That of Gabriele Chiave is a story of evolution that goes beyond the consolidated schemes of the design system and indicates a new possible way of understanding the profession of designer.
It all began in 2007, when Chiave, after three years of collaboration with Marc Sadler and other experiences in Italy, arrived in Amsterdam in the studio of Marcel Wanders as a senior designer.
The challenge is definitely interesting: grafting the pragmatic and industrial vision of Italian design onto the more artistic and conceptual one of Dutch design.
The match works and Gabriele becomes an active part of the holistic development of the studio, whose projects range from interior architecture to products, from graphics to artistic direction.
The team expanded to about fifty people and Chiave took over the leadership in the role of creative director in 2015, effectively becoming the contact person for all the companies, Italian and non-Italian, for which Marcel Wanders Studio designs highly successful products.
Then, in 2022, the news that leaves everyone speechless: Wanders decides to close the studio.
Thanks to his increasingly engaging commitments in real estate and in many other activities outside design, the pandemic, Gabriele's decision to move to New York where he is offered the position of VP Creative Direction – Design&Innovation strong> of the 32 brands that make up the Estée Lauder group.
At this point a problem arises: how to give continuity to the projects and relationships started up to that moment?
Chiave's choice is equally surprising: instead of creating a new studio in his name – the role of 'primary' would have rightfully belonged to him – he proposes to found, together with colleagues from the Wanders studio, a creative collective from the emblematic name of Controvento: a partnership studio located between Amsterdam, Milan and New York that brings together the figures and experiences developed previously, but instead of celebrating the personality of a single designer proposes to promote teamwork: “The one that actually attributes value to each project and makes this profession exciting. Design is a team effort, but this aspect can never be emphasized enough”.
Together with Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders made the designer a real brand, not just a product designer. What did the long experience of studying him leave you?
Starck and Wanders are unique in having developed a holistic understanding of creativity. No one like them has reached so many themes, typologies and contexts.
I personally drew from it a gigantic mental opening. I like the idea of being a 'generalist', i.e. having design bases that can be adapted to different areas.
I believe that today design goes well beyond the single object. It concerns the user experience, the online and offline presence of the product, its distribution and its presentation in the stores... Today I deal with a completely different sector made up of very large numbers, which in a certain sense requires a more specialized approach .
The experience gained in the 'small' world of design, linked to European design thinking which is imbued with profound values, allows me to assume a transversal vision: the world of beauty is very broad in terms of contents and meanings and our goal it is not just to deal with packaging.
I'm interested in understanding what true innovation will be and how it can be implemented at 360 degrees, especially in terms of sustainability.
And I'm sure that the experience for a global group like Estée Lauder Companies, which has many resources and has involved me in long-term projects, allows me to actively experiment with an idea of innovation that begins upstream of the entire process, well before the planning act.
Do you think it is difficult to innovate in the furniture world?
Today this sector has turned into a design fast food: every year designers are asked to present new products that often make obsolete those made only two years earlier.
Designers fail to have the head, time and space to be truly innovative.
My wish is that Controvento becomes the expression of a crossover mentality capable of introducing elements of innovation into home design and, at the same time, of bringing the values of European beauty and heritage to industrial sectors different from that of the furniture.
So you argue that today there are no longer the conditions for doing research...
This is generally the case, with the exception of some projects and some companies that still believe in research. The Skynest lamp, for example, designed by the studio Marcel Wanders for Flos, is in my opinion a product of great poetry and innovation in terms of technology and sustainability.
But it cost more than two years of study carried out jointly with the Flos team. Research is possible, but only where there are visionary entrepreneurs and managers who give you the time and resources to do it.
Many times I have been asked to rethink a sofa or other piece of furniture in a more sustainable version, perhaps using materials with a lower environmental impact.
But this is not how sustainability is approached and designed: we need to rethink the entire supply chain, not the single product. It means thinking according to the principles of Life Cycle Assessment. But this is an objective that cannot be pursued in six months, it takes at least two years.
Do you think the role, skills and responsibilities of the designer have changed over the years?
Surely. And this evolution will become even faster and more evident in the near future.
In recent years, the designer's intervention has come to involve more and more aspects of the product: communication, image, photography, text, story telling.
The product represents only 50 percent of the designer's work, the other 50 per cent concerns everything that revolves around it.
Design today is a rather multifaceted discipline and the figure of the designer increasingly coincides with that of the creative director, whose aesthetic and technological vision is expressed in different contexts and at different scales of complexity.
Do you regret any of the design of the past?
I miss the radical thinking represented by groups like Memphis or Droog Design. Those manifesto projects born on the initiative of groups of designers who have decided to share their ideals and have had the courage to carry them forward for years with disruptive actions, making the history of design.
On the other hand, what are the subjects of the present and the future that you are particularly passionate about?
Definitely artificial intelligence, a very stimulating reality both in terms of design and thought. I'm sure it will completely change the nature of our work if used ethically and intelligently.
We are only in the initial and destabilizing phase of an innovation that we cannot stop. It is a question of understanding how to use it to enrich, rather than impoverish, the project.
We must educate her and make her learn - now that she is comparable to a child who absorbs notions from the surrounding world - the beauty of the human being, so that when her intellectual abilities surpass ours - it is said in 2030 - her decisions can be better of ours.