"Heavy Formal Exercise” installation at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, hand-made bricks compositions during the Endless Book Club by Self Publish, Be Happy / May 2017

Hope springs in Venice

For a long time, there has been a dearth of up-and-coming talents from Italy. All of a sudden, things have picked up, with M-L-XL designers Marco Campardo and Lorenzo Mason stepping onto the stage. A portrait.
by Martina Metzner | 2/27/2019

Marco Campardo and Lorenzo Mason knew early on that they didn’t want to stand in line for ages with their ideas. There’s a long queue of people waiting their turn at the door of every company – only to be issued with a “thanks but no thanks” ticket. They also knew, however, that to make it you need to offer more than just good design. Around ten years ago the pair – having just graduated in Industrial Design from the luav in Venice – got started under the brand Tank Boys and made a name for themselves as creative directors.

Marco Campardo and Lorenzo Mason in London, September 2018
“Bianco e Nero” gradient Silicastone chess table for Ace Hotel during London Design Festival, September 2018

These days, they still love the interplay between the purely visual and the two-dimensional, and they even design fonts, “because that’s what offers you the greatest freedom”. Their work also spans a much broader arc, however – “total design”, as Marco Campardo calls it. They didn’t want to limit themselves to just one discipline, and in this regard follow in the footsteps of the great Ettore Sottsass, whom the pair regularly cite as an inspirational figure. He too oscillated between concept and practical design, between art and consumption. Campardo and Mason see themselves as multidisciplinary designers, as exhibition stand builders, events organizers, artists, graphic designers, consultants, philosophers, architects – and, first and foremost, as nonconformists. M-L-XL is all about experimentation: When the pair design a dining table ensemble using triangular profiles made of brass, for example, which they finish with an iridescent varnish. When they reinvent the “Forma” font by Aldo Novarese in new and digital form. When they post their favorite playlists online, which they release under the title “Occasional Radio”. For M-L-XL though, freedom is also having their own publishing house and their own online shop, through which they market their items and fonts.

“We find ourselves in a momento storico with regard to design,” says Campardo with great conviction. The old-school system no longer works for young designers, he continues. You have to either offer your designs as one-off pieces and in limited series at hefty prices through galleries, or you have to bring them out yourself. Works from the studio are already on display in the Mint Shop London, and the logo scarves and fonts from M-L-XL are also now available in their online shop. In a year’s time, according to Campardo, the shop will offer the entire range of their items for purchase. The works could be seen most recently at the Venice Biennale, where Campardo and Mason teamed up with Luca Lo Pinto to design “The Breakfast Pavilion”, and where artists like Olaf Nicolai welcomed visitors to this playfully designed setting to enjoy breakfast and a discussion, celebrating this moment at the beginning of the day as something of a happening between art and everyday life. The pair’s works like “White Flag” for Somerset House (2016), “Heavy Formal Exercise” for the Tate Modern (2017), and most recently for the “Plastic Scene Exhibition” at the London Design Festival (2018) are testament to their approach of questioning things, reassembling them, and shaping them from all sides.

“The Breakfast Pavilion” project curated by M–L–XL and Luca Lo Pinto at A plus A Gallery, installation view. Venice Art Biennale 2017
“Serif Stool”, vacuum formed stackable stool made of mixed recycled plastic chips, September 2018, London
Work in progress during a workshop held at Plastic Scene show, London Design Festival, September 2018

Although personal reasons were behind Campardo’s move to London four years ago, from where he has since collaborated with his business partner Mason in Venice (“we can read each other’s minds”), the move has been extremely advantageous professionally too. “If you’ve got something to say, people will listen more quickly in London than in Milan”, sighs Campardo. “How long have you got to talk about current Italian design?” His diagnosis is not exactly positive for a country considered to be the mother of design. People have been playing it safe for too long there, he explains. They’re relying on a system that keeps reproducing itself. Perhaps it’s these aged structures that have led to their being a dearth of notable young Italian designers making a creative impact in recent years. Finally, hope springs in the form of M-L-XL. They may be delicate shoots, but happily they know how to make it rain.

“L Collection” furniture collection made of brass and iridescent varnish, Venice Architecture Biennale 2018
“Viva Venezia” series of wool jacquard scarves made in occasion of the launch of “Venezia” typeface family, September 2018, Venice
“Cin Cin”, furniture collection for Di Majo Morante
“Lunatico”, modular table based on the tessellation technique
“Forato”, light weight stool in different materials
“Pila”, modular bookshelf composed of a group of stackable elements