Clerics meet Matrizia

Mailänder Duftnoten oder Von der Schwierigkeit, seriös zu bleiben

by Thomas Wagner | Apr 22, 2015

„Eine unreine Zunge schmeckt nicht; stumpfe Organe empfinden nur nach den schärfsten Reizen, oder sie kauen mehr, als sie empfinden.“ – Johann Gottfried von Herder

Just follow your nose: In the Orto Botanico in Brera a small universe of fragrances of ages past was to be found. Photo © Stylepark

01. Atmosphärendesign samt Duftmarketing

Any apartment is full of smells. Be it fish in the pan or a roast in the oven, lilac or an open fire. Sometimes it’s a fragrance, or perhaps a scent, or perhaps simply smelly. Everyday life has its own olfactory profile. In rare cases you find in it what Marcel Proust portrays so marvelously in his novel “A la recherche du temps perdu”: The secret gates of fragrance or taste through which the imagination wafts us away from the present and we suddenly and intensely remember something that we thought was long since lost.

Tender and light spring green, the happy sound of birds chirping and any number of scents – all of that blended in Orto Botanico in Brera into a very special experience. But it is definitely not quite involuntary, as in Proust’s novel. No, it is deliberately created by the “BeOpen” Foundation, which selected the idyllic venue in the middle of the city for its project, entitled the “Garden of Wonders”, which is dedicated to the topic of “perfume”. In small, gold-colored pavilions in the midst of the verdant green, the spirit of long-since-forgotten perfume brands has been resurrected. Tord Boontje has devoted himself to the Czech perfume-maker Waldes et Spol, the Campaña brothers seek to re-animate Biette from France, Italian fragrance maker Bertelli has been reinterpreted by Dimore Studio, the three Swedish women who make up Front have tackled Guyla from France, Jaime Hayon British perfume maker Boissard; Lissoni Associati imagined products by US perfume company Lundborg, Jean-Marie Massaud decided to work with a Bertif note, and Nendo addressed the corporate image of Russian label R. Koehler & Co.

While on looking through the panes we gaze at imaginary showrooms and the flacons of past perfume empires with their refined designs, at each stop a different finely atomized fragrance wafts out above you. At Studio Dimore’s “Botanical Rain” it is “New Nature” that dazzles the nostrils; there was a note of oranges, bergamot, narcissuses and amber in the air. At Guyla, there was a touch of ginger and iris, and in the case of Boissard a light scent of violets sought to bring to mind “between day and night” in New York and Central Park. Long since in a phantasmagorical mood, you occasionally find yourself looking at a golden giraffe and wondering: Where am I? A bit of a shame that it was not the designers themselves who created the fitting fragrances in their search for things past, but master perfumier Gérald Ghislain.

This olfactory experience was anything but lacking in alchemy and magic, but as regards products by other fragrance concocters things were far more profane. At the fair, Kartell showed how mundane apartment scents can be transformed into artificial ambient fragrances using the right essences of purpose-created scented candles and atomizers; and Tom Dixon likewise felt a few fragrance dispensers were indispensable. Designing the right ambient mood seems to be all the rage. Sitting on a sleekly designed chair or armchair is evidently not enough, it seems, as in future you also need to have the respectively desired mood available – the fragrance thus enabling you to escape into imaginary places and times. Evidently all this is meant to appeal to those for whom scented candles from the drugstore are too banal, incense sticks from an Ayurveda range too exotic for the nose.

The truth behind this marketing of fragrances, intended when combined with light and music to stimulate several of the senses at once, is really that since it is hard to achieve any significant growth in furniture sales themselves, companies are moving into the field of accessories and packaging things as a comprehensive experience for the senses. Lexus went that little bit further, as there (around a strange compact car) you could see, hear, and smell things, and eat soup or crystals to boot, destined to further enhance the sensory experience (which always takes place in the trade-fair hall), as if all our perceptual organs had become quite dull and stimulants therefore imperative.

  • And here and there a golden giraffe. Photo © Stylepark
  • What does it smell of? Photo © Stylepark
  • Anyone wishing to reanimate historical perfume brands needs a structure and any number of essences. Photo © Stylepark
  • Brand fragrances now also sells Kartell. Photo © Stylepark
  • and of course rockstar Tom Dixon. Photo © Tom Dixon

02. Marketing ist die halbe Miete

Flowery themes, oddball sets, often enough the motto is: Who cares as long as one is noticed. Foto © Stylepark

Be it at the Salone del Mobile proper in the buzzing fair halls at Rho or in the more or less brash FuoriSalone events scattered all round town, in most cases it was the staging that counted more than the product, the success of which the setting was designed to guarantee. Of course we have long grown accustomed to this. Skillful marketing is half the story, after all. What get sold are not chairs, but lifestyles. However, there’s a growing uncertainty as to what all this is really about. On the one hand, this leads to even more energy being injected into the staging and the product being “romanticized” or “aromatized” with even more sensory experiences; on the other, many manufacturers are now starting to realize that given the surfeit of offers, all that really counts is a well-structured product line that clients welcome, as only that will let them garner success in the long term. It is improbable that the pendulum will enduringly swing in the one or other direction. Or, to put it differently, on the one hand there’s a re-emphasis on appealing, soundly produced design, and, on the other, a preference for mere styling that is overlaid with strong stimuli. For one thing is clear to all: Real innovations, be they technological or aesthetic, driven by the materials or finishing, have become rare in an age of digitally optimized production processes. Added to which, the declaration of capitulation in the face of one’s own fashions forever catapults other, forgotten, overlooked or hard-to-realize designs and historical patterns to the forefront of things. At Knoll International it’s Harry Bertoia, at Kartell and Cappellini it is furniture and patterns by the heroes of “Memphis” who have been salvaged from the depths.

  • Bears, oddball sets, often enough the motto is: Who cares as long as one is noticed. Photo © Stylepark
  • Also a form of decor: cutting off old plaits. Photo © Stylepark
  • A bit of Memphis never harmed. Foto © Stylepark

03. Innovation oder Variation

Konstantin Grcic loves not only furniture, but also playing with words: Sam Son or Samson or Simson means “small sun” in Hebrew, as opposed to small son.
Photo © Stylepark

Only logically, real sensations in the field of design were few and far between. What were on show were experiments and any number of variations. Admittedly, however, what those designers who do not trot after trends have come up with is, and the spectrum is great, usually very sound work, convincing at the aesthetic level, well made and sustainably manufactured, and worth the money, given more or less stable prices. A small selection: You can while away your life, sitting, eating and chatting – on the bench or at the table that David Chipperfield designed for himself and his holiday home and has now made accessible to others, by teaming up with e15. The wood will age well and you’re unlikely to tire of the clear shape.

The tables and chairs that the Bouroullec brothers have created – for Magis, for Artek, and now for Vitra, too – also get by with no modish frills. Even if they can all be construed as variations on one and the same theme, they have all been thought through coherently. So it’s a pleasant torture choosing which program best suits your own setting: the more country-home versions (Officina, Magis, which has currently been rounded out with a chair and bar stool), the constructive take (Kaari at Artek) or the elegant variety (Belleville at Vitra).

Konstantin Grcic remains one of the few designers who succeed in combining great constancy with an element of surprise. This year he has returned with “Clerici” (for Mattiazzi) less to the reduced and more to the refined end of asceticism, and many could well follow suit. Above all, the bench is worthy of a mendicant order while, especially in the unusually bright red version, also doing the solid chic of an affluent society embroiled in debates on climate change and sustainability proud. By contrast, with “Sam Son” Grcic playfully takes his cue from the leisurely age of Pop Art design, and sets a fresh accent wherever required. His “Jack” folding chair, which was not ready in time for the fair, will no doubt be one of the long-selling designs. And with his “Remo” plywood chair (for Plank) Grcic has melded new production methods with an artisanal tradition and at the same time shown that plain elegance need not be original down to all the details.

  • Now complete with a chair, too: the Bouroullecs’ “Officina”. Photo © Stylepark
  • Sustainable, as regards the aesthetics too: Chipperfield’s bench. Photo © Stylepark
  • The Belle Epoque beckons from a distance: “Belleville” by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra. Photo © Stylepark
  • Not just for monks: Grcic’s “Clerici” for Mattiazzi. Photo © Stylepark
  • No steep curve this time: Grcic’ “Remo” for Plank. Photo © Stylepark

04. Scherz lass nach...

The end of any mattress war after a move: At the end of the day, “Matrizia” by Ron Arad for Moroso is just a weak joke. Photo © Stylepark

The sound at Moroso is quite different. Here, the tone is very much still that of the armchair revolutionaries. Yet visitors, assuming they enjoy the wit, will laugh only briefly before moving on. With “Matrizia” (a neologism formed from mattress and Patrizia) Ron Arad has robbed a mattress of any instability and turned it into a settee – word has it he wanted to cheekily point out that today people tend to lounge on sofas rather than sit on them. It all rings about as hollow as his second settee called “Glider”, which acts as if it were made of a rolled-up mattress. This kind of showy design is simply out of date. The fact that the brochure claims “Glider” unites “fun and sensuality, function and stage” doesn’t make it any better as furniture and can simply be put down to marketing experts waxing lyrical. The thirst for originality can swiftly claim victims, as can sadly be seen from Sebastian Herkner, whose “Pipe Collection” (likewise for Moroso) relies not only on thick metal tubes and thick, horn-shaped backrests, but also on a martial/postmodern formal idiom. For the opposite, see the KT-221 seating group for deSede, created by Kurt Thut back in 1956 – and of course available as a “classic” from Walter Knoll, Cassina and others.

  • The metal’s a bit heavy: Sebastian Herkner’s “Pipe Collection” for Moroso. Photo © Stylepark

05. Viel Farbe und ein Universalstuhl

Not made with toothbrushes and a sieve: blurred color gradations are all the rage. Photo © Moroso

Consumers have a tough time choosing the one or other piece from among the incredible array of furniture. And to make things even more complicated the trend now is to cover anything upholstered with fabrics in full or toned-down colors, in fact of late to opt for covers that boast shades of one and the same color. A few years ago, this was triggered by Scholten & Bajings, and is now to be seen at many of the booths. Remember the principle from art classes at school? You take a watercolor, a toothbrush and a fine sieve to sprinkle drops of paint onto a piece of paper, in a more or less dense pattern.

It’s not advisable to band about too many “all” statements. But there is, after all, one type of chair to be encountered everywhere at the fair. With the effect that it’s hard to remember one particular version from among the myriads of them, giving rise in the mind to a kind of Platonic idea of the chair, also available as a small armchair. What does it look like? Well, it has four round or square wooden or metal feet on which a shell made of plastic or recycled material rests. And Hey Presto! You have an all-round chair for 2015. The lineage goes back to the Eames and Naoto Fukasawa (“Substance” for Magis) and Jasper Morrison (Alfi Chair for Emeco), with filiations trundled out by many a manufacturer.

  • No one gets out of line here: Jasper Morisson’s “Alfi Chair” for Emeco is just one of these all-round chairs for 2015.
    Photo © Stylepark

06. Teppich ganz crazy

The nemesis of digi-priting: Moooi shows how you can make a splash with good designers and slightly crazy patterns. Photo © Stylepark

A lot has changed in recent years when it comes to carpets and patterned upholstery fabrics. Moooi has gone especially wild, bringing out Marcel Wanders’ “Monster Chair”, available in a Special Edition that with its stitched backing evokes the spirits of indigenous idols. In the Zona Tortona hall, where Moooi presents its “Signature” collection, and very opulently at that, above all the printed and woven carpets with the wildest of patterns predominate. Such Baroque surfeit need not be considered great and promptly laid in a small living room. But cheeky it is. Possible thanks to digital technology. Images of grinning foods (Bas Kosters), highly colorful patterns reminiscent of African images (Bertjan Pot), Rococo-like collections of blossoms and insects (Edvard van Vliet), Old Dutch still lifes (Marcel Wanders) and abstract free-form oil crayon pics (Front) certainly accelerate the transformation of traditional carpets into images in their own right.

  • But will Romantic ideals make the grade?: a combination of piano, still life with flowers and cosmography at Moooi. Photo © Stylepark

07. Die Kehrseite der Kreativwirtschaft

So who’s feeding whom here at Ventura Lambrate? Today, being young and creative ain’t just about fun. Photo © Stylepark

Several things awaited discovery in Ventura Lambrate, where for some years now the young scene has congregated for a kind of inventors’ jamboree complete with food and parties. Seen as a whole, the more or less incoherent panorama gives little cause for hope that actual alternative ideas are being originated here. There were carpet patterns made of plastic forks or washing-up sponges, as if that hadn’t been done countless times before, and better at that. In the halls, courtyards and gardens alongside a few colleges many an artisan and young designer, all of them somehow very staid, tried to curry favor. Ideas and visions were to be had in bulk. Everyone had one, in some cases it seemed like an infection, as not every truly trivial idea is worth being pursued or turned into something of significance – not just for its maker. It’s easy to end up melancholic when remembering how much hope is connected with presenting an idea here. As what is apparent in condensed form is that cynical principle of the creative industry whereby everyone is a permanently creative one-person show ready to market the fruits of his or her imagination. Yet they are all left alone and their naïve idealism is exploited in driving gentrification a run-down industrial district. That, too, is a form of managing atmospheres.

  • Well-intentioned: Let’s make something with plants. Photo © Stylepark
  • Small fry or as long as the topic is important. Photo © Stylepark

08. Japanisch und programmatisch

Pretty cool presentation: At Museo della Permanente Nendo not only presents the fruits of its labors in 2014-5. Photo © Stylepark

This time only Nendo at the Museo della Permanente shows how you can really create a quite different form, a highly reduced form of glamour – probably for a lot of cash. The marvelous show of works with designs and products from 2014 and 2015 reveals why Oki Sato and Nendo are at present so sought after. Be it tables, chairs or shelving systems in glass (for Glas Italia), door variants or the “tokyo tribal collection” (for industry+), it all breathed a cool matter-of-factness that nevertheless seems playful, and which is superbly and consistently highlighted in the large white rooms.

  • Forever light and transparent. Photo © Stylepark
  • Analyse und Variation. Photo © Stylepark
  • Nendo makes but images made of glass. Photo © Stylepark

09. Hyperaktive Filiationen

Is this really the vehicle of tomorrow? Alfredo Häberli has the one or other fantasy. Photo © Stylepark

Precisely because stage sets, marketing, and self-presentation increasingly condense to form one huge atmospheric cloud around a few sound and innovative products sold by the big boys, the one or other has started to suggest furniture design is heading ever more in the direction of art. That impression is deceptive. For the reason for the success of all the pseudo-artistic filiations and creative surrogates relates to efforts to ward off the loss in the significance of art itself. Not because the visual arts are still so strong and all-defining, but because they themselves are all too frequently shapeless, i.e., come with good intentions but are as frayed and unfocused as the genres, they form a huge quarry for ideas in which anyone will find something depending on their postmodern tastes. The speed of the trend for decoration and the hyperactivity of the marketing buffs who seize hold of fragments of the past speak for themselves. It’s a simple enough process: First Gerhard Richter painted a blurred painting of a curtain, then Thomas Demand turned it into a wall in the Metzler Hall at the Städel Art Museum, and then the pattern pops up as a trivial backdrop on the Kartell trade-fair booth.

The more the future preserves its nature of being dark and inaccessible, the more intensively people act as if light could be shed on it. Taking as their slogan “Spheres”, BMW tried to do the same, relying here on Alfredo Häberli. By resorting to his childhood dreams and imagining a vehicle of the future that is neither a car, nor a boat, nor a flying machine and yet all of them at once, he involuntarily hit the nail on the head: His vehicle is nothing other than an abstract fetish which perfectly embodies the fact that we do not know what tomorrow will bring. It disguises the nothingness which the future represents. Be that as it may. See you tomorrow, or perhaps next year in Milan...

  • Even if at Kartell there was only a picture of it: stunned, we see the curtain close and all questions left unanswered! Photo © Kartell