them is complex. 'Italian design focuses on perfection, every detail. It's all about the design, the details and the quality,' says Kevin Tse, director of designer furniture retailer E.Bon.
'When you see it, you know it's from Italy,' adds Tse, whose ViA showroom stocks bathroom, kitchen, lighting and furniture products from such brands as Cassina, Cappellini and Poliform.
'Design Italiani: The Taste of Class' concludes on July 12 with a reception at SICIS showroom. See www.icc.org.hk for details.