The Cappellini stand at the Salone del Mobile is a vibrant pop of colour, with its signature modern design furniture. We are here waiting on Giulio Cappellini, the man whose design vision changed the face of what was originally a small family business making classical Italian furniture, turning it into one of the world’s most coveted brands. Architect, designer, entrepreneur, but above all, master talent scout of design, he has been a catalyst in the global success of designers like Jasper Morrison, Tom Dixon, Marc Newson, Marcel Wanders and the Bouroullec brothers.
Here to interview Cappellini is Apoorva Shroff, partner at reD Architects in Mumbai. Her international education and work experience have influenced her design sensibilities, giving her a unique style that is an amalgamation of intuitive aesthetics and opulence.
Cappellini walks in and seats himself strategically, his years of experience with interviews help him choose the spot with the best lighting. Shroff with her ready smile and soft-spoken demeanour slips easily into her role of emerging designer gleaning wisdom from a worldly-wise statesman.
Apoorva Shroff (AS): You trained as an architect, yet moved into designing furniture. What prompted this change?
Giulio Cappellini (GC): When I started, there was no difference between architecture and design. I was going to be an architect, but I was very young and one evening I was quite drunk. I told my parents I wanted to join the family business and I started working there as a designer. I think design and architecture are the same, it is just a matter of scale.
AS: Did you have any problems when you re-directed the Cappellini brand from classical furniture to the modern designs that the brand represent?
GC: At that time Italian design was already famous, with well-known Italian designers and a set of Italian entrepreneurs that strongly believed in design as a new form of business. I believed that along with protecting Italian production, there was a world of talent outside. I started to travel, and collaborated with relatively unknown designers like Jasper Morrison, Tom Dixon, Marc Newson. At the beginning it was not easy but slowly the company grew.
AS: You have an army of stupendous designers under your umbrella, how do you singularly define a brand despite having so many different people there?
GC: We are a multicultural brand, for me the most important thing is to try to create a filo rouge that connects the different approaches of our designers. When you look at our collection, it is very eclectic, we respect the individuality of each designer. It is essential to establish a strong relationship with the designer, then we can arrive from the first idea to the final product.
AS: Is there any one product that you are especially proud of – anything that is of significance to you?
GC: There are some products that for me are very important, for example, the Thinking Man’s chair was the first chair that Jasper Morrison designed for us. Or maybe others like the Felt Chair of Newson, because they were the beginning of a long history stretching back over 30 years.
AS: You have said that it is easier to sell furniture to commercial spaces and it is harder for residences. Can you elaborate on that?
GC: Sometimes for residential spaces it is not easy to sell a design product. On the other hand, in public spaces, people really like to have design products, so that is why at the moment most of the turnover of Cappellini is done with these kinds of public spaces.
AS: What do you think for this year; is there a product that you think will be ‘it’ for this year?
GC: This year we present a chair that Shiro Kuramata created 40 years ago but even today is absolutely contemporary. If there is something from the past that is still good, we must produce it. To create any product takes time, and you have to make something that can be good today and also in the next 10 years. I like to work on long sellers and not best sellers.
AS: Is there a prediction this year about what will do well trend-wise?
GC: The real trend is this freedom given to the consumer to mix products designed by different designers and companies. When we do a new product, we must create one that can sell anywhere in the world, but we must also respect the individuality of the consumers. See how the consumer is changing. Companies used to have headquarters, now they have a campus. In the hospitality sector, people who travel want to feel at home in their hotel room, so the atmosphere is warmer and more personal.
AS: Along with your eye for design you are known for having a keen eye for talent. When you meet young people is there anything in particular you look for?
GC: Sometimes I see a prototype or a sketch and say, “Wow this is fantastic, I want it tomorrow.” The first choice always comes from the gut. Then we start to work together and sometimes from that first idea we arrive step by step to the final product, and sometimes we work for months or years and do not arrive at anything.
AS: Do you have any advice for young designers?
GC: Do few things but do good things. It is not enough just to make a nice shape, because maybe the most beautiful shapes have already been done. Today there is a possibility to work on new materials, new processes, new production systems. You have to really follow your concept from the beginning to the end.
Giulio Cappellini: “I would like to STIR 2019 with cultural contamination between east and west.”
(See more from the series 'Cross Border Conversations 8X8' )