Furniture design is looking for new icons. But the great classic of this time is the ability to dialogue with historical pieces by exploring new themes

Talking about icons means entering a typical tangle of design culture. Typical because the concept of icon is the temptation, manifest or not, of designers and companies. Designing an icon, producing an icon. Delivering to history a piece capable of speaking from the past, the present and the future thanks to mysterious indefinable and ineffable qualities. Chiara Alessi says it in her “My great-grandparents' coffee pots”: icons compress time. “The authors of our icons worked immersed in the present, they were able to establish relationships with it, but their ideas did not perfectly coincide with the instances of the time”. The distance that makes interpretation possible, the story of a moment fits into the gap. The symbolic passage is so complex and variable that it is mysterious.

Better to just explore why it's so difficult to produce icons today. The general opinion is that this time is above all too fast. In a very concrete and pragmatic sense: for thirty years companies have produced very quickly to ride the downshifting of proposals and the boom in new markets. In haste, distance is lost, the gap in vision that allows us to design in a prudent and thoughtful way. Today's icons are technological products, carriers of content and multiplied functions. A seat is a seat, even if it is called Sacco and it is one of the most flexible projects ever conceived. A mobile phone, on the other hand, is a way to communicate, a content distributor, an educational tool, a weapon, a map ... Above all, it is one of the objects that symbolize the digital revolution. An icon destined to have numerous versions and as many lives.

What happens more and more often, in the absence of new furniture icons, is the dialogue with existing ones. In uncertain times, the reassuring presence of known objects is a balm for the soul. Icons are all the more so because they live Olympic everywhere. So brands look for the path of the relationship between old and new. It happens to Knoll, who explores the functionality of spaces with the KN series designed by Piero Lissoni. The great classics of Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe and Harry Bertoia coexist with the hybrid identities of the new pieces. This year it is the turn of the KN06 and KN07 sessions, of modernist memory.

Cassina in 2021 it presents pieces by Michael Anastassiades, Patricia Urquiola and Philippe Starck, alongside the “novelties” signed by Franco Albini, Bodil Kiaer and Charlotte Perriand. The brand's declared intention is to compose an iconic and contemporary catalog, especially for the new Pro series dedicated to hospitality and workplace. A concept also taken up last year with The Cassina perspective goes outdoor that combines classic pieces with renewed fabrics and finishes adapted to the outdoors with the work of contemporary designers.

Finally, a slightly different way to redefine the meaning of the icon is to retrace the processes of the past. As Philippe Nigro did in the new Opéra collection for Barovier & Toso: a series that reinterprets the “rostrato”, one of the most complex techniques of Venetian manufacturing.