Heir to a legacy of furniture manufacturing, it was a no brainer that Giulio Cappellini, after completing degrees in architecture and business management, joined the company established by his father Enrico in 1946.
But Cappellini, whose name epitomises iconic form and functionality in the design world, proved to be a maverick from the very beginning. While respecting the traditions of producing craft furniture, he knew that the need for fresh input and a more international direction was vital. This signaled his start as talent scout extraordinare, besides other duties as architect and art director of a business undergoing rapid transition.
“From the start of my professional life, I worked with very young designers, most of whom were embarking on their first big projects. They came from different parts of the world, and had different cultures and backgrounds,” Cappellini told FFE, explaining his work philosophy. “I love encouraging new and potential talents. I share with them my experience. In turn, they give me back a lot of interesting ideas.”
Nurturing the untested and untried, Cappellini, 64 this year, helped kickstart the careers of Marcell Wanders, Jasper Morrison, Tom Dixon, Marc Newson and the Bouroullec brothers among a line of others. Their subsequent success and celebrity is a source of continuing pride for the master as well as testimony to his unerring eye for talent. “My idea to believe in them was okay…correct.”
According to Cappellini, the kernel for a design concept is a blend of “analysing the customers’ needs, the socio-cultural changes surrounding them, the basic observation of nature, its colours and landscapes and studying various forms of architecture”.
Development follows, consisting of prototyping and adding the necessary changes until the final product is reached. One memorable work is the sink Acquagrande for Ceramica Flaminia, which he describes as “a mix of technology and craftsmanship”. Created in 1997, the square ceramic fixture is now a regular hallmark of elegant bathrooms across the globe.
The debate between form and function is a non issue for Cappellini. He remarks: “They have the same importance and value. Where is the meaning of doing a functional object that is not good in shape or a beautiful object that is not functional?”
To venture a step further into producing a commercially viable piece, Cappellini stresses the importance of devoting “a lot of time and deep analysis” as well as “not forgetting to listen to the customer’s needs”.
Analysing his own evolution as a designer, Cappellini believes he remains true to the tenets of keeping it “simple, essential and timeless”. But there is now an added factor, he says, which is “more knowledge of materials and productive technologies”.
“All materials, both natural and artificial, are valuable (to the creative process) if they are well used. I love to combine in my projects wood or stone with plastic or aluminium for this reason,” Cappellini says.
As for the copycats in the market, the best defense he offers is to create products backed by great research and investment in the materials and moulds. “That is the unique barrier that can protect against being duplicated.”
Cappellini is a company that produces furniture, upholstery and home accessories through a network of subcontractors. There are two main logistics centres, the headquarters in Milan, which handles project concepts and marketing, and another hub in Meda, north of Milan, responsible for commercial activities and product management. Busy in these offices are a staff of 50 people, while some 200 workers are found in the various workshops. Overseeing this hive of activity is Cappellini who styles himself as “art director”.
New technology and new materials provide Cappellini with boundless optimism about the future of design. “It’s not true that everything has been done…we can always give new aspects to old shapes.”
After some financially uncertain years, Cappellini is now backed by Haworth, a North American specialist in office systems. The association has helped the company gain a recharged presence in the market with a thriving contract trading. “It is now easier to sell design products to hotels, offices and airports than to owners of private residences,” the Milan native observes.
He also believes that it’s time Italian design companies had to think beyond borders and promote their goods internationally. “Many of them are well known and have their products displayed in museums, but in reality, they are small and don’t produce enough for the world market.” Fortunately, the Haworth connection has allowed inroads into the booming work spaces of Asia-Pacific, particularly China. Shortly, the Cappellini brand will even banner a restaurant and a hotel in that vast frontier. North America and Europe are likewise proving rich ground for Cappellini items to stake their place.
Cappellini’s first Asian monobrand showroom opened in Manila, along High Street of the fast rising Bonifacio Global City (BCG). A similar outlet followed on the third floor of Ho Chi Minh City’s Times Square Tower. Asked to describe tastes unique to this new market, the architect says: “It demands high-quality products and that is why we pay great attention to product details and innovation.” Dealers in China and Indonesia also distribute Cappellini wares, while offices in China and Singapore supervise distribution activities.
AWARDS & RECOGNITION
While seeing Cappellini furniture and accessories grace work and personal spaces remains the best reward for Giulio Cappellini, he still can’t help exude a glow when recalling they also form part of important collections of prestigious art institutions such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Rome’s Galleria D’Arte Moderna. Then, there is Time magazine’s inclusion of in its top 10 Trendsetters Designers list and his appointment as Italian Design Ambassador.
Signor Cappellini will showcase his singular vision in a special feature area at IFFS 2017 taking place March 9 to 17, 2017 at the Singapore EXPO. Themed “The Italian Hospitality”, the curated space and lounge brings together the best of Italian brands and products. It will allow visitors to visualise how a lounge located in a hotel, VIP section of an airport or an office building may look like. All aspects such as interior design finishing, upholstery, lights and furniture will be highlighted, and material including wood, glass metal and textile will be used in many innovative ways.