Port speaks to the team behind the bold new Panerai design collaboration, Candela, currently on display at the Salone del Mobile in Milan
Candela – the hypnotic, slowly rotating, glowing circle, originally produced for Officine Panerai at the London Design Festival – has landed at this year’s Salone del Mobile. Designed to develop the key elements of the historic watch company founded in Florence in 1860, the installation mirrors the brand’s focus on design – which functions as much a vocation as it does for research and innovation – and draws visually on the luminescent dials which, since they began supplying the Italian Navy, have come to characterise the brand’s watches.
Named after the unit used by scientists to measure the luminous intensity of light, Candela was dreamt up by a British design team comprised of designer Felix de Pass, graphic designer Michael Montgomery and ceramicist Ian McIntyre. Now currently exhibited as part of the Salone del Mobile at La Triennale di Milano, an art and design museum in Milan, until 22nd April, it will eventually become part of the permanent display for the exhibition. Here, Port spoke to the team about how the idea developed, the significance of working with Panerai and what it means to be part of the Triennale’s permanent collection.
Could you describe Candela?
Candela is an immersive time-based installation. Combining digital and analogue technology, the project experiments with the light-retaining properties of the phosphorescent material used on the face and dials of Officine Panerai watches. The installation consists of a large mechanical wheel that gently rotates through 700 programmable LEDs housed within a ceramic casing. The face of the wheel is coated with a phosphorescent material that becomes charged by the light sources. The LEDs are programmed to turn on and off in a sequence that creates a perpetual ebb and flow of luminous patterns. The rich layering effect is a form of mark-making that exploits the ‘memory’ of the phosphorescent material and how it changes over time.
Where did the idea for Candela come from and how did it develop?
Panerai asked us to create an experience which offers a new view on the concept of light and time, based around the brand’s key values and philosophy. For us, Candela summarised all of Panerai’s values and at the same time it looks like a design object.
What did it mean to work with Panerai on this project?
This project gave us the chance to utilise and experiment with specific light-retaining properties, and the material Super-LumiNova typically found on the face and dials of Panerai watches. It was also an exciting challenge to combine the digital with the analogue, applying a high tech approach (using 700 individually programmed LEDs) with a low tech result (light is retained physically within the Super-LumiNova, before fading over time). This is how watch makers must feel all the time!
How did each of your particular disciplines come into play on this project?
We all come from different design disciplines but each of us collaborated equally on every aspect of the project. This created an exciting dynamic and led to unexpected solutions. The form of Candela was carefully detailed, we were able to hide the motor within the base to make it as simple as possible, and the back was just as important to us as the font. Super-LumiNova starts life as a solid ceramic, so this played to Ian’s strength and is why we decided to house the LEDs in a ceramic casing. The graphic patterns were developed by all three of us on site and are programmed through a theatre lighting desk which made it easy for us to play around with what worked.
Canali’s global communications director and third-generation descendant of the Italian fashion house’s founders, Elisabetta Canali, considers the status of tailoring in the 21st century
Obviously fashions change, silhouettes evolve and tastes shift, but one of the biggest trends we’ve noticed in tailoring recently is the influence of technology. We are now able to develop new fabrics that are lighter and more performance focused, stretch naturally and are crease and stain resistant. These materials offer something that better reflects the lifestyle and needs of the people wearing Canali. It’s why we try to offer a wide range of fit and finishing options as well.
In the modern era, the distinctions between different regional styles of suit-making have become less marked than in the past – style is now a global consideration. Yet, despite this, it is still possible to recognise approaches that are typical of certain traditions.
British tailoring is influenced by military costume and generally characterised by a more formal look: highly structured shoulders, heavy full-canvas construction and a slim silhouette. The American suit tends to be less structured, soft shoulders, looser fitting, with a more generous cut and often a single back vent and a more relaxed trouser. We Italians, on other hand, want to combine style with wearability, so our suits tend to be less structured, with softer shoulders, but remain streamlined and graceful; the trousers are a slimmer fit.
And, of course, it still comes down to the tailors, whose skills will never change. They have an unparalleled knowledge of their craft and perfectly understand the principals of human anatomy and garment construction; this goes without saying. But they must also be a good listener. The key to ensuring a satisfied client is understanding his needs, and catering to them, sometimes before he himself knows what it is he wants.
Alyn Griffiths discovers the moulds, machines and methods of Italy’s most innovative furniture brand
What does it take to be a leader in your industry? Business experts will tell you that the key is to be either the first or the best, but the measure of true success is whether you can be both. This has always been the approach of Italian firm B&B Italia, which last year celebrated 50 years as one of the country’s foremost furniture producers. Renowned for having pioneered many features and technologies that are now commonplace in contemporary furniture, the company’s quest for innovation has continued into the 21st century.
To understand the lengths B&B Italia goes to in its pursuit of fresh ideas and technological excellence, it is helpful to visit the firm’s headquarters in Brianza, around 25 kilometres north of Milan. The area has a long history of furniture production, with several influential global brands based there, having evolved from traditional family-run ateliers during Italy’s manufacturing boom following the Second World War. The legacy of craftsmanship, and a supply chain that provides top quality materials to the region’s furniture makers, remain intact, but Brianza’s current residents also utilise the latest industrialised production methods to meet demand from clients around the world.
Situated close to the A9 highway that links Milan with Como, B&B Italia’s factory building and headquarters offer the first hints that this is a company with progressive design at its core. The factory, by architects Afra and Tobia Scarpa, was completed in 1968, while the headquarters – designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in 1971 and finished in 1973 – showcase the high-tech aesthetic the pair would later revisit for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The architecture of the campus serves as an important signifier of B&B Italia’s values, but it is inside the factory that the firm’s innovative credentials become truly apparent.
The facility’s 20,300-square-metre floor area is divided into zones dedicated to the various stages of the manufacturing process. Skeletal metal frames resembling wireframe drawings of the company’s iconic sofas and chairs stand in clusters along one side of the building. Welded by trusted Italian suppliers, the frames are delivered to the factory and placed into moulds, which are injected with a polyurethane foam that expands to take on the form of the product. Once the foam has cooled, the pieces are moved to the upholstery area to be covered in the customer’s choice of premium leather or fabric.
It’s an approach to furniture production that was groundbreaking when it was first developed in the 1960s by B&B Italia’s founder, Piero Ambrogio Busnelli. Having already established a successful business with his brother Franco in 1953, Piero dreamed of industrialising what at the time was still a predominantly artisanal process. During a research trip to London, Busnelli visited a trade fair where one exhibitor was showing rubber ducks produced using moulded polyurethane – a process he believed could be applied to furniture manufacturing. In 1966, he left Fratelli Busnelli and set up his own company to pursue this new direction, teaming up with industry leader Cesare Cassina to form C&B. The company would go on to collaborate with leading designers including Marco Zanuso, Vico Magistretti, Mario Bellini and the Scarpas, to develop products that would revolutionise the furniture industry.
C&B grew rapidly, eventually reaching a point where it was operating on the same level as the core Cassina brand. In 1973, Busnelli bought out Cassina’s shares and renamed the company B&B Italia. As the firm continued to expand, responsibilities were passed on to the next generation, with Busnelli’s sons Giorgio, Giancarlo and Emanuele taking on leadership positions. Over breakfast at the Park Hotel, a short distance from the headquarters, the current CEO, Giorgio, explains how his father put in place systems to ensure the company would continue to innovate and remain one step ahead of the competition.
“One of the first things my father did when he teamed up with Cassina was create a centre of research and development,” he recalls, “because he started working with architects and designers and needed to develop prototypes away from the factory setting.” This facility, which moved into the third and final building to be completed on the campus, by Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel in 2002, remains the place where new products, materials and technologies are explored, tested and refined.
Today, many leading designers visit the Piero Ambrogio Busnelli Research and Development Centre to develop new products, hoping to emulate the success of the company’s most famous icons. These include the Coronado armchair and sofa by Afra and Tobia Scarpa – the first piece of upholstered furniture designed entirely for industrial mass production. It features four pieces (a seat, back, and two armrests) that can be assembled with just two screws, making it ideal for shipping internationally. In 1969, the Up series by Gaetano Pesce demonstrated the truly disruptive potential of polyurethane technology, offering an anthropomorphic form without any internal framework, which was delivered vacuum packed. Mario Bellini’s 1972 Le Bambole was the first sofa to be manufactured purely as a padded cushion without an internal frame, while Paolo Piva’s Alanda sofa bed from 1980 emphasised the importance of the R&D centre to the company, with its patented mechanisms for adjusting the headrests, armrests and bedside table.
Several other bestsellers followed in subsequent years, with one of the most significant breakthroughs occurring in 1995 with the launch of Antonio Citterio’s Harry sofa system, followed by the Charles sofa in 1997. By raising the sofa off the ground on cast-metal feet placed delicately at the corners, the designer created a new furniture archetype that has been endlessly copied due to its timeless simplicity. By that point, Citterio was already established as one of the brand’s key designers, and he has been responsible for developing and coordinating the collections of B&B’s luxury sister brand Maxalto since 1993.
By offering designers the opportunity to work with nascent technologies and supporting them in their endeavours to explore entirely new directions for familiar furniture archetypes, B&B Italia has consistently been able to attract top talent, from Patricia Urquiola and Naoto Fukasawa, to Zaha Hadid and Vincent Van Duysen. The collaborations between these designers and a team of 25 experts at the R&D centre are crucial to the company’s continued creative and economic progress. Every product undergoes a thorough process of detailed design and refinement, based on prototypes built by specialists in woodwork, metalwork and foam technology. “When we receive a design idea, we don’t waste our time trying to understand its real potential on paper, we start the prototyping process straight away,” says Giorgio’s son, Massimiliano, who also works at the R&D centre.
Giorgio and the head of the R&D centre, Rolando Gorla, regularly travel to major global cities where they spend time in the latest hotels, museums and galleries to identify new architectural ideas or cultural directions that might inform future projects. Gorla, who has been at the company for over 40 years, explains that the quest for innovation has become more challenging in recent years. “We’re not in the ’60s when everything needed to be done – now almost everything exists,” he says. “It is becoming more difficult to invent something new, so more often designers look to the past for something that might be worth updating.” In this context, the focus of the R&D centre has switched towards sustainability and the evolution of existing technologies to improve performance and efficiency. B&B Italia is at the forefront of identifying ways to allow materials to be separated and reused or recycled, as well as trying to develop a more environmentally friendly alternative to polyurethane. It is also working on ways to make its furniture more lightweight, so it uses less material and is easier to ship.
Inside the factory, the injection-moulding manufacturing process is consistently challenged by ambitious and complex products such as Zaha Hadid’s Moon System sofa, and the SAKé sofa by Piero Lissoni, which requires 19 separate moulds. Alongside this technology, which has remained largely unchanged in 50 years, the company continues to add new machinery that helps to improve the efficiency of production. It recently invested 750,000 in an automated laser cutting machine and accompanying software that optimises the process of cutting high-quality leather hides into precise sections, ready for upholstering.
“It is a hugely complicated piece of equipment and the sort of investment that not many companies would make,” claims Busnelli, adding that it will take a few years before the machine’s efficiencies provide any return. This, however, is the spirit in which the firm has always operated, since the early days when its founder paid for a pneumatic press capable of producing 1,500 tonnes of force, instead of the 500 tonnes necessary to produce the items currently in the collection. “This was another thing inherent in Dad’s strong character,” Busnelli adds. “He actually completely changed the way to produce; we now had a company with industrial processes.”
In today’s hyper-competitive global market, innovation and risk-taking in business is as important as it is in design and manufacturing. In 2015, Busnelli made the decision to sell a majority stake in the company to a subsidiary operated by Andrea Bonomi’s Italian investment company, Investindustrial, which part-owns and supports a range of premium brands, including Aston Martin and lighting firm Flos. With a healthy turnover of over 180 million, Busnelli could have been satisfied to remain one of Europe’s largest furniture brands, but he recognises that continuing international expansion requires more risk and investment than a small family-run company could cope with. “For many years people were saying small is good – it’s nice; it’s craftsmanship. But in the end if you want to play globally you need to compromise a lot to be represented in the market,” he insists.
With backing from Investindustrial, B&B Italia purchased a majority stake in high-end kitchen producer Arclinea in 2016, with the aim of accelerating its international expansion. “I like the idea that it is possible to create a conglomerate like Louis Vuitton has done in fashion,” adds Busnelli. “So the idea is to create a group of the best companies of high-end design in the world.” This ambitious plan will see the Busnelli family adding to its portfolio of brands in the coming years, enabling it to expand into new markets and apply its knowledge of materials, processes and technologies to a broader range of products.
With around 500 staff working for the company across design, production, contract projects, sales, marketing and distribution, B&B Italia is now firmly established in the international furniture market and will continue to extend its influence through key strategic partnerships and investments. As Busnelli finishes breakfast and prepares to dash off to a meeting with the management of Arclinea, he offers a final insight into the mindset that has formed the basis of the company’s success. “One of the most important things my father taught me is to be curious,” he says, “because curiosity is really fundamental for everything you want to do in your life.”
MYAR founder Andrea Rosso and Port’s David Hellqvist take a closer look at menswear’s fascination with army uniforms and military details, and how the Italian brand is giving vintage pieces a new lease of life
Fashion is all about newness: twice a year we’re supposed to perform a human moulting of sorts by bringing in an entirely new wardrobe. No one does that of course – maybe just the odd new piece, or two – but the concept reflects fashion’s insatiable thirst for novelty. Despite this relentless looking forward, however, a lot of the inspiration for those ‘new’ looks come from the past. Add to that menswear’s constant obsession with army uniforms and military details, and there’s no question about where I’m heading with this.
Andrea Rosso, the founder of MYAR, shares that point of view. Having started 55DSL with his father, Diesel CEO Renzo Rosso, the Italian designer has no shortage of contemporary fashion experience. And MYAR combines Rosso’s Diesel CV with his passionate love for military garments and camouflage. Rosso dedicates his time searching for surplus pieces that can be ‘saved’ and given a new lease of life, as part of his MYAR wardrobe. Re-cut and re-appropriated to suit modern civilian life in terms of fit and silhouette, these garments get to keep their stories and histories while being part of a new narrative.
Not only does it make sense from a sustainability point of view, but it’s a great way of combing the past with the current to create a version of the future. On the back of MYAR’s AW18 presentation in Paris last week, Port quizzed Rosso on his brand, where he finds the stock, and if the connection to danger makes the brand even more interesting.
How would you explain the brand to an outsider?
MYAR, an anagram of ARMY and also my initials, is a brand that brings original military garments back to life. It is more than just a brand, it is an operation; we dig through piles of forgotten dead stock in warehouses around the world and hand pick the pieces we believe are the most special. We take these pieces and give them a modern life.
What is it about army uniforms you like, what attracts you to them?
Within the military dress code every uniform garment is developed through function, not only details but also overall appearance. Uniforms have such a strong visual presence and impression; I like how they make you feel powerful as an individual but also have the sense of belonging in a group. Function and purpose are the best!
What are the advantages of re-tailoring existing uniforms instead of making new designs?
All of these existing items have their own stories and individual mutations, they have past lives worn into them that give them character. Broken and faded areas, cuts and past repairs, dirt and discolouration, new items don’t hold the same character.
What do you look for when going through rails… colour, shape, camo?
I start with an idea in mind, and I’m always looking for colours or patterns that attract me the most. Shape and material are important, then I love going more in depth and looking at construction of details like pockets, collar line, stitching, special trims, and insignia. I already imagine wearing it and so the items pick me. There is always so much I look at, there’s so much chaos in warehouses!
Where do you find them?
Many different military markets and fairs around the world: Italy, south England and, of course, Los Angeles. Also in surprising places like a friend’s garage.
Is the chase and research as much fun as actually re-making them?
The chase to find something special is so much fun, but the continuous research throughout the entire process is the best. With existing products you have to find the right base. These garments hold so much character, we are considerate and always researching how to remake them in a way that respects their history. For MYAR, remaking does not mean reproducing but instead giving a second life to these original pieces by refitting and readjusting to make them more modern. Seeing the transformation is so beautiful.
What is the process when re-designing them?
We always try everything on, seeing the item being worn is so important, as misshapen or dirty as they come! From here we can really see what to consider. The main thing is the sizes and silhouettes from the past need to be adjusted to a more ‘present’ fit. There can be many ways to reinterpret the original sartorial construction. Sometimes we just adjust, and other times we completely unstitch and resew a piece! We look at adding graphics or ink stamped artworks, applying new but always original trims, considering the best wash or treatment; all garments are uniquely considered.
What country makes your favourite fatigues?
There’s many to chose from: I like British army long trench coats and pink camo gas capes, Italian marine workwear jackets and bike overpants from the 70s. Swiss army salt and pepper work jackets, German cotton underwear, US N3-B jackets in cotton, N1 deck jacket with reflective tape applied and internal parka lining. OK… it’s better if I stop here!
How does Italy fare compared to other nations?
The Italian army has probably lost all wars, but we looked great at least!
Does the uniform’s connection to danger and death make it more fascinating in a way?
This is a very delicate question, but of course it makes it more interesting. The connotation of war and death is always negative, but as in all things there is always a positive aspect even in a negative scenario. With MYAR we give a second life, a second chance with a positive approach and use.
Andrea Pompilio is one of Italy’s most exciting and respected designers, having developed, since his first eponymous autumn/winter 2011 men’s start-up collection, a style that is relaxed, but equally sophisticated. Port spoke with him about his inspirations, love of fabric and the wonders of Italian food.
Director – Anthony Austin
Camera – Myles McAuliffe Editor – Jack Williams Graphics – Thomas Malins Executive Producer – Dan Crowe Music – ‘Sketch’ by I Marc 4