"The demand for classic design has become increasingly important, we see this especially today at a time when more companies are trying to re-edit historical objects”, says Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina.
Design classics are becoming more and more popular, a growing interest in the past is demonstrated by the record-breaking auctions of modern antiques, the numerous re-editions and special editions of historical pieces, and the corollary of initiatives - exhibitions, guided tours , installations and books - which bring to light the hidden treasures of the archives and foundations of the masters.
Cassina this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cassina Collection iMaestri, expanding the family with new authors: Vico Magistretti, Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa - already present in the Cassina portfolio - and, in anticipation of the launch of their lighting models in 2024, Charles and Ray Eames .
"For Cassina", continues Luca Fuso, "this process represents a unique method based on the valorization of authenticity and culture, rooted in the company DNA since, in 1964, we acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to re-edit the first four models by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, starting a philological process that fifty years ago led to the birth of the Cassina Collection iMaestri”.
Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina, Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau and Roberta Silva, CEO of Flos, explain how the market for design classics is growing, which are the cult furnishings and the most requested authors, and how to reread the icons to keep the memory alive and renew the public's interest, adapting the historical pieces to the needs of contemporary living.
What market do design classics have?
Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina: “The request has become increasingly important. Today, purchasing a Cassina icon is a unique experience because every single object embodies the values that distinguish us, from research and innovation to productive excellence.
Furthermore, over the years we have decided to re-propose some of our classics that are now out of production such as the Soriana model by Afra&Tobia Scarpa: recently this padded furniture has gaining ever more popularity, becoming, for example, the undisputed protagonist of the most beautiful homes on Instagram.
We therefore thought of re-presenting it using new construction techniques and circular materials, because re-editing does not simply mean reintroducing onto the market.
We aimed to re-propose an iconic object using modern technologies and production processes through enormous research and development work.
In general, long discussions take place with the foundations, the heirs, the design historians and, if possible, the designers themselves, to guarantee the originality of the project, always with a perspective towards the future".
Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau: "The classics of Poltrona Frau, which are not the classics of design but are the classics of the English upholstery tradition, like the sofa Chester, the 1919 armchair, the club chair Fumoir and the Vanity Fair of 1930 inspired by the aesthetics of the Bauhaus, have always had a large market in Italy.
Added to these are the masterpieces of the masters of design, which we have re-edited and which are part of our collection, such as the Dezza armchair by Gio Ponti, the Sanluca by the Achille brothers and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, the furnishings of Gastone Rinaldi and Gianfranco Frattini, and our "modern classics", the products created in relatively recent times that have become iconic, such as the Archibald armchair by Jean-Marie Massaud, as beloved as Vanity Fair.
Over time, global taste has moved towards more contemporary solutions and our classic product has suffered a decline.
For this reason, over the years we have decided to revitalize the historical pieces: we have updated the proportions of the Vanity Fair, to meet the needs of the modern customer, who is taller and more robust and seeks greater comfort; we deconstructed the Chester making it modular, angular, curved, proposing solutions more in line with the current way of furnishing spaces.
Recently, we proposed new versions of the Chester and the Vanity Fair, reinterpreted by the famous couturier Ozwald Boateng, to tell a piece of our heritage in new and different way to customers who have probably never heard of either Chester or Vanity Fair”.
Roberta Silva, CEO of Flos: “Our classics market is very strong, mainly in the European context, where it has also recorded constant growth in recent years. In the last four years, some of the Flos icons such as Arco, Taccia, Parentesi, Snoopy, Toio and Biagio have increased their impact on orders by almost three percentage points, from 14 percent in 2019 to 17 percent in 2023".
More and more companies are renewing the classics. Why?
Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau: “Renovating a classic means adding lifeblood to tradition and at the same time making incredibly current historical pieces known to an increasingly wider and international audience.
At the beginning of the 2000s we proposed the Chester One, which is read in the Italian "cesterone", a larger and more generous Chester.
In 2020, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Vanity Fair, we asked Roberto Lazzeroni to adapt the armchair to the size of today's customer: the Vanity Fair taller and wider than Renzo Frau's 1930s design, a reinterpretation that sells very well in foreign markets, it is the model on which we carry out "experiments" such as the collaboration with Boateng, and as a next rereading that we will present at the beginning of 2024, with very particular graphics, but which I cannot reveal more about”.
How much do classics affect the total turnover of companies?
Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina: “There is a good balance between the sales of the Cassina iMaestri Collection and the rest of our collection because the union of contemporary design with the great classics is the basis of The Cassina Perspective, Cassina's vision of the house".
Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau: “The Poltrona Frau classics represent approximately 15 percent of our turnover, if we add Dezza and the other design classics that we have re-edited we arrive at around 25 percent. When I arrived in the company, in 2012, the percentage was higher, but the turnover was less than half of the current one, so we can say that the absolute value of the classics has certainly increased".
Roberta Silva, CEO of Flos: “Historical icons represent 17 percent of the value of global orders. The Decorative Flos collection is very well balanced between the icons, i.e. the most well-known historical lamps such as Arco, Taccia, Parentesi, Snoopy, Toio and Biagio, the collections launched between the late 1990s and early 2000s ( for example Miss K and KTribe by Philippe Starck, IC by Michael Anastassiades and Glo-Ball by Jasper Morrison) and finally the latest families presented recently (Noctambule by Konstantine Grcic, Coordinates by Michael Anastassiades, Almendra by Patricia Urquiola, Skynest by Marcel Wanders and Horizontal Light by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec), which are growing significantly."
What are the best-selling classics?
Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina: “The Cassina iMaestri Collection brings together many of the most desired design objects, from the Utrecht armchair by Gerrit T. Rietveld and the Maralunga sofa by Vico Magistretti (who turns fifty this year), to the 699 Superleggera chair by Gio Ponti (from 1957 and incessantly present in the Cassina catalog ever since) and, obviously, the models by Le Corbusier , Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, who have become synonymous with modernity throughout the world.
This collection also includes objects never produced in series, such as the Crystal Radio by Franco Albini or the Table Monta by Charlotte Perriand table presented this year, which arouse great interest in their cultural content, as well as the screen by Giacomo Balla which introduces art into the collection.
For Cassina it is very important to make lesser-known projects discovered through meticulous and in-depth research, carried out with the aim of returning great classics to the world of design that the public would otherwise never have had the opportunity to know."
Roberta Silva, CEO of Flos: “The best-selling classics, that is, our icons, are the lamps created in the Sixties and early Seventies by the great Italian masters of design and include in order of sale the timeless Arco (1962), the other icons of the brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni recognized throughout the world as great design classics, such as Taccia (1962), Snoopy (1967 ), and Toio (1962), the brilliant Parentesi by Achille Castiglioni and Pio Manzù, from 1971, and Biagio by Tobia Scarpa, drawn in 1968.
At a macro-geographic level, current sales of classics are mainly concentrated in Europe, where Italy covers half of the order of icons, followed by France and Germany.
Icons are increasing their attractiveness and presence in America and Asiapac, where design lovers are increasingly numerous and interested in the creations of our great masters."
There are those who prefer to buy the original of the time, rather than the re-edition.
Luca Fuso, CEO of Cassina: “I don't believe there is an overlap between the vintage originals and the re-editions. Indeed, we have seen how the collecting and design markets can often stimulate each other.
For example, during a recent Christie's auction a new sales record for the works of Charlotte Perriand was recorded, attracting bidders from all over the world, but at the same time her works remain among our bestsellers. I use this example to say that they are two substantially different markets, with different availability, costs and probably uses (more daily for our collections)".
How do you reread design classics?
Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau: "The re-edition or reinterpretation of the classic must be able to dialogue with the object in a sincere way, must not be perceived as something superimposed, and must enhance the historical piece with a new interpretation.
With the restyling operations we try to broaden the boundaries of the brand but without distorting the essence of our classics. An example is the collaboration between Poltrona Frau and Ozwald Boateng, the designer who has revitalized classic British tailoring with color and a new cosmopolitan aesthetic that recalls its Ghanaian roots: with Boateng we share the same values, we were born in tradition and we try to modernize it.
The most interesting aspect of the classics is that they are out of time, they can live indiscriminately in different eras and absorb different stimuli, suggestions and contributions over the years".
Which are the countries most sensitive and interested in owning a piece of history at home?
Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau: “China, where we recently opened our new flagship store in Shanghai designed by Michele de Lucchi, a space on three floors that extends over 2 thousand square metres, the brand's largest exhibition point to date; since we landed on the Chinese market in 2014, one of the best-selling products ever is the 1919 bergère armchair.
In the United States, where there is a great passion for Gio Ponti, they are very interested in Dezza, while in Japan they love the Kyoto table by Gianfranco Frattini, beyond the name, for the formal cleanliness and the play of joints.
In Europe the Chester is always in great demand, and in Italy we continue to sell well the Chester and Vanity Fair in the traditional version, and it is on the Italian market that we are relaunching the Vanity Fair with of restyling and repositioning operations".
How do you bring your classics closer to young people and to a new, international audience?
Roberta Silva, CEO of Flos: “We bring our audience closer to the classics with passionate and constant storytelling and the creation of quality content, through our channels, both physical (the single-brand stores, the Flos Design Spaces, and the Flos Stories magazine, which we publish every six months) and digital (the e-commerce and professional sites, the social channels).
We also ensure the presence of our classics in the exhibitions and permanent collections of the main art and design museums in the world, and we frequently organize special events and support activities promoted by cultural institutes.
We work closely with the Achille Castiglioni Foundation to tell, in their space, or in our spaces, or in the shops of our dealers around the world, the Castiglioni design philosophy and the stories linked to creation of the most famous lamps.
At the same time, thanks to our product design team, we work on re-editions, limited editions and range enrichments of our classics to keep their memory alive and renew the public's interest through exclusive details or finishes, or by resizing their proportions so as to make them suitable for smaller spaces and accessible also to younger generations".
Cover image: Soriana by Afra & Tobia Scarpa – Cassina. Ph. Valentina Sommariva