The pandemic hasn’t stopped exportation of Italian design. After the production stoppage of nearly two months in 2020, the market has rebounded, driven by China and the East. And Made in Italy has again made the difference with its quality and custom projects. A year on a roller coaster, in the words of 19 premium brands

Tough, versatile, resilient. Ready to react to hardships, including those brought by a pandemic that continues to threaten the world. Italian design injects its historic DNA into the companies of Made in Italy, making it the ideal formula for excellence in the midst of the health crisis. We asked 19 premium brands, with capillary operations in the world, to narrate – also in numbers – their experience of 2020-21. The results are better than we might have imagined one year ago.

Exports: the figures

Driven by Asia, and especially China, exports – which for every brand represent a quota of almost never less than 80% of sales, with some approaching 90% – are holding up, almost always in the black in spite of the production stoppage in 2020 of six-seven weeks. A success story facilitated by capillary distribution that ensures stability even in turbulent times, as emphasized – for example – by the CEO of Boffi | De Padova, Roberto Gavazzi, and by B&B Italia. “We have not stopped working: the world of projects has even accelerated, and only our retail operations have been hampered, especially and inevitably in terms of the updating of the displays at our points of sale,” says Giovanni Del Vecchio, CEO of Giorgetti. Europe, somehow, has held fast. For B&B Italia, the areas of greatest income, along with Italy, have been Germany, France and the UK. For the latter, a zone of contract projects, the marketing and communication director of Molteni&C, Giulia Molteni, reports “signs of rapid recovery, also seen in France and Spain. Somewhat more slowly, the same is true of markets in northern Europe and the Balkans.”

Cassina is seeing the best results in Europe and the Asia Pacific region, while Visionnaire places Africa at the top of its growth forecasts. At Moroso, CEO Damir Eskerica is satisfied with a first quarter in 2021 “that has been extremely positive, with an active retail sector and a contract sector that is once again making plans, both in hospitality and in corporate offices, above all in the German-language markets.” Cappellini is also seeing signs of a comeback in the USA, with good results in the first quarter of this year, while Scandinavia and Germany are areas of excellent performance for lighting brands. Along with good results in northern Europe, the CEO of Flos, Roberta Silva, can now also hypothesize a rebound in the USA. Porro reports its best results in Italy and Russia. Positive signs are also underscored by Rimadesio, where 2020 came to an end with orders of over 57 million euros: a drop of -4% over 2019, but with six weeks of production stoppage. Germany, Austria, Russia and the USA are the markets contributing to growth. The year 2020 is also seen in a positive light by Roberto Minotti, co-CEO of Minotti, who talks about results “closely tied to the new central role of the home and enforced isolation. We have seen growth, though only single-digit, in our sales, which in historical terms have been strongly influenced by exports (84%).”

China effect

The first country in the world to bounce back from the pandemic, or at least to have prepared for a restart, China makes the difference in Italian furniture exports. Just consider the results of +138% reported for the start of 2021 by Poliform. “All Asia is making a clear leap forward, in the range of 55% growth,” says the CEO Giovanni Anzani. China has been decisive above all for the luxury market, and hence for companies like Luxury Living Group, for which Beijing remains the leading outlet for the brand’s exports. Furthermore: in Beijing Cappellini has returned to its pre-Covid levels, while Boffi | De Padova have returned to activity in the contract sector at high levels. China calls for “a separate perspective,” according to Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau: “Thanks the vigorous influx of orders, already in the second quarter of 2020 China has become our biggest market, in absolute terms, a position that is also being consolidated in 2021.”

For the CEO of Cassina, Luca Fuso, “China continues to offer great potential, with high double-digit growth, also thanks to the fact that we have expanded our presence across the territory, developing collaborations with local partners in second and third tier cities, reaching a very large audience.” China is also the country where trade fair activities have resumed: “Here, in the middle of the pandemic we have opened over 50 stores,” says Pasquale Junior Natuzzi, chief creative and marketing officer of Natuzzi, “but in this moment countries like Israel – thanks to its extraordinary vaccination campaign – the Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the Middle East in general, are showing positive signals for growth. The US market is also making a strong rebound.” Generally, the good results come from the entire Asian market, including the Pacific area: Artemide reports growth of +15.7% for the whole continent, “where a reorganization of distribution models was already under way,” says CEO Carlotta de Bevilacqua. B&B Italia forecasts further double-digit growth for 2021 (+14): “In those area, a significant investment plan is in progress, to ensure further growth of qualified showroom facilities over the next five years.”

Lema has also gained export ground: the commercial & marketing director Massimo Maestroni confirms a year of general growth, precisely due to projects in the Asian area, and indicates China, Korea, Southeast Asia and North America as the areas with the best results. In China, Lema continues to program new openings of flagship stores: “We have reached 13, and we are planning five more for 2021. In Dubai, thanks to our ability to customize, we are involved in more and more special projects.” At Pedrali, the CEO Monica Pedrali speaks of good results in the Middle East, Israel and Korea: “Often we are dealing with countries that due to historical and cultural factors are accustomed to coping with major socio-political and demographic changes, and are thus capable of rapid rebounds. And the vaccination campaign is moving forward very rapidly.”

Many new showrooms, stronger identity

Everyone seems to agree on one point: the indispensable importance of traditional stores, though in a world where the digital component is gaining ground, and the two dimension, real and virtual, have generated a growing hybrid: the ‘phygital.’ Roberta Silva of Flos observes: “We no longer have to have many stores. We can make do with fewer, as long as they are evocative, conveying an identity and emotions. This year the Covid emergency has prompted us to focus on the digital experience, but a large portion of consumption in the future will alternate between physical and online modes: the new customer journey has to take this into account.” Poltrona Frau also talks about the showroom as a “center of experience.” The aim is to open spaces that are increasingly “qualified and recognizable,” they say at B&B Italia, “where brands and the distinctive characteristics of every collection can come to the fore, in single-brand stores or shop-in-shop areas, without overlooking the strategic importance of the wholesale channel.”

The winning formula

And design? What has Made in Italy offered to the world, to become so competitive? “The pandemic has simply accelerated a series of changes that were already in progress,” says Kurt Wallner, CEO of Cappellini. “The most farsighted producers and designers have been working for some time now to provide intelligent solutions for new demands: hybrid, transformable and multifunctional products for new landscapes of living, work and hospitality. Today, those who are able to supply ingenious, practical solutions are the winners on the market.” “Care for the home has become a central issue. The lockdown has truly forced people to think about functional and decorative quality,” says Roberta Silva of Flos. Moreover: according to Giulia Molteni, “in this context family companies are facilitated by the ability to make quick decisions, to alter programs and adapt production and strategies to new market demands. Our niche of consumers has a certain expertise. They have already consumed a lot in life, often they are not at their first homes, and they have understood the importance of having products that last in time, to pass on to the next generations. As in the case of the collection of furnishings dedicated to Gio Ponti.”

While for Rimadesio the motor has been that of the Cover door systems, the Self cabinets, the wardrobes, the new Modulor paneling and sliding doors, perfect to adapt spaces to the standards of safety and privacy imposed by the health emergency, Porro has completed the project of the new Glide doors, large sliding panels capable of shifting in one second from separation to an open view. At Shenzhen, the marketing director Maria Porro explains, “we have supplied 513 different wardrobes for the important Park Manor View towers at Shenzhen Bay.” Pedrali has provided projects for the Pfizer offices in Dubai, the restyling of Eataly at the Dubai Mall and the Forsan Central Mall at Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi. “In Singapore we have provided the very new Panarea collection created by CMP Design to furnish the new outdoor lounge and dining zone of BBR by Alain Ducasse inside the iconic Raffles Hotel. Then there are the Eataly outlet in Seoul and the spaces of the majestic Hyundai - The H La Class tower in Seoul,” says Monica Pedrali.

According to Leopoldo Cavalli of Visionnaire, the pandemic has even opened the way for “a new chapter in the history of architecture and product design: our task is to orient people towards the definition of the ideal places in which to reconstruct a new, intimate psycho-physical wellbeing. We have moved forward on projects for large villas, homes for which we are seeing maximum concentration of investment today. We perceive greater demand for personalization in projects (and products), because in the home people express their most intimate feelings, now more than ever before.” Roberto Minotti is wagering on acceleration in outdoor furnishings, consistent with the effects of the lockdown, in parallel with a slump in hospitality and the hotel industry. According to the co-CEO of the brand, it is not a cliché to say that consumers are becoming more interested in durable goods of high quality, “made with natural materials, oriented towards increasingly strategic, aware purchases. The work of orchestration of Minotti Studio permits us to guarantee coordinated identity and image of the brand on a global level, through careful and detailed work on the contextualization of the collections, interpreting the culture of the place and the specific architecture of spaces.”

Poltrona Frau is counting on a stronger focus on natural materials, easy of recycling and sustainable packing, while Artemide, Carlotta de Bevilacqua says, has its strong point in close technological transfer, making the timing between research and application coincide, with horizontal sharing of knowledge across multiple products. One example is Integralis, the patented lighting technology capable of sanitizing spaces, presented in 2020. Finally, outside the collections, the idea of Moroso is to “create a system among companies: this could be the key solution. We have already been experiencing this for some time, creating synergies and collaborating with companies in terms of complementary expertise and affinities of sensibility and vision. Design will get back to its roots, to people and their needs.”

Stores: how many, and where

All this explains the cascade of openings over the last few difficult months, with many more already announced for the near future. Artemide is renewing its space in the D3 of Dubai, and has opened a new showroom last September in Copenhagen. Flos has consolidated its presence in the Danish capital in June: the offices and showroom will be moved from the previous site to the new hub of Design Holding, taking the name of D Studio, together with other brands of the group. Other new locations are planned during the course of this year. Visionnaire, after the opening of a single-brand outlet in Mumbai, will open its Visionnaire Embassy in London, the fifth flagship of the brand in the world together with Milan, Los Angeles, Miami and Hong Kong.

New single-brand stores are also in the offing, starting with Abuja, Nigeria. In Europe, a single-brand store was opened in April 2020 at Monte Carlo, and at the end of the year the first of a series of flagship stores will appear in London, at the Chelsea Harbour Design Center. Luxury Living Group has opened a store in Paris and one in Forlì from the end of 2020 to the start of 2021, and is about to open another facility in London. Further openings are planned in Asia, Europe and the United States over the course of the year. Porro, at the end of 2020, updated its single-brand store in Shanghai and expanded its presence in the USA with the Connecticut Cottage, one hour’s drive from Manhattan, and the new showroom in New York City, a duplex in the Flatiron District. Boffi | De Padova is about to launch a new space in Dubai, while organizing an opening in Denver and an expansion in London, where the group has been operating for over 15 years. Cappellini has created new showrooms in Istanbul, Chengdu and Shenzhen in China, Taipei and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. A new single-brand unit will be opened in 2021 in Seoul, while new partnerships are being launched in India and Japan.

Cassina has opened its first flagship store with Karakter in Paris. Giorgetti has opened a single-brand store in London, at the end of 2020, a headquarters at The Centrale, New York, as well as stores in New Delhi, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, and a multibrand facility in Casablanca. A dual presence in New York, a showroom in Shanghai and two outlets at Ningbo and Tokyo are in the works. During the next six months, Lema will open two flagship stores in Korea, five in China and two in Europe (Amsterdam and Kiev). China is an obvious strategic choice for other brands as well: Minotti opened in Taizhou in July, and in September it will open a new single-brand store in Wuhan. Molteni&C, which in late 2020 and early 2021 has opened eight flagship stores and 18 shop-in-shop units in the world, will create five new flagship stores in China, a Dada monobrand store and two shop-in-shop areas.

In 2021, the company will move the flagship store in Hong Kong to a new location. We should also mention the new openings of Moroso (three single-brand units in China by the end of 2021, others in Vietnam and Doha), Pedrali (the first showroom in Chicago, at theMART), and the seven new single-brand stores of Poliform. Poltrona Frau is also ready to grow, with monobrand stores all over the world. B&B Italia plans openings in Copenhagen and Dubai, while Rimadesio looks forward to new multibrand facilities in Doha and eight monobrand stores around the world, after the seven openings in 2020, from London to Bogotà. In the Middle East, Natuzzi has worked on a number of openings that are happening in this period in Haifa and Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi and Mumbai, as well as renovation of the Mega Store in Dubai for the Expo.