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Entrevista Giulio Cappellini

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Giulio Cappellini: We Have To Make People Less Afraid Of Design
Images: Blaga Bancheva
Giulio Cappellini is a well-known name in the design world. If there is someone who hasn’t heard it yet, I will just say that he is the man who turned the Italian company Cappellini
into one of the biggest trend setters in the world. I met Mr. Cappellini at the Abitare il Tempo 2008 fair in Verona, Italy. Here he presented an amazing selection of design pieces that have a great impact on design development in the last 50 years. Read more about the Design Mix exhibition and Giulio Cappellini’s opinion on hot design issues in my interview with him!

“The biggest provocation today is to be normal!”


You have presented a fantastic exhibition of designers’ pieces at Abitare il Tempo fair. What is the general idea behind your approach?

Too often, we only see a lot of products in the sparkling windows of beautiful shops or on display in museums of contemporary art, where we can appreciate their quality, but feel that they are rather distant from us. In this exhibition, I wanted to think about a journey in an imaginary fairytale landscape, where we can meet, touch, and try out products for our homes, designed by various designers.

Which are the common characteristics that unite all the products in the exhibition?
I have made a very free choice, not determined by any preconceived ideas, mixing products from different cultures. I felt myself free to choose what I like, what, in my opinion, represents research, innovation, thought and design. I chose about 180 different products, produced by 70 different companies from different part of the world. Most of the companies are Italian but there are companies also from USA, Spain, France, etc.. When they were first seen, all the products on show represented a small “revolution” in type, form or technology.
After that I chose different kinds of products. These are unique products either in limited editions or in mass production. This is the main concept of the exhibition – products with innovation. For sure the innovation from yesterday is not the same as the innovation 50 ago.

You often say that long-sellers not best sellers are more important for you. Are there any hints which product will be a long-seller?
People are often a little bit afraid of design. They say, “If we buy a design product, which is fashionable and good today, in 5 years it may not be still good”. Many people prefer to buy a copy of old furniture because of the same fear of design. They don’t want to spent money for something that will be old-fashioned in 2-3 years any more. I think that the attitude to design is different from the attitude to the fashion also if the attitude to fashion is totally changed.
People that buy design products spent a lot of money. So, I strongly believe that they prefer to buy products that will be good not only for tomorrow but for the future. That’s why I think that good design can produce bestsellers, very good design can produce long-sellers. For me it is very important to try to make products that will be good for many years. We have to make people less afraid of design!

What is your attitude toward the oppositiondesigners’ products – mass production?
I think that a good designer can create products either for a mass production or for a limited edition. In this way the same end consumer can buy very exclusive product or a very base mass-produced product.
The real new word of the end consumer is “freedom”. The end consumers are now free to choose. They like to mix different products in their homes. People don’t need something that is totally exclusive or totally simple but like to mix different things together. I think that the designer and the producer have to take care of this new attitude, the new freedom of the end consumer.
When we think to the limited edition, we are more close to the art. People buy it like they buy a sculpture or a painting. When we make mass products, we have to try to do honest products and also useful but beautiful products.

Once you said that Cappellini has to do the modern classics in the furniture’s field. How do you define classics in terms of the diversity that surrounds us?
It is very difficult to name the trend today. In the past it was possible to define a certain trend for a period. Today we are surrounded by many different products in terms of shapes, materials, used technologies and so on. But there are some products that just for the sensibility of the design, for the quality of the production are really ready to become the new classics. For me, to become a product classic means to become a long-seller. We still have much to do. It is not true that everything has been done in design. May be only in the terms of shapes it is a little bit difficult to invent something new today. We have the possibility to work on the beautiful shapes of the 50s and 60s but with totally new materials and technologies. This is for me the new classic. The way to create a new classical product is to work constantly on the innovation.

Which particular product (not only by Cappellini but in general|) expresses the best the spirit of our contemporary life?
I like particularly the products by Jasper Morrison. His works are normal but fantastically normal and very contemporary. In my opinion they are modern classics. I like his concepts. He doesn’t move from his idea, he is not doing lots of things even if he has a list of companies that want products by him.

Every day designers and architects compete to impress the customers with their new works…
It depends. The idea that we have necessity to shock people with strange projects is really finished.

If you have to create the most provocative product, how it would look like? What provokes you?
Provocative for me is not to be provocative. The biggest provocation today is to be normal and to use the material in the best way.

What was the last thing in the design world that impressed you?
Normally, when I see a product and when a desire appears to have it the Cappellini’s collection or in my home, it is because I really love that product. The last product of this kind was the Slow chair by Bouroullec for Vitra. It is again a new classic.

In the recent years the product design passed through the Minimalism and Neo Baroque. What follows – another interpretation of a well-known style or a totally different direction?
The new trend doesn’t kill the previous one. The good products of Minimalism and Neo Baroque are still good. Today there is a great attention to the new proportions of the objects and the natural, raw materials. The wood again looks like wood.

Sustainable design and architecture are such a hot topic today. What is your attitude towards the issue and does it have a place in the Cappellini’s policy?
Today it is very important to respect the sustainability. Sustainability doesn’t only mean to use interesting sustainable materials but work on a global project in the company, to try to work in a better way inside the company. In many countries and especially in North Europe the end consumers are paying a great attention to the sustainability of the products. We have to take this into consideration.

How a young designer can impress you and become one of your designers?
I have more or less 300 young designers per month that are sending me drawings.

Do you examine all of them?
My assistant does the first selection. I do the second personally. But I travel a lot and this gives me the opportunity to meet many people and to see new products. Sometimes I teach in different design schools and universities. In this way I am in touch with the young designers. But I don’t have a formula to discover new talents. It is a matter of establishing good relations between the company, the designer and me. Then we start to work together step by step. Sometimes it takes 6 months from the first “Yes” to the final product. Sometimes it can take 6 years. Sometimes we start to work together and we arrive to nothing.
For me every new product for Cappellini is a new baby. So I like to work in a team with the designer, to discuss together all the details of the prototype.

What you usually say to young designers who are impatient to become stars?
I say, “Do few things but good things! Try to work without looking what has been already done!” For sure they have to know the history of design but they have to speak with their own language. It is not so easy to become the new Bouroullec or Morrison. Anyway, the Cappellini’s doors are always open for young designers.

Copying design is such a big problem nowadays. How do you fight with it?
The only way is to make products with lots of investments. These are products that can be copied in 80% but not in 100%. Sometimes the end consumer that buys a copy doesn’t know that this is a copy of the original. So, the only possibility for us as a company is to invest in research and innovations.

What is the most difficult decision that you have taken as a manager of Cappellini?
It was very hard to say “NO!” when people were telling me, “We have to make products that the market is asking from us!”. We had to follow our own way. It was also a very difficult decision to enter in the Poltrona Frau group. I was considering this step for more than a year. On one side, as an independent company we could do whatever we want. On the other side, in order to grow in the international market we needed more power. At the end I decided that for the future of the company it is better to enter in a bigger group maintaining our independence and personality. Today I am sure that I have taken the right decision.

How do you evaluate Cappellini’s position in the East European market?
In the last years we grow in the USA and in the Far East. Now we start to pay attention on the East European market. I think we have a lot of possibilities and we will try to push that market.

For many years Italian design is an institution. Is there any national design that can be your competitor today?
Italian design is a very known phenomenon. In the 50s there was a small group of that time young designers like Achille Castiglioni and Gio Ponti and a small group of entrepreneurs like Mr. Cassina, Mr. Gandini from Flos, Mr. Castelli from Kartell and a few other that strongly believed in design like a business. Today the Italian design is really a mix. I remember when I start working with foreign designers many people in Italy said, “Why? You want to kill Italian design?!” I wasn’t against the Italian designers. For me the most important thing is the person to be a good designer. I don’t care if he or she was born in London, Sydney or Milan. This happened 20 years ago. Today, when you look to a catalogue of an Italian company, foreign designers created 50% of the products in it. Good designers can be found everywhere in the world.
In the world there are not countries but companies that are very good and unique - like Vitra (I always say that Vitra is a Swiss company that work like an Italian company J) or Established & Son in England. Now we all play on the global stage. If the Italian industry wants to defend its leading position, we have constantly to invest in innovation.

author: Blaga Bancheva date: 09 October, 2008
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