How do you distinguish vintage furniture from a re-edition and what should you buy? Fabio Calvi and Giovanna Castiglioni explain how to approach modern art

“Modern furnishings are distinguished from re-editions and continuous productions of historical projects primarily by their production date, which occurred in the past,” explains Fabio Calvi, in creative tandem with Paolo Brambilla since 2006 ( CalviBrambilla), and since 2023 art director of Zanotta.

“The icons produced today faithfully and philologically reproduce the original designs, but sometimes they differ in some details, such as fabrics and coverings, because over time the production processes evolve, the suppliers change, certain materials and finishes no longer exist or are no longer sustainable, and some processes are unthinkable to replicate at reasonable costs.

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For example, the PL19 armchair, designed by Franco Albini with Franca Helg in 1959, produced by Poggi of Pavia, was made with cloth from the Pozzoli company of Milan, a fabric that no longer exists today".

Fabio Calvi (Calvi Brambilla studio) and Giovanna Castiglioni, daughter of Achille Castiglioni and soul with her brother Carlo of the Foundation named after her father, explain how a modern piece can be distinguished from a re-edition, and which details to pay attention to be careful and whether it is better to invest in the original vintage or buy the icon produced today.

How is modern art distinguished from re-editions?

Fabio Calvi: “There are objects that have been out of production for some time, such as the Blow inflatable armchair, designed in 1967 by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D'Urbino, Paolo Lomazzi and Carla Scolari, produced by Zanotta until the beginning from the Seventies, which are certainly examples of modern design. And then there are icons, such as the Arco lamp designed by Castiglioni in 1962, faithfully reproduced by Flos still today.

This year, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Sciangai coat hanger, with Zanotta we presented Sciangai50, a special colored edition that takes up the original design by De Pas, D 'Urbino and Lomazzi in which the trio of designers imagined each wand in a different colour.

We carried out some tests and shared them with Paolo Lomazzi, who would have liked an aniline colour, like the one used by Vico Magistretti in the Carimate chair, a finish which however does not guarantee uniformity of colour.

The Sciangai coat hanger is produced by Zanotta faithfully to the 1960s version, however, over time the type of wood used for its manufacturing has changed.

This year we also presented the re-edition of Galeotta, the transformable armchair designed in 1968 by De Pas, D'Urbino and Lomazzi, produced until the 2000s by BBB Bonacina. The re-edition differs from the modern piece because now Galeotta is slightly larger and more comfortable, no longer a complement but a truly welcoming and transformative seat".

Giovanna Castiglioni: “Often the re-editions or special editions follow the original designs in a philological way, but sometimes the projects are updated and improved, from the point of view of comfort, productive and sustainability.

In 2021 Twils re-edited Polet (1992), a slightly read armchair as my father said, initially designed for guests for our beach house in Liguria.

The Twils version has an additional backrest movement ideal for reading, otherwise everything has been respected down to the smallest detail, from the brass mechanism to the artisanal mattress handmade in Italy.

Babela, the stackable seat designed by my father and my uncle in 1958 for the Milan Chamber of Commerce, in the re-edition by Tacchini is lighter, it is no longer made of heavy metal but in wood, warm and natural.

Among my father's other re-edited projects, there is the 4-shelf hanging bookcase, developed for Villa Olmo in Como in 1957: originally made up of four shelves held together by two ropes, since 2018 it has been produced by Karakter with a more practical mechanism for raising and lowering the shelves, but in appearance it remains identical to my father's design.

The Saliscendi lamp, designed by my father and my uncle Pier Giacomo (1957), commissioned for the Milan Chamber of Commerce, was resized by Stilnovo thinking about the compact kitchens of Today.

There are re-editions which, thanks to technological advances, fulfill and bring the authors' wishes to fruition. It happened with the Taccia lamp: in 1957 my father wanted to make it with an adjustable polymer diffuser, but during the first experiment the cup melted due to the heat produced by the light source; Flos made it in glass, and today it has gone back to making it in polymer, which is exactly how my dad wanted."

What are the differences between the Arco lamp from the 1960s and the Arco produced today by Flos?

Giovanna Castiglioni: “The Arco produced today is the same as the Arco of the Sixties. At the same time, each Arch is a unique piece, because the veins of the marble vary depending on the block extracted.

The variety of marble is always the same: the white Carrara marble from the Michelangelo quarry, worked by Flos with a special and secret method, about which I can't say anything, to exceed high quality standards.

Of course, Arco has evolved over time to adapt to electrical regulations, because incandescent bulbs have become LEDs. At a certain point Flos produced it with a screen to integrate the LEDs, a version no longer on the market because today there are LED bulbs that screw on like a traditional bulb.

A curiosity, or rather two, that perhaps few people know: the first is that on the Japanese market an Arco is sold that is 10 centimeters lower to adapt to Japanese ceilings; the second concerns the workmanship: when a block of marble is defective and is not suitable for Arco, it is often recovered to create the base of Snoopy, it is a beautiful story of reuse of materials".

In 2022, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of Arco, Flos presented Arco K, a precious (and expensive) limited edition, disputed by many.

Fabio Calvi: “With Arco K, produced in just 2022 pieces, we wanted to put the spotlight on the true peculiarity and innovation of the Arco: not the marble base but the design of the arc itself, a shape that freed us from the need to have a light point in the center of the room. We chose K9 optical crystal to make the base "disappear" and at the same time transform it into a precious and rare object on the occasion of the anniversary to be celebrated.

Over time, in fact, the true meaning of Arco had been lost, the lamp became a status symbol for its marble base, considered luxurious, but in the 1960s the Castiglionis had chosen marble because it was the most economical among heavy materials”.

Giovanna Castiglioni: “Arco K is an operation - undeniably commercial - by Flos that sublimates the arch as an architectural act, a special edition validated by the Foundation.

Dad was a great experimenter, he wouldn't have said no a priori to a proposal like that, he would have looked at the prototype first. In 2002, for the fiftieth anniversary of Arco, dad agreed to make a variant with a black marble base; however it must be said that, according to the type of contract my father had with Flos, the company can decide to change finishes at its discretion. I am open-minded, my father designed me this way, as long as the reinterpretations are respectful of the author's intention, I would never approve the Arco d'oro because it is luxury, and design must not be luxury, objects must be used and keep company, as my father said."

For its 50th anniversary, in 2021, Flos presented a special edition of the Parentesi lamp, how does it differ from the initial project?

Giovanna Castiglioni: “We insisted on putting the packaging designed by my father in 1971 back into production, which is now made of recycled plastic.

Parentesi was born as a lamp in kit form, to be taken home and assembled do-it-yourself, sold in a transparent blister that shows the individual elements, a project that anticipates the packaging perfectly conceived by Apple and the Ikea assembly. In the special edition celebrating the anniversary the colors change: one version of Parentesi is in Castiglioni turquoise, the family color that my parents liked so much with which they painted the doors of the house, and another variant in automotive orange for Pio Manzù , co-author of Parentesi”.

Is it better to buy a modern piece or a re-edition?

Fabio Calvi: It depends on the use to be made of it and the durability of the materials. A modern vase always manages to carry out its function, while the same does not always happen for a sofa or an armchair. Some materials deteriorate over the decades, such as polyurethane, the protagonist of many cult pieces of modern furniture.

For those who are oriented towards vintage, there are very limited productions that are excellent investments, such as the Caccia Dominioni examples for Azucena or the Torbecchia series by Giovanni Michelucci for Poltronova, whose value will certainly grow over time".