Industrial designer Giulio Iacchetti’s love of finely crafted objects
We’ve interviewed Giulio Iacchetti, industrial designer, winner of two Compassi d’Oro awards in 2001 and 2014, and the Premio dei Premi for innovation presented to him in 2009 by the President of the Italian Republic for the Eureka Coop project. Also, in 2009, the Milan Triennale featured his one-person show entitled “Giulio Iacchetti. Oggetti disobedienti.” He has always been aware of the evolution between artisan realities and design. And in 2012, he launched “Interno italiano, la fabbrica diffusa” formed by several artisans with whom he designs and produces furniture and furnishings inspired by the Italian way of living and crafting. For Toscanini, he designed the AngieWall wall rack.
A designer’s passion for minimal led by purity
Q: Can you share with us about where your passion for design came from?
GI: I’ve always been drawn to objects, maybe because, like so many from my generation, we had to invent things since they couldn’t always be bought. From a young age, I have been captivated by simple lines, by clean design able to define the very essence of an object, its ‘purest feeling.’ Then I had an epiphany … Staunton Chessboards, those severe yet non-trivial lines deeply impacted me. I saw them in a shop window in a small town along the Adriatic Riviera where we used to spend our vacations. Those lines told me stories, meaningful stories. I used to spend hours admiring them from the sidewalk until my mother finally came around to buying them for me, although it was not a standard purchase for a family like mine. It was nevertheless a good investment since my own children still play with them.
Another testament of my interest in objects with specific traits is what I asked for as a gift for my First Communion. I asked for a pocket watch ‘with clean lines.’ I didn’t want the classic pocket watch, but rather an almost extremely essential watch, and my parents had a hard time finding it! It is something that I still love and have today. My childish and unconscious desire for absolute zero décor was already part of my fascination with design.
D: What kind of training have you received?
GI: I haven’t had any specific design training. I studied architecture but quickly realized that ‘big’ wasn’t my thing. I just didn’t see myself in Milan and wasn’t able to grasp the ample spaces, which are typical of architecture. However, I hadn’t yet realized that objects were my niche; I enrolled in a small night school for industrial design. It was tough because I worked during the day and took classes in the evening for four hours, five days a week. Although it wasn’t a prestigious school, one with great teachers, it pushed me to go further and provided me with the tools and knowledge I needed to work. It is very characteristic of my career path to draw the longest line connecting two points and, along that path, learn as much as possible and later use it in my projects.
D: What were your earliest projects?
GI: I studied the different kinds of materials and tried my hand at machining them in the model workshop with tooling machines provided by the school. As an end-of-course assignment, I crafted a wooden doorknob and began calling companies making doorknobs to offer them my design. I did so naively, unaware of the procedures but not afraid of rejection. The owner of Frascio, a door handle company in Brescia, answered and agreed to meet me … and then to make my handles. It seemed like a normal thing to me, although I later found out that it wasn’t usually the case; these weren’t the rules. I must say that women have always offered me many opportunities for professional growth, trusting me. At that time, as I said, I proceeded by trial and error. I used to take the phone book and would call to pitch my home design pieces. I got many ‘no’s. But each rejection just strengthened my conviction and taught me how to do better.
D: Is there any other story you’d like to share?
GI: I’m from the province of Cremona, a region with little to do with design, at least then. To be noticed by local companies, I needed a strategic offer. So I figured I would go to the Cremona Chamber of Commerce and say, ‘I work in industrial design. Are there any companies that might need me?’ The answer was ‘no,’ but some time later, a company in Viadana making brooms contacted the Chamber of Commerce and asked for the name of a designer. The lady I had talked to remembered and referred me. With that Company, I designed a broom that was produced until 2001 and was even exported in millions to the United States.
The importance of details and creativity, bearing the name of “Made in Italy”
D: Who have been your mentors, your Maestros?
GI: I could say that I learned everything on the streets; to design is ‘everything’ … it’s not just developing an object, it’s deciding how to dress in the morning when you go to meet a possible client, it’s choosing the right words to use, the road to take, everything. When you’re unknown, when you have to be convincing, every detail counts if you want to be trusted.
But I would also like to say that my father taught me a great deal; he was a problem solver. His creations were brimming with intelligence; they weren’t perhaps considered ‘beautiful,’ but they were undoubtedly ingenious. He could fix anything, from band instruments to whatever else. His was a genius boosted by instability, yes, but most definitely out of the ordinary.
I would also mention among my Maestros, the Gigante Buono (Gentle Giant) from the Carosello of Ferrero in the 1970s, the one they would call on to fix Jo Condor’s blunders … always quietly and with a smile. He would take one of his books, open it, and use it as the roof of the school the villain had destroyed. Where everyone had only seen a book, the giant had seen a roof….
D: Isn’t that sort of typical of Made in Italy?
GI: Yes, that’s right. However, the inventors of Made in Italy are not only the designers. They are also Italian industrialists, gifted with vision, curiosity, and the ability to solve problems with ingenuity and a touch of anarchy. We shared this story in an exhibit entitled ‘Created in Italy’ under the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The catalog precisely relates these stories of entrepreneurial ingenuity, of people who did not merely stop at what they knew how to do but explored other territories, other possibilities. They are stories of courage, of taking risks, blessed intuitions, and perhaps even prompted by the need to get out of a problematic situation, nevertheless always with brilliance and imagination. Italian designers are like that too. They are problem solvers and don’t think in terms of models. They are free to think, to mix, to experiment. Enzo Mari comes to mind, a man who was able to use his talent to aid the rebuilding of a country destroyed by war.
D: How do you pair design with elegance?
GI: Elegance, harmony, and balance are not taught; they can only be understood by making comparisons. We Italians are lucky because we experience these values from an early age; they are instilled in us. Even in small everyday things, there is a sense of beauty that is not apparent in other countries. Elegance for me is making the most with the least; the rest is more. It is everything with less. Little stimulates that create beauty.
D: Is it possible that the pandemic has given a new push for creativity?
GI: What I notice is that, with the pandemic, many people have taken back their own lives and their own time. Especially young people do not want to devote their entire lives to working; they want to be at the heart of their interests. I don’t know if this may have generated new creativity; it’s too early to tell. The most recent Salone del Mobile somehow tried to cover up the anxieties of the pandemic as if nothing had happened. Maybe we just need more time to work it all out.
Simple objects of beauty: wardrobes as seen by Giulio Iacchetti
D: Let’s talk a bit about the world of Toscanini. What was it like to work on an everyday object like a hanger, in this case AngieWall?
GI: I absolutely love objects that seemingly need no design. I have always studied hangers because they provide ample room for exploration while being functional and simple objects. They are objects valued and appreciated by everyone, not only by the elite. The link between Toscanini and me was a book by Fattobene dedicated to a series of iconic and well-made objects. In that book, the foreword of which I edited, I recognized myself as a designer still capable of igniting something between an idea and a company, between an object and its yet-to-be-developed version. I want to work on things I like, and I have no problem putting myself out there as a designer if an idea, an object piques my interest. I enjoy being a promoter of new possibilities; I don’t sit around and wait until I get a call.
Coming back to Toscanini, I do not remember facing any particular challenges during the project. Admittedly, the journey is never straightforward; there are moments of reflection and stops. There are decisions to be made and changes … aspects that are normal in a journey to be made together. But the result is a small unicum, an exquisite wooden object that I am very fond of.
D: How important is it to know how objects are made? Or is it better to not have any specific knowledge so you don’t have to restrict your thought and inspirations while designing?
GI: You need to understand a little, but you don’t have to know everything. Otherwise, the approach becomes vertical. As designers, we have to stick to a kind of professional amateurism that proceeds horizontally, embracing experiences from different sectors and even attempting to apply them in other areas. The approach of companies, on the other hand, is typically vertical and tends to exclude anything that does not fit into proven production methods. This is why the intertwined efforts between the two approaches are often so prolific. Designers pollinate companies with new ideas and insights, companies teach techniques, and share essential knowledge about materials, machinery, and processing … There is still a kind of immaturity in the company-designer relationship. People think a designer just designs and that all the R&D and production should then be done by the company when this is not the case.
D: What about wardrobes? How can they evolve?
GI: Wardrobes are in a fantasy world that must be refreshed and made contemporary. I want to reset the notion of a ‘container’ of clothes and start thinking again about what we wear as part of our life’s story. The layers of clothing we own are interesting; they represent us. A closet both stores and displays at the same time; they are by their very nature ‘immovable’ in a context where everything is now in constant motion and instability. I wish to spend some thought on this aspect and attempt to give an interpretation in this sense since today’s furniture is not actually ‘movable’! We have to reinvent our lives again and again, and objects also have to be reconsidered along these lines so they too can tell new stories.
D: How should objects be chosen?
GI: Ironically, I, who is devoted to designing new objects, wish to surround myself with the same things all the time. I have a hard time detaching from them. I just experienced the grief of a much-loved refrigerator that broke down and could not be repaired. I had a hard time letting it go and not keeping it regardless, if not under threat by my wife!
The love of beautifully made objects means having the possibility of choosing. We deny ourselves the pleasure and responsibility of choosing well and settle for just about anything. While the real joy is that of something beautiful, big or small, it is priceless and inspires us to be better. We create our own story by dotting it with objects that are good for us.