In recent years one phenomenon has grown by leaps and bounds: collectible design, especially pieces by the great Italian masters of style. Furnishings made from the 1940s to the 1990s by artists – most of them architects – who relied on the support of furniture manufacturers to create important collections, putting an indelible mark on modern and contemporary lifestyles. Collecting of vintage pieces (a term borrowed from the world of lifestyle) began about 20 years ago, giving rise to specialized galleries and later to themed trade fairs (often combined with contemporary art) and auctions of 20th-century treasures. A fertile, lively current of events and exhibitions that has generated major turnover, yet is still not capable of joining forces in a systematic way. For those who got started with good timing, and with a good marketing and communication strategy, remarkable results are now in reach, often precisely by focusing on Italian design.
Nina Yashar, behind the Milanese gallery Nilufar – whose clients include personalities like Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli – “enthusiastic friends and collectors above all of historic Italian design”– clearly explains the reasons behind this positive moment on the market. “Our Italian architects working from the 1950s to the 1970s, who made our design great in the world, were very prolific, and they created custom furnishings every time they were involved in new constructions. My work is oriented precisely towards the search for these unique pieces created specifically for an interior, like the sideboard designed in 1941 by the studio B.B.P.R. for Casa Bettinelli in Milan, which I have in my Depot gallery in Milan. Italian design has great success at auctions, where private individuals, collectors and institutions make purchases at high prices. It will take on value over time, especially in the case of one-offs. I have experienced this firsthand, in July, collaborating with Christie’s Italia for a lot of 100 design pieces: the operation confirmed the growth trend of our designers.”
Giustini / Stagetti operates in the capital, as one of the leading galleries in this sector. Giustini / Stagetti focuses on pieces by the great masters of the past – including a marvelous collection of items in glass by Carlo Scarpa – alongside those of contemporary designers, who will be seen as legends in the years to come. “We began in 2009,” says Stefano Stagetti, “and in 2010 we presented a collection of ceramic works by Enzo Cucchi. The strong point of the gallery is our careful selection of authors, whom we ask to work on an exclusive, to create special collections.” The names include Formafantasma and Umberto Riva. “The market for one-offs is very interesting, but it takes a lot of commitment,” Roberto Giustini says. “We work with different types of clients: private collectors, architects, museums. Many of them make strategic purchases thanks to specialized consultants or interior decorators, while others follow their own tastes and interests. The expectations are also changing. Most of the clients buy for passion, but in recent years we have noticed a growing focus on design as a form of investment, above all among the younger clients.” Hence interest is also growing in ‘minor’ works, not just the masterpieces of the most famous designers.
This jibes with the experience of Daniele Lorenzon, who opened the Compasso gallery in Milan in 2012. “I have always been into the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. This was the time of creators like Sergio Asti, Paolo Tilche, Luigi Saccardo, Cesare Leonardi and others, and I am offering their works to by clients: major collectors, young couples, architects, interior designers, one third from Italy, two thirds from other countries – Europe, USA, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia – with whom I also worked during the lockdown. This is a sector that offers large growth margins in both qualitative and quantitative terms: in Italy, we have a heritage to protect and enhance, names to discover and to explain. A formidable legacy.”
Domenico Raimondo, Senior Director, Head of Department Europe and Senior International Specialist of the international auction house Phillips, is also aware of all this. “The interest in Italian design is very strong and continues to grow. It is something we work closely on at Phillips, for various reasons: one of them is obviously personal, since I am Italian, but another is the awareness of how unique Italian design really is. Most Italian designers were architects, a factor that brings remarkable added value. There is a great synergy between the architect and industry, and obviously with craftsmanship. This has allowed for infinite interpretations of objects, lamps, furniture, which means that Italian design will never get boring. Our design has such a variety of languages that it is possible to present something new at every sale. Unlike other markets, where you often find the same models and series, the market of Italian design offers infinite opportunities for discovery. For example, with Gio Ponti we often come across new models and unknown prototypes, though still perfectly in line with the evolution of his style and his way of thinking. We discover objects never seen before, which represent a completion of Ponti’s career and his design pathway. The pricing of works is also very important: we have managed to grow on the market over time, but we have been careful not to inflate prices, not to create a bubble.”
This is confirmed by Guido Wannenes, CEO of the Wannenes auction house with offices in Genoa, Milan, Rome and Monte Carlo. “The design market is international, transverse and nomadic in its tastes, far from regional boundaries. What counts in our work is to guarantee the authenticity of pieces, and this can be done by means of traceability, if possible in collaboration with a foundation of reference, relying on period documentation or the extensive bibliography that has taken form in recent years, making people more familiar with the creativity of Italian design in the 20th century. It is essential to work with the organizers of exhibitions at institutions (such as the Triennale di Milano) or private institutes, for which Wannenes often represents an essential link between curators and collectors, also for important loans. Among the pieces that have performed best, I would like to mention two emblematic cases, both linked to the name of Ettore Sottsass: the model 12600 Balena chandelier, produced by Arredoluce in 1957, in coated aluminium, perspex, brass and nylon, which sold for 111,600 euros, and a sideboard in rosewood and lacquered wood, produced by Poltronova in 1955 circa, sold for 105,400 euros, a result that doubles the highest previous price. So we are looking at constant growth, which offers ample margins for expansion.” Patrizia Catalano