Italian painter, sculptor and interior decorator Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) created thousands of iconic homeware items bearing the face of one woman - operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri - whose face he described as "a quintessentially beautiful and classic image, like a Greek statue, enigmatic like La Gioconda [the Mona Lisa]". His son, Barnaba Fornasetti (above), who continues to design in his father's name, explains the enduring allure of Fornasetti, as revealed in a new range of scented candles (below) available at Lane Crawford.
How have you succeeded in capturing a modern audience? "I do not believe in modernity. In particular, I do not believe in the pernicious aspect of the pursuit of modernity that is often [seen as] most important in the field of arts. Having said that, the Fornasetti style is actually contemporary: Lina's face is not designed from the 50s, but crosses all ages. Fornasetti is also a status symbol for high-end, high-value people."
Who is buying your items? "People of all ages, all social levels and all cultural categories. Mainly all Fornasetti creations have a use, but people often buy them for the aesthetic pleasure and for the decoration itself, keeping them just as a totem."
Why the current resurgence? "This is a reflection of our times: people are appreciating beauty and art, rather than looking at the price tag. And now that interiors are becoming less minimalist, a lot of decorative items are coming back."
Why stick with one woman's face? "For Piero Fornasetti, a single idea provided enough inspiration to create infinite variations. In fact, much of his work involved constant evolutions of specific themes. By allowing his imagination to roam freely, he was able to constantly reinvent or reinterpret an image. His most recurrent themes are the sun, playing cards, harlequins, hands and self-portraits. But the most famous is the enigmatic face of a woman."
What are some of the more unusual designs? "All Fornasetti designs are unusual, but there are a few pieces I consider unique, or even a little eccentric. The challenge is to continue to be different, without making it vulgar, but slightly provocative. Years ago, I decorated an electric guitar - the type used by [Jimi] Hendrix or [Eric] Clapton - with the middle part of the female body. That piece was exhibited at the exhibition 'Kama - Sex and Design' at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan, which closed on March 10."
Might a different beauty dominate Fornasetti products? "Lina Cavalieri was chosen by my father as she is a classical type of beauty: her face has a Greek and Roman classical shape. This face was not designed by my father - he found it in a 19th-century print. My father had an incredible hand, and by using it to mix and modify the images of other artists - like a DJ - he created his own identity, which was very strong. If we continue to use something existing, interpreting it through eyes that treasure the richness of what is around us, then we have no need to create again."
So never a Chinese face, then? "Probably not. The Chinese market is new for us, but I think people here may be stimulated by the Western face of Lina."