The Gervasoni showroom at Via Durini is an oasis of calm in the midst of a frenetic Fuorisalone. We are there with Delhi-based interior designer Iram Sultan, who runs a small studio specialising in both modern and traditional designs with a unique twist. Design to her is all about storytelling, curated with love and told with passion, something she has in common with the vivacious Paola Navone.
Navone has, through her career, switched between the roles of architect, designer, art director, interior designer, critic, teacher and organiser of exhibitions and events, both independently and for select clients. She cut her teeth working among the most progressive group on the Italian design scene, rebels, and breakout designers of their time.
Navone breezes in about 10 minutes later, followed by her boy wonder Gennaro. He quickly endears himself to us by stepping out and returning with a round of drinks for everyone. After all, it is 6:00 pm, and in Milan, this means it is time for an aperitivo.
We slip into a discussion on art - a shared interest. Between their art obsession and a shared love for food, it takes a while for the conversation to turn to matters that are more design related.
Iram Sultan (IS): You are one of the few designers who still have a love affair with plastic. What interesting projects do you have this year?
Paola Navone (PN): We wanted to do something for my Low Lita chair’s 10th anniversary. It is made of polyethylene with rotational moulding, and I asked the technician to throw some black inside with the white, and the colours started to turn together, and it created a sort of melange. The process cannot be duplicated exactly; each one will be different. So that is also craft, though it is done out of a machine. The human input that puts the powder inside, changes everything. Now they say, people do not like plastic, but there are still so many things we can do with plastic if we add a human element to it.
IS: There is a lot of new technology that is coming into our line of work. There are 3D printers and there are all those industrial processes; but your work is always with craft, with the hand...
PN: Craft is not only about natural materials or traditional processes, it is also about a human hand that transforms something, giving an imprint of that person. For example, I did a craft project for Corsi Design using resin. The One-Off Chair is a collection with chairs that I took from the garbage and wrapped with this material and created 20 unique pieces of art. I gave each chair a second life by wrapping it with a material, which is absolutely not a natural material. I also did a collection of One-Off Vases that I wrapped and decorated with this resin.
IS: You have spent a lot of time between Asia and Italy. Travel is a big part of how you design, right?
PN: Yes, of course! But travelling is a state of mind, it is not how many kilometres you move from Milan - it could also just be a trip to the supermarket. Travelling is in the way your mind works when you move around.
IS: Speaking of supermarkets, tell us about this interior project that you did recently.
PN: I just finished a beautiful, small supermarket in Singapore – very chic, with a big bistro inside, part of a development for fashion and food. We did three buildings - in the first there is the Dover Street Market and one restaurant, in another we have three restaurants and a little lounge, and the third building just opened, where we have a supermarket with very beautiful, funny graphics.
IS: You really do have an attraction for food. In fact, I have never forgotten what you said once, about design being like an omelette.
PN: It is like cooking an omelette - but while this is true for me, it is not the same for everybody. First of all, I like to cook, I like to share, I like to interact with people, exchange opinions. For a client, I want to make not only a good omelette, but an omelette that the client likes. My goal is not to create something that comes out of my mind and insist it be exactly like this. If you do not like it, I will make something else.
IS: I completely get that because that is just the way I like working as well; but I guess that is why there is this great way... you work with so many brands. There is Gervasoni for whom you do something different, then there is Baxter, Slide, Abet Laminati…
PN: Also, I like to do everything different, I do not like to have this Paola Navone rubber stamp. You know, we are very lucky because in our job, we always get to keep a little component of fun. I never build an aggressive atmosphere. I like to bring to the industry the disruption of craft, and sometimes, I like to bring to the craftspeople some kind of discipline, because sometimes they are not so disciplined.
IS: It is interesting because when you started, you worked with people who were considered almost rebels – Mendini, Sottsass. What was it you were rebelling against?
PN: The previous establishment in design. Although the idea was not really to be against someone, because we all liked and respected the people who came before us, the idea was 'how can we find our way to be ourselves, to be different and to do something interesting'. But somehow, like when you have very strong, good parents, you want to do something on your own.
Well, you can certainly say Navone has achieved what she set out to do. So where does she go from here?
Paola Navone: “Well, we are already in the middle of 2019, so we have to hurry. I would like to stir a lot of things to be ready for January 2020, to stir up more, more, more.”
(See more from the series 'Cross Border Conversations 8X8' )