Text Chiara Alessi
Michele Caniato, you have lived in New York for twenty years.
How has the city changed in its consumption of design products? New York and the United States have changed incredibly over the last two decades. In my view it is a positive change. Design, which in the past was seen more as an ‘attribute’ of luxury products, in fashion or the automotive sector, is now a part of everyday life. This has also happened thanks to companies like Apple or Target, or more recently Crate & Barrel. The choice of hiring professional designers to create objects for the mass market has led to appreciation of ‘well-designed’ things – and design has become part of the everyday vocabulary. Restaurants, hotels, retailers embrace design as a key to success. The good news is that these brands try to stand out from the others not just thanks to affordable prices, but also for their unique design collections. In Italy the economic crisis often forces designers to stay inside the boundaries of briefs (objects that are easy to sell, ‘right’, finished), while history teaches us that the best things often come from making a break with the past, from mistakes or reactions. In America, is the crisis seen as a possibility to stimulate ingenuity, to take risks, to face the unknown? Well, as Italians we have always taken more risks, and always moved along the borderline: promoting innovation not just to guide sales, following our instincts to create new, unique products. In the United States people tend to take calculated risks. The big difference is that America always pushes for change, so industrial companies are stimulated to improve earlier projects, and to do so as quickly as possible. My advice is to ‘listen’ to the US market and to adapt products to meet its needs. In your view, why do Italians look with skepticism at the same things that fill Americans with enthusiasm and optimism? I am Italian and I will always be Italian, though I am proud to be an American citizen. I feel terrible when I hear my colleagues express such a lack of faith in the future. My idea is that the worst is over, and the future is g oing to be a good compromise. Let’s keep our heads up and look at business on a global, not just a national, level. We Italians have a unique way of always finding a solution, namely throug h innovation. Listening to Italian design companies, one has the impression that in many cases they have trouble with the American market, which seems to respond more to a business-to-business model or one of tailor-made product design, gauged for the measurements, the homes and the tastes of Americans. What do you think? I think the real problem is to listen and to understand the needs of a different market, and to create products and prices that can work on that market. Tailored products are the ones that are most successful, in general, but we should remember that the Made in Italy label and its sensibilities are still highly appreciated, at least as long as prices and delivery times are on the mark. Does Italy need to be ‘branded’ to work in America? Or are we still an active, pulsating story, a cultural model? In the USA we are very active on the fashion front, and in food, hospitality and design. Just look at Eataly, and its incredible success in New York, making it one of the biggest attractions in that city. Italy is the fundamental part of this equation to set trends: the fashion week and design week are indispensable events to inform the culture and business of design in the US. The Salone is the Oscar event of the furniture industry: you have to take part if you want to be part of the sector. So Italian companies need to listen to the heartbeat of the US market and adapt their offerings to it. Hurray for Italy… we are still number one in the world!