Italian designer Giulio Cappellini turned around his father’s furniture business into a trendsetting design company, called Cappellini, with a host global collaborations, before he sold it in 2004. Today, Cappellini’s turnover is 85 percent export and it has emerged as a strong brand in the US and emerging Asian markets such as China and India. Europe contributes only 30 percent to its turnover. He was in Mumbai last week for the launch of Istituto Marangoni’s d esign course and spoke to CNBCTV18 about the state of Italian design and his take on the contemporary Indian design industry. Edited excerpts:
Italian designer Giulio Cappellini
You have often said that the industry should return to values of the previous decade, to channel research and investment in contemporary products. Do you feel global design companies have become repetitive?
Over the years, I have seen several innovations in new materials, textures and manufacturing processes that make a project contemporary, rather than in new shapes. The design industry must continue to create beautiful and useful objects with the help of designers from all over the world. But the focus should not be merely on the lifestyle aspect, which often hides the real qualities of a product. We are selling too much similar products and settings, unfortunately. It is very important to work on strong products that never be completely copied.
At Instituto Marangoni, your talk was on 'The Other F Word - The Success of Failure and the Failure of Success: The Innovation Paradox’. How do you view failure?
Often, a project’s failure indicates a need to improve or correct a design. Often, a new product or design innovation is not immediately understood by people. Sometimes, it takes a few years for an idea to be accepted. You have to always accept defeats that serve to push the frontiers by dedicating yourself to hard work. Defeats have their own positive traits, if well-handled. Designers, together with corporates, must continuously research and invest in the future to give consumers far superior products.
How much emphasis does Cappellini put on constant experimentation, on learning from failures?
At Cappellini, the immediate failure of a product does not stop the research and innovation. A product that does not succeeded is re-studied and re-introduced in the market. A few years ago, we presented the Basket Sofa designed by the Bouroullec Brothers, which was not greeted with great enthusiasm because it was way too expensive. We managed to work on the manufacturing process and reduce the price. Now the Basket sofa is one of Cappellini’s best-sellers.
Which is the designer whose work has impressed you in recent times?
I admire the work of British product and furniture designer Jasper Morrison. He designs a few products but they are innovative and flawless. He keeps an object’s function at the core while designing, without losing sight of its form.
Cappellini, under you, was among the first of Italian design companies to recognise the global nature of contemporary design. What made you reach out to global talent?
To work with international designers and to discover new and not-so-famous talents has been a mission. We must defend the Made-in Italy brand, but also be open to international cultures and influence.
Are you familiar with Indian design?
On this visit to Mumbai I have had the chance to meet architects and designers who are just beginning their career. I like to observe what is unfolding in the world around me. I believe there is a very interesting generation of architects and designers evolving in India. Sahil and Sarthak have done some exciting work. I first met them when they were interning at Cappellini and we have gone on to collaborate with them
. Do you think Indian designers should explore their design roots and create products that are rooted in local context, but appeals to global aesthetics, if they want to set a mark?
In India, there is an admirable tradition in materials’ production such as marble and metal. This tradition must be made contemporary and not abandoned. Indian designers need to adapt their roots and be close to their culture, while being modern, if they want to break through in the global design world.
What is your vision for the design industry over the next decade?
These days, people love to mix different products and create an office or home that reflect their identity. The design industry and designers must create flexible and versatile products that suit different kinds of contexts and can be sold worldwide. The emphasis has to be on innovative and contemporary materials. No one needs a new table or chairs. Designers have to work harder on really strong products that people won’t be able to live without.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.