TEXT BY ALESSANDRO ROCCA

For the main event of its 75th birthday, Knoll chooses Milan.

After many years of absence, the historic American company is back at the Salone del Mobile, doing it in style, with a dual participation: at the fair, with a booth designed by Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and in the city, at the Prada space at Via Fogazzaro 36, with a preview of furnishings collections, again by OMA, marking the start of the next 75 years. We talked about past, present and future with the president of Knoll, Andrew Cogan, asking about the strategies and objectives of this return to Milan. “Knoll was founded 75 years ago with the idea of bringing modern design into the office and the home. This dual vision has always been part of our cultural vision and our commercial strategy. In Europe, this potential has still not been fully developed. So we asked Demetrio Apolloni, as president of Knoll Europe, to apply all his experience in the domestic design sector to reinforce the brand’s position in that area. Here we are focusing on the modern classics of our catalogue, pieces by Mies van der Rohe, Saarinen, Bertoia and Schulz, to increase our visibility on the European market. At the same time, we want to emphasize our contemporary research, with products created by today’s great talents like Rem Koolhaas and David Adjaye, because we don’t want to remain tied to the icons of modernism. We want to expand our production to cover all types of furnishings for the home. Thus the choice of showing in Milan, with the Lounge upholstered furniture collection designed by Barber Osgerby”. What other projects will be seen at the Salone? “Our return to the Salone del Mobile after many years of absence happens in close collaboration with OMA (the studio of Koolhaas), which has created our booth and some of our new collections. We have wanted to work with Koolhaas for at least 15 years, but our collaboration began only last year, when together with our chief designer Benjamin Pardo we met with Rem, at his studio in Rotterdam, and planned a large collection that attempts to radically change the idea of workspace. My favorite piece is an object that can be transformed by the user into anything, from a screen to a table to a bench, spanning a wide variety of behavior modes for work, and different forms of interpersonal relations. I am confident that this piece, which will be at the center of our booth, will become a new icon for Knoll, the symbol of our commitment to truly innovative, modern design. There will also be other products on display, both classics and new entries, gathered around the theme ‘Modern Always’, our motto for the 75th anniversary of Knoll”. What position would you like to achieve in Europe? “We want to simply reintroduce ourselves, with our identity and our capacities. Knoll has always been recognized worldwide as an example of leadership for its conception of design. In the 1940s, under the guidance of Florence Knoll, our Planning Unit played a fundamental role in the modern evolution of workspace. Today, once again, we are indicating new perspectives for the working environment, like the Antenna system, the first true global platform focusing on styles of work and their growing similarities in Europe, Asia and America. In Europe our offerings continue to grow, and we can compete with anyone. On the home front, our classics are a central element, but that is not enough, so at the Salone we will demonstrate how we are expanding our offering with new products, like the collection by Barber Osgerby. In the next few years we will present many other initiatives for the home furnishings market; we think this is the field with the biggest margins for growth. And we are not talking only about furnishings: our brand KnollTextiles and our brands connected with cowhide, Spinneyback and Edelman, are getting more intensely involved in this sector and in contract. Last year we acquired a fantastic maker of felt, FilzFetl, that supplies us with the best materials for home and office layout, and at the end of this year we will open a new flagship store in New York, on the corner by MoMA. All this means more visibility with respect to the public and companies”. What is the specific essence, the particular character that sets Knoll and its production apart? “I think that since its founding, 75 years ago, Knoll has stood out for its commitment to high quality and innovative, original, timeless design that responds to real problems and real needs. We hate everything that is frivolous, trendy and not original”. So the Knoll adventure continues, even in what isn’t the most optimistic economic situation… “Over the last ten years we have all gotten used to operating in a situation of uncertainty, but I look at Europe as a major opportunity because we have a very strong brand and a small market share. If we manage to balance the share to our reputation, our business should double. But I have also learned that we have to approach the European market with management that has roots in the territory. I believe the latest choices made, in this sense, will lead to great results”. What is your relationship of collaboration with Prada? “Thanks to Rem, we were able to play a role in the presentation of the latest Prada menswear collection. We have great respect for the vision of Miuccia Prada and we were truly honored that she granted us the space at Via Fogazzaro to present our work with Koolhaas. I am sure it will be one of the high points of the FuoriSalone”.