They met in Italy, while studying architecture in Ferrara, but then decided to complete their training in Denmark.
Without this choice, Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi might not be what they are today, namely the duo GamFratesi, a successful design signature on an international level, increasingly sought after by the majors of Italian furniture.
“We owe a lot to this country,” Enrico says. It was here, in fact, that their interests as young architects shifted towards product design. And it was here that they were able to take part in the opportunities offered by a very lively city, Copenhagen, which already 15 years ago had decided to support the visionary verve of young people, wagering on architecture and design as tools of territorial innovation.
The Danish saga of GamFratesi began in Aarhus, where Enrico and Stine moved while they were still students, and discovered the world of furniture thanks to a university department with a focus on the classics, in keeping with an approach closer to craftsmanship than to industry.
The idea of remaining in Denmark then came naturally: their achievements at the university enabled them to settle in Copenhagen, where Stine was born, and to take advantage of a series of important benefits.
They were provided with a personal atelier and workshop equipped with all the tools needed to experiment with any type of material: wood, metal, fabrics... “This was a fundamental experience for a young designer,” Enrico comments, “who at the start of a career has to test design ideas with the hands. In this city, we created our family and organized our studio. We like living here, though we often miss Italy.”
In these years, the Danish capital has become the center of furniture in northern Europe. What has made this leadership possible?
It has happened thanks to a group of companies who have formed a system, and thanks to 3Daysofdesign, the annual event on contemporary design, which has grown over the years to become an important appointment for the sector.
Also in the field of architecture, the city has become a worldwide reference point, thanks to a municipal government that has offered local design firms – BIG, first of all – the chance to express themselves and experiment in the territory.
This process of international success has also involved the world of food: Noma, headed by René Redzepi, has been named the world’s best restaurant five times, setting an example for many chefs who have revolutionized the concept of Danish cuisine, while bringing a forceful innovative spirit to the city.
It has been exciting to take part in this path of evolution.
We have been lucky to start working with small design companies that over the years have expanded incredibly, taking on a true role of leadership.
Speaking of your work, people often use the expression ‘stylistic melting pot.’ Do you agree with this definition?
We can identify with that definition.
By now we work in symbiosis, but from the outset our projects have represented the contamination between a typically Scandinavian vision and an Italian one, in a very harmonious way.
The resulting design is something that cannot be relegated to one geographical context or the other.
Today you are sought after by Italian design companies, because your different backgrounds enable you to create products with an international character. What is the strong point of your projects?
I think it is our way of relating to Scandinavia in the area of simplicity of form and use of materials, while at the same time bringing out the aesthetic research and attention to detail that are typically Italian.
What exactly are your design references?
The history of Italian and Scandinavian design is always there, on our work tables. The first stimulates us with very strong thoughts and languages.
The second teaches us to approach projects not so much in terms of single products, but in terms of process.
You might have noticed that the icons of Danish design never have a precise name, but instead have numbers that progress in a linear way, a path of evolution.
When we begin a project it is always through a conversation, never starting with pencil and paper. This means that our approach is speculative, and therefore more Italian.
But it then develops in keeping with a vision of the process, which is undoubtedly more Danish. In any case, we can say we have been very lucky, because having two reference points like Italy and Denmark is already a big advantage from the start.
The more ‘individualistic’ approach of Italian design has meant that outstanding narration develops around products. Do you believe the Scandinavians assign less importance to storytelling in design?
Today they too have understood that to make a product understandable you have to tell its story. This did not happen in the past.
With his projects, Ettore Sottsass always expressed a vision that was first of all philosophical and literary, and was narrated in his many writings.
If you study figures like Finn Juhl or Poul Kjaerholm, you realize that there are no exegeses of their thinking; they were ‘introverted’ designers, whose works expressed an idea of nature, beauty and material, the value of craftsmanship, but always in a very implicit way.
I believe the combination of these two different attitudes can lead to very interesting results.
Over the last few years the Nordic furniture companies have gained force and visibility because they have created a very precise, recognizable idea of total living. What do you think about this aspect?
Scandinavia should be given credit for having foreseen a harmonious way of living in the home, based on simplicity and a relationship with nature, and this attitude has spread on a global level due to the environmental crisis and the pandemic.
The success of this strategy has also relied on a new model of communication, which through evocative images and a very informal language has managed to establish a direct relationship with end-users.
Not just in the area of furniture, but also for all the items and accessories that combine to define the style, the atmosphere of a home.
Does the approach to a project change, depending on whether the client is Danish or Italian?
Yes. Obviously the objective remains the same: to design something that corresponds to the identity of the brand.
In the case of an Italian company, this identity is connected to a very strong history of manufacturing, which is rarely the case with Scandinavian firms: they almost never do their production in house, but rely on a network of excellent suppliers.
When we work with a brand like Poltrona Frau, which has an extraordinary tradition of workmanship with leather, or a company like Minotti, with its exceptional know-how in the making of upholstered furniture, the project develops along well-defined lines.
You can simply visit their production sites to understand the path a product will take: the brief is suggested by a heritage you can grasp only by watching the hands of the artisans.
Collaboration with Scandinavian companies can instead take more eclectic experimental directions, in terms of both materials and style. From a certain standpoint, there is more mental freedom.