Unveil the myth: kill the father and – to put it bluntly – possess the mother. The Oedipus complex can be adapted to the world of design: kill the teacher and conquer the company.
Were we to ask Freud to help us understand the relationship between mentors and eternally ‘young’ designers, we might get a better idea of the sense of the classic, the role of the icon and the importance of the tribute.
Examples? The Parentesi by Achille Castiglioni and Pio Manzù revised by Konstantin Grcic, The iPhone freely based on the adding machines of Dieter Rams. The Moka of Alfonso Bialetti created in the 1930s redesigned by David Chipperfield. The timeless Thonet honored in 2008 by James Irvine for Muji. The Grillo phone by Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso, 1965, that lends its form to the StarTAC by Motorola. The nesting effect can be infinite: from the Cantilever, created in 1926 by the Dutch architect Mart Stam, to the Panton Chair by Vitra; which, in turn, gives rise to more or less successful mannerist interpretations and fantasies.
The topic, in short, is complicated, and it triggers passions, denials, embarrassment, desires for eternal life. To break down the king of all taboos – the complex relationship with the mentor, whoever that might be – we have chosen the path of listening to patients on a couch.
“We kill our fathers, but we love our grandparents” is the wry remark of Giulio Iacchetti. “For those in my age group, I’ve never perceived a generational conflict, a patricidal desire. The relationship with mentors is not as troubled as the one between father and son. The middle generation, perhaps, has had more problems with the overwhelming presence of the great masters. They were the ones who did a lot and did everything, crushing those to follow. But my generation has had much more freedom.”
A walking encyclopedia, Iacchetti rattles off pieces and dates (many of which have been mentioned in the introduction). He too has taken part in the art of reinterpretation. “In Darwinian terms, there is a unique, revolutionary invention that creates a before and an after, followed by modifications and refinements. In my case the operation was in the Tau jewelry for Danese, a clear statement on Enzo Mari and his Putrella centerpiece: I reduced the scale to make it become a small precious object.”
Another example, in the field of laminates. "As art director of Abet Laminati, together with Matteo Ragni I’m working on a connection to tradition that is not a repetition of old glories. Ettore Sottsass gave Abet laminates the reputation of a preferred material for an entire generation of designers. What we want to recreate is not the mode chosen by the founder of Memphis but the spirit, the desire to give value to a surface that offers infinite creative possibilities. We will do it by calling on a new generation of designers on an international level. So no disruption, no demonstration: searching for a passage, we find new prairies. Maybe we do live in a postmodern dimension where everyone is immersed in history and we cannot break free. But we can keep looking back if we have a true desire to also move forward. When you race towards the future, what are you doing? It’s always a good idea to look before you leap.”
Some people don’t kill the father, but simply put him on a pedestal. The designer Elena Salmistraro has created a tribute to her four masters – Achille Castiglioni, Alessandro Mendini, Michele De Lucchi, Riccardo Dalisi – in the form of statuettes for the Most Illustrious collection made in 2018 by Bosa.
“Killing the father was just a phase, that of the university where they fill you up with a kind of classic design, connected with industry. So for me there was a rebellion, I went forward, turning the page: that was the only way for me to create my own world and my own style.” And she admits: “I learned, then I put it aside for a rainy day. And that has been an advantage: the small totems represent personalities who are true design icons, composed of the very objects they designed, which have made them immortal. They are the fathers I chose for myself and who inspired me once I had completed my education and continued to follow my passions, like the imagery of the 1970s and 1980s, Memphis and Alchimia. For starters, I focused on Mendini, who was closest to my approach to design: ironic and free.”
“To be honest, I don’t worry that much about the great masters.” This is a very Italian theme, and in Stockholm Luca Nichetto can treat it lightly. “My generation has been put under pressure by the masters. When I had the good luck to get out of Italy, coming to terms with other cultures – Scandinavia, Japan – I discovered that this dynamic is something we all have in common: ‘misery loves company.’ Of course there is admiration, but also frustrations caused by these figures. But we have to take the role of companies into account. Gio Ponti with Richard Ginori or Alvar Aalto with Artek were personalities of great impact on entrepreneurial realities that, in turn, became the prostheses of artistic brilliance. When I had the chance to design for Svenskt Tenn, for example, I had to come to terms with the work of the Austrian architect Josef Frank. It was difficult to imagine how to take that legacy and transform it into my own, different interpretation: the result is the Fusa collection of lamps in Murano glass. With Wittmann in Austria, founded at the end of the 1900s and endowed with the large archive of Josef Hoffmann, the architect who was a leading figure of the Secession, I had to delve into that artistic movement, to understand the DNA and its connection to the identity of the company. I found inspiration and reinterpreted a certain type of language, leading to the Paradise Bird collection. For a piece to become a classic, however, it takes years, commercial success and the unique ability to foresee the times to come.”
So, as always, it will be time that decides if re-inventions will survive. And which designers, after the masters, will be seen as masters in their own right by future generations. To admire, to understand, to follow and – in a way – to kill.