You took part in SaloneSatellite in 1998 and 1999: what was the experience like for you?
SaloneSatellite marked a fundamental stage in my development, in 1988, it was the first time I had shown my own work, after working in Philippe Starck’s studio for 5 years.
It was also the first ever SaloneSatellite and by chance, I took the last remaining space. It was an excellent investment for me and I spent the last three nights in my car because I didn’t have enough money for a hotel.
It meant I could free myself to do what I wanted, take control of my life, stop being a student and start being a professional, it was high time to strike out!
I turned up in my Fiat Punto, with 6 metres of lino, a rug, a lamp and a chair.
The atmosphere at the Salone was kind, generous, refreshing, just right for striking out on my own. I met tons of people.
The Salone attracted media interest, they were keen to sniff out something new.
It’s easier to get a press response early in one’s career than to attract the curiosity of Italian industrialists, manufacturers and the rest of the world.
I met the CEO of Flos, Julius Cappellini, Rolf Fehlbaum - Chairman Emeritus of Vitra, Umberto Cassina, Alessandro Mendini, Achille Castiglioni and Andrea Branzi… as well as all the other designers taking part in SaloneSatellite.
I went back in 1999, as part of the Luxlab collective.
Jean-Marie Masso, Thierry Goguin and I presented the Luxlab installation, a high spot was when Talking Heads singer David Byrne came by, which got us onto the front page of the Corriere della Sera the next day.
Would you recommend SaloneSatellite to a young designer or do young people today need a different sort of help?
The Milan Salone is still the most important place, the most important occasion for the design world each year. It’s where the industry, established designers and students come together.
The whole community of people who reflect, attempt to define and think about the world gets together.
You can be sure of getting an overview of the research landscape, Milan is the pinnacle.
Plus gearing up to exhibiting one’s work, comparing it to other people’s means the bar can be set very high.
It’s great, it’s exciting, but it can be scary too. The challenge forces you to give of your best.
I think there are many more designers around these days, which makes it even more difficult to launch yourself through SaloneSatellite or another event.
If you can only do one, that’s the one to do!
The digital tools available now help to prolong these occasions.
That said, the physical, tactile experience of the objects and the spaces can never be replaced because we design objects to be touched as well as seen.
What about your relationship with Italian companies?
My relationship first and foremost is with Italy, a country I adore from North to South, from East to West.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of prestigious companies like Alessi, Cassina, Kartell, Pedrali…
It’s with immense relish, immense pleasure that I am engaging with Brianza, where the joy of making meets the joy of inventing.
From exhibition displays to exclusive restaurants all the way to the first-ever 1:1 furniture series realised with 3D technology (now in the MoMA collection, incidentally), a solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, a Compasso d'Oro Award: you're absolutely eclectic. Next steps?
Eclecticism is a creative driver for me. We are working on the design of equipment and buildings for 60 future Grand Paris Express stations, currently the biggest worksite in France, with a 25 billion euro budget.
My partner Sanjit Manku and I are also working on the refection services at the Gare Montparnasse.
You’ve reinvented industrial culture by introducing shapes drawn from mass production - blast furnaces, chimneys, moulds, turbines - integrating them into the luxury world. What direction is design taking?
Design is up against a huge problem, which is the end of modernity and the disappearance of the idea of progress as a concept.
Design must continue to be the guardian of humanism in industrial production, for the last few years designers have again been working with artisans on smaller quantities, which means that design can bring worlds that had been split apart back together again.
The ecological side of human production is more central.
How do you harness the theme of living yourself: fashionable home or on a human scale?
I’m really bad when it comes to style, to fashion. I’m not in that groove and the final result doesn’t matter much to me, even though I’m a designer, I’m not materialistic, but I’m always fascinated by human beings and fragility, the ephemeral side of life…