This year’s London Design Festival, now in its eighth year, was not only bigger than ever, it was also more international in complexion, with a significant number of non-British brands exhibiting in their permanent showrooms, in pop-up spaces and at the somewhat-past-its-sell-by-date 100% Design fair. Part of this foreign presence, but by no means a new one in relation to the UK, came in the form of Cappellini’s exhibition at the V&A Museum, which reflected on the manufacturer’s collaborations with British designers for over two decades. Architonic was there to talk to the company’s art director and creative-talent scout, the ever dapper Giulio Cappellini.
I was recently approached by a Belgian design magazine to contribute to a feature on the country’s design scene. ‘How would you describe Belgian design?’ and ‘What for you is typical Belgian design’ were just a couple of the questions posed by the journal. In trying to formulate a response, I was reminded of just how problematic an enterprise it is attempting to define the output of a group of creative practitioners along national lines.
We would appear to be living in a global design age where the exchange of creative ideas, the dynamic of creative influence – aided in no small part by the instantaneity with which online design blogs and other platforms disseminate information about the latest products and projects – has accelerated dramatically, increasing with it our need to consume such information at an insatiable rate.
It’s fascinating in this context, therefore, to see Cappellini, one of the giants of Italian design manufacturing, create an exhibition at the V&A Museum in London to showcase its long-standing collaboration with British designers. Open during this year’s London Design Festival, in itself increasingly international in the profile of its exhibitors and other participants, here is a show that presents British design, manufactured in Italy, back to the British, if you will. National design promotion from afar.
Following a panel discussion at the V&A to mark the exhibition’s opening, which included design studios BarberOsgerby and Raw Edges (the latter hailing from Israel, but practising for a number of years out of the British capital, which is in itself interesting within a conversation about a national design), both of whom have successfully designed for Cappellini, I talked to the company’s art director Guilio Cappellini about his take on British design culture, why he welcomes competition, and what it’s like to be credited with having established the names of some of the highest-profile figures in British design, such as Jasper Morrison and Tom Dixon.
Why did you decide to make this exhibition? And why now?
Well, we wanted to do an exhibition to celebrate the cooperation between Cappellini and British designers. It’s an old story that started 25 years ago with Jasper Morrison and Tom Dixon, but a cooperation that’s still alive today with BarberOsgerby, Michael Young and Raw Edges. But it’s difficult nowadays to say ‘What is British design?’ Each different designer has his own style. But I think, and it’s important for Cappellini, that we can still find new talent and younger designers worldwide and here in England I’m still finding some really interesting people. This year we presented Raw Edges’ pieces and we’re working on some new projects with them.
The interesting thing about this exhibition is that you can see some products that are 20, 25 years old, but that are still good and still valid. As I always say, I like very much to work on longsellers rather than bestsellers.
The fact that you are an Italian designer/manufacturer showing Italian-manufactured products, designed by British designers, in London to a predominantly British audience – I wonder what that says about the state of British design culture?
When we think of Italian design culture, we often think of the relationship between Italian designers and Italian industry that grew up in the 1950s. Today, however, I think the landscape has changed. There is a group of companies who like to invest, to take risks, to work with designers coming from different parts of the world and with different cultures, with different stories and so on. To work always with innovation and to be very contemporary. Today, I think to be very contemporary is to work in an innovative way.
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