Designer Manolo Bossi was very young when he already showed the grit and ambition that has firmly identified him as a versatile conceptualizer of the things that enhance our nests and spaces.
Recalling to FurnitureAndFurnishing.com, he says: “I was little more than a boy and I had just finished cabinet making high school, having studied furniture design. I was fascinated by two great masters of Italian design, Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti.
“I picked up the phone and called them in their respective studios in Milan. The answer was ‘let’s fix an appointment,’ so I rushed over, and I got to know in person these important figures for myself. I also got to meet, whom I consider their successor, Konstantin Grcic and took a short course at Domus Academy.
“I have the advice they gave me: ‘work alone, work well, work for a few.’”
The offspring of parents who were artisans, specialising in crafting glass and wrought-iron iron lamps, Bossi describes himself as being powered by “curiosity…the why, the how. I always wanted to fully understand the process of things, the root of things.” He was born and raised in Verona, that exquisite city in Northeast Italy, where Shakespeare set his immortal story of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet and is famous for its huge Roman ampitheatre as well as the robust red wine, Amarone.
Verona continues to captivate Bossi, who has made it his base and imagination hub.
Since entering the design arena, Bossi has tried his hand in various sectors, including ceramic and interior decoration items, furniture, homeware, appliances, bathroom figures and lighting elements. He says: “I like to apply the creative and knowledge process in different areas. Innovation is born from exploring new sites, new technologies, contaminating the different fields of action that a designer should usually achieve.
“I started by designing industrial technical products for mass use such as household portraitappliances with no Computer Aided Design such as household appliances. I’m certainly interested in challenges, especially difficult ones. You don’t always win, but surely you learn.”
Bossi explains that analysing the design journey is a tricky, if not, unpredictable proposition. “There is no precise rule. It is a ‘click!’ that your mind naturally makes if stimulated. Personally, I have a deep admiration for all life forms, so nature is, for me, is something I always return to in order to study deeper.
“Another stimulus is often provided by human behavior. I observe and get inspired by human dynamics – the input and output between two people on the bus, for example. It’s for this reason I commute by bus and bicycle (not a car) to have more opportunities to discover what I call ‘the little things.’
“In Domus, I designed a small armchair to hang on the head of a bathtub. One person could read a story to another while relaxing in the tub.
If you think about it, it seems so obvious, but a product like this hadn’t been done yet. It’s those little things.
The Owls for Bosa Ceramiche is certainly one of Bossi’s iconic product lines. He recalls that the idea arrived in a dream, “but only after hearing the nocturnal sound of an owl that I could not see, thus starting in me the beginning of a profound research on these fascinating and predatory wise animals.”
After studying them for year, which meant meeting scholars and ornithologists for input, his client happened to request that he come up with “something different.” The Owls are the result, and after seven years, remains a best seller. For Bossi, they are not just vases, “but an excuse to make known a family of living beings that risk extinction…”
To the popular debate of form over function or vice versa, he responds: “Form/function are like body and mind. They are both equally important – the shape takes the body, the function takes the brain. Today, the function is taken for granted since we also use very sophisticated products (eg the mobile phone), while users have difficulty understanding the form (also as a product of art) what is art and which synapses can explode in your brain. Basically, we consume more and more intangible products and I think this will be the future direction of design.”
As for the formula of blending aesthetics, practicality and commercial viability in designing a product or piece of furniture, he says: “I let myself be guided by my instinct and a bit of wisdom. Balance everything for the whole creative process, constantly shifting the center of gravity, seeing all the extremes. But in the end my belly says: ‘this is the right one.’’’
Materials play a crucial role in Bossi’s design process. “Materials have a unique bond with people,” he observes. “I have used many, even very sophisticated ones like high thermal resistance polymers, but personally, I prefer the more natural, the living, unique ones like wood, leather, ceramic, glass.
More and more, Bossi has been working in Southeast Asia, where he reports consumption patterns changing “latitude by latitude.” He says: “I think people are increasingly looking for products that satisfy not only the body but also the mind. We must therefore pay attention to the values that are introduced in the product. Aesthetics (such as functionality) is no longer enough.
“Today we need to know who is behind it, what it does, why it does it, how it does it, a sort of traceability and also ‘historical transparency’ of those who design and produce it, which helps make the product unique and just for me.
“I buy that thing because I believe in the shared values that that brand is communicating to me and above all, knowing how to communicate a story behind the product today is of fundamental importance. We, designers, must be able to express all these values in synthesis, without ever forgetting that at the end of the process there is the end user, the real fixed (& starting) point.”
Bossi’s product lines are available through the companies he works with, which exports them across the globe. He chooses his partners, he says, “like an ordinary entrepreneur would do, even if in the end I design and express a creative thought that I sell to a producer.” Until today, he doesn’t produce what he designs.
Bossi’s Verona office is an intimate affair, consisting of him and an assistant, supported by a circle of specialists. He still prefers to work personally on each project, guaranteeing the client, according to Bossi, “the authenticity he needs, showing the creative process that generates it and how the studio works.” He is planning to launch a presence in Malaysia, given the increased requests for his services.
Of the various awards that the designer has received for his efforts, it was the 2009 Green Furniture Award at the Stockholm Furniture Fair – his first international accolade – for the development of the Be inspired easy chair that proves most memorable. “I used local timber, a simple transformation process from a wooden mold and a monocoque made of recycled and recyclable polyethylene (PET), produced by a chemical Swedish company.”
His schedule may be packed with meetings, production and travel, but Bossi sets aside time to mentor the younger generation, saying: “To probe the uniqueness of the human being by joining an open dialogue is one of the highest values we can reach beyond all boundaries and walls. This is the best part of my job. As I teach a student away from my world, I learn. He does too.”
How does he sum up the future?
“Globalization is changing the face of this planet at an impressive speed that we humans cannot absorb and understand,” he says. “The internet has cancelled time and distance putting us all in relation in an indissoluble way, resulting in an unbridled flow of goods at a heavy cost for the environment.
“We continue to think that what happens far away from us does not concern us and this is an illusion. We have to do much more, and the problem of Climate Change is now evident to everyone from any part of the planet. If we, as Designers, are in the downstream of the process that produces goods, we must commit ourselves now or we will leave sand and ash to our children.
“Technology has always been at the service of the human being, but it must remain a useful tool and not replace the creative processes. “I still work as the masters have taught me, engaging in research and cultural contamination, using my hands, making simple models and exploiting the technologies available when necessary.”