Trends, design and distribution

A conversation with the designers: which fabric for which environment

The designer is not a mythical figure, a totem, a presence to be evoked. And yet, in the world of furnishing fabrics, often they are treated exactly like that: a sort of capricious divinity who doesn’t really love fabric, they love other materials, they could be the harbinger of great successes if fabric were (or became again) one of their favourites, but that is not the case. In any case, an entity that you have to deal with, but that it’s unclear how to approach. We’re joking of course, but not entirely. The issue starts with the fact that this creative figure is a sort of shape-shifting entity, especially in Italy, which passes with seeming levity from the creation of an object, to the design of a textile collection, to the creation of the indoor or outdoor furnishings of a building. In short, designer, architect, interior designer, graphic designer … all that matters is thinking about form and substance. Now, in the somewhat square and rational universe of textile manufacturing it becomes difficult to relate to creatives like this. Not that there is a shortage, in the sector, of ingenuity and inventiveness to be clear, but such an exercise must somehow be “inside” the sector, emerge from within, invoking the need for (real, we agree) very deep technical, material and process knowledge. However, the question arises: when Vico Magistretti designed, in 1960, his first piece of furniture, the Carimate chair for Cassina, we didn’t believe he was a great carpenter. Why then should we expect a designer to know exactly how a jacquard loom works? Can’t their creative contribution be mediated and guided by those who are experts in the production process in question, exactly as happens in clothing, in furniture or wherever there is something “technical” to know?

The issue is very complicated and still deserves a lot of reflection, but we mustn’t miss the opportunity to start a dialogue, to understand the reasons, the desires and the needs of the design world to try to bring it closer to us, to make it more contiguous with the fabric sphere. So what better opportunity than to ask the opinion of two young Italian designers who at Proposte were in charge of the visual identity and staging for the 2019 edition and thus were able to live and breathe textiles perhaps like they had never before? We are talking about Vittorio Turla and Gabriele Rigamonti who, with Carla Scorda, form Studiocharlie, one of the most important Italian design firms (honourable mention at the Compasso d’Oro in 2004 for the Csuni typeface and Compasso d’Oro in 2018 for the Eclipse faucet by Boffi) that also works in the world of fabrics with collaborations with Il Lanificio Leo and Torri Lana, just to name a few. From the answers, in our opinion, real and possible opportunities emerge, the important thing is not to think of the designer as some sort of mythical unicorn anymore.

Q. – Let’s get right to the heart of the matter: summarizing the experience gained at the last edition of Proposte, which fabric for which environment, from the point of view of style, dominates – if, anything dominates – the event?

A. – In some respects it is easy to answer – Vittorio Turla is speaking – and in others it is difficult. Let’s say that the most immediate feeling is that today furnishing fabrics respond most of all to the needs of classic environments, maybe updated and not necessarily traditional, but “classic” in their soul and setup. This inclination however is not absolutely unequivocal, it looks more like a proportionate response to the demands of customers, of the market. In short, we did not get the impression that the manufacturing sector is lagging but that, except in rare cases, it’s the sector in general that asks this of furnishing fabrics. Therefore it is easy to identify the classic as the primary field of activity for furnishing fabrics but much, much more difficult to identify the innovative potential that fabric can offer as a furnishing component.

Q. – Can you explain that a bit more: it’s not clear how much fabric can innovate, or how it can foster this change …

A. – Traces and signs of how it can change the appearance of a furnishing object, and consequently the whole environment, there are aplenty – it’s Gabriele Rigamonti who answers. After all, the simple variation of fabrics in the home can radically change the aesthetic approach of all the furnishings. The most macroscopic and immediate signal is colour: already just with the power of the latter you can change any characteristic but also, I would even say, a general style approach. More difficult, on the other hand, to identify – because you need certain training in the field – are the material and manufacturing aspects that can make fabric more of a protagonist: we noticed a greater diffusion of bouclé as a way to highlight workmanship, yarn and in general the materiality of the fabric. All that without screaming an evident or difficult design, staying within the lines of the minimal simplicity of the uni or the faux uni, but it gives greater aesthetic weight to the fabric covering. Let’s say that the classic is the most evident territory in which fabric moves, but there are valid reasons to believe that, outside of that safe realm, it could without difficulty even prove itself with more revolutionary projects. What’s needed is more courage, on the part of manufacturers and on the part of the market. Let’s say that, from this perspective, designers could bring the right dose of freshness and boldness.

Q. – So far, you have only talked about fabric. Yet curtains are a fundamental component in the world of furnishing a room. They determine the light that illuminates everything and they practically make up a sequence of tapestries repeated in every room. But you seem to me to be far removed from these fabric objects, you barely see them. Am I wrong?

A. – No, unfortunately that is correct. It’s a difficult concept to explain. I recognize their importance, but I have the feeling that as a product they have a more defined personality, which is simpler to read. Therefore they are more difficult to consider in a design phase, while much more immediate to put in the final refinement of the furniture. Curtains don’t blend in with other furniture elements, they shouldn’t echo their shapes. Their contribution is purely aesthetic, not really material, so our intervention and our sensibility as designers is required less. Having said that I absolutely do not want to deny weight or importance to curtains, on the contrary. I concede everything that you wrote, it’s just that I think of them as part of the sphere of intervention that comes after the process of aggregation of the furnishing elements.

Q. – So, in general, we might see designers who work on fabric but probably not on curtains?

A. – I did not say that. They are two very different types of intervention: with fabric the designer plays a creative role but also brings together different elements and combines different materials together, while in curtains their role would be more extreme, or more upstream – in the design itself of the curtains from a decorative perspective – or further downstream by intervening on the accents of almost complete room furnishings. I admit though that we, as a cultural inclination, are very minimal in our conception and therefore often the curtains, if considered, have to follow this aesthetic tendency that you could call “evanescent”.

Q. – So, I’ll summarize, you see a lot of the classic in today’s fabrics, but they could also play well in the realm of the future in your opinion. It seems that, all things considered then, the event allowed you to form a precise opinion of the sector. But, ultimately, what more should the sector and the exhibition give you designers?

A. – Fewer products and more personality – answers Vittorio Turla, with conviction. We saw stands with thousands of swatches that in the end all looked the same, but we struggled to learn about the histories, the cultures and the stories of the various companies. What’s missing a bit is the story, there’s no room for imagination and company charm when actually, and we are well aware of this, behind every fabric company there are beautiful stories. Longstanding clients are already perfectly aware of the characteristics of each supplier, so there is no need to be redundant in the presentation of what’s new, while the creative figure or the different kind a customer who doesn’t know you wants to be, in an almost shapeless ocean of swatches, attracted and won over by a story. From this perspective there is a radical difference with the world of furniture, where today history, the narrative, are fundamental.