Milan is "sitting in the past" says Patrizia Moroso

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Patrizia Moroso

News: Milan is “sitting in the past” and Italy is “losing the culture behind production,” according to Patrizia Moroso, head of leading Italian furniture brand Moroso (+ interview).

“There are so many reasons, but we are losing the culture behind production,” she told Dezeen. “I don't know how many more years we have production for because also companies are dying every day in Italy.”

Moroso made the comments during an interview with Dezeen at the designjunction show - part of the London Design Festival in London this week - where the brand has furnished the VIP room.

When asked to compare the design scenes in London and Milan, she said: “Milan unfortunately is sitting in the past and the past is gone. All the most important people of the beautiful past of Milan are very old or dead. I don't see energy now; the city is like a closed box.”

London, by contrast, is “a sort of belly of the world,” she said. “London is the centre of many kinds of thinking. Many people, young people but also people from all over the world, are attracted because London is open.”

Moroso is creative director of the eponymous Udine-based company that was started by her parents, who asked her to help reinvigorate the firm during the recession in the eighties.

Under her influence, the small, craft-driven company began to collaborate with international designers including Konstantin Grcic, Patricia Urquiola and Ron Arad. Moroso is now one of Italy’s most highly regarded design-led furniture brands, yet it continues to manufacture all its products in workshops close to its headquarters in north-east Italy.

However Moroso fears that Italy’s craft-based manufacturing excellence is dying out. “Italy in a way is very much in a crisis because it doesn't want to change, doesn't want to move and is becoming very old,” she said. “We have had more than 20 years of bad management of our government, society, schools, institutions. Everything has almost disappeared, so this is very bad for culture and design is part of that.”

Milan remains the world’s most important centre for furniture design but there are concerns that it is losing its influence. Earlier this year Claudio Luti, president of the Milan furniture fair, said that poor planning was damaging the city’s reputation. He told Dezeen: "If things don't work in the right way, they damage Milan, they damage our future."

In April, Former Domus editor Joseph Grima told Dezeen that “an era is drawing to an end for Italian design.” He added that the Italian apprenticeship system, where crafts skills are learned directly from masters, is “in a little bit of a crisis” as the rest of the world moves towards a schools-based system.

Moroso agreed that Italy’s design schools were suffering. “The schools are collapsing,” she said. “When I see our universities and design schools, they are not the best in the world, they are not so important unfortunately. If you don't give importance to learning, not immediately but in ten years you lose a generation of material culture.”

Moving production to emerging economies like China was not a solution for her company, Moroso added. But she laughed off concerns about Chinese companies copying her products.

“In China they have all the copies of everything, especially Supernatural chairs by Ross Lovegrove,” she said. “In every coffee bar you can find them. They're not ours but they're very famous so I'm happy!”

See all our stories about Moroso. Here is a full transcript of the interview:


Marcus Fairs: How does the design scene in London compare to Milan?

Patrizia Moroso: The differences are so many, of course. Milan unfortunately is sitting in the past and the past is gone. All the most important people of the beautiful past of Milan are very old or dead. I don't see energy now; the city is like a closed box. There was a fantastic moment in the past but they are not changing or accepting influence from outside. Italy in a way is very much in a crisis because it doesn't want to change, doesn't want to move and is becoming very old.

Marcus Fairs: Are you talking about design or everything?

Patrizia Moroso: The society, unfortunately. For instance all the young people, many, many of them are going away. Especially from what I know, I have kids that are now starting university. One of my sons is here, in Oxford. Many other young people came to university in England, but also elsewhere. So that is strange because you see your best people, the young and the interesting people, going away because in Italy now it is very difficult to start to do something after your studies. It's not a problem of money and financial price, it's because people don't want to think in another way. It’s very rigid.

So London, for me, is a little bit different. Many people, young people but also people from all over the world, are attracted because London is open. Of course I know that also here it is very expensive, from what I hear. England has lots of problems in terms of society. I was talking with a taxi driver yesterday and he said to me: "You know, I was living in London with my family and my son is obliged to go and live in the suburbs. Every day I have to drive for an hour to come into London because it's no longer possible to sustain this level. Here, rich people come from all over the world, from Russia, from China, and they are buying houses that they stay in one week per year, and we're losing our city." This could be the beginning of something very bad I think.

But anyway, London is still alive. Probably because so many people are coming to study and are making their own things here, sometimes establishing themselves forever. Some of the big names in London architecture and design, friends of ours, they all come from outside, countries from far away. Turkey, Iran, Israel, Italy, France.

Marcus Fairs: Why is London important to Moros? Is it because of the contract market, with all the architects here?

Patrizia Moroso: It's important first of all living or working in a place that is so exciting is always an occasion to stimulate your brain. That is for me, the first thing. But of course to have a showroom in London is because London is the centre of many kinds of thinking. Architecture is one of these and some of the most important studios in the world, of architecture and interior design, are based in London. Maybe then they have other studios around the world, but the main studios are here. Of course for that reason it is important to stay close to them. It's a sort of belly of the world.

Marcus Fairs: Will Milan be able to retain its importance as a creative city, as a design city?

Patrizia Moroso: Milan is not my reality. I'm living and working in the countryside north-east of Italy [in Udine]. Milan has a lot of important human knowledge about making things, and I think we in Italy are fantastic at doing what we are able to do.

We have an incredible heritage of a very high quality of craft, but also transforming craft during the 60s and 70s in industry. Maybe not big industries because you know that the design industry is never that big, companies need to be medium-sized to work in a good way, but the companies began as little companies of craftsmen or things like that. Why? Because Italy is a country where the people have an incredible talent to make beautiful things in wood, in glass, in metal, whatever. Very refined. Still, for me, a country that can produce some of the best things.

For instance, in furniture it's one of the best places in the world and one of the few places in Europe because we maintain these capabilities. In England, for some reason you lost these capabilities. You also were making, now I don't know. You are great at thinking; that is something important. The reverse in Italy: we are great at making but unfortunately thinking belongs to culture and culture belongs to society. We have had more than 20 years of bad management of our government, society, schools, institutions. Everything has almost disappeared, so this is very bad for culture and design is part of that.

When I see our universities and design schools, they are not the best in the world, they are not so important unfortunately. For me one of the reasons is the schools. If you don't give importance to learning, not immediately but in ten years you loose a generation of material culture. In Italy I believe some schools are still important because the teachers are very, very strong and make them good schools, but they are not paid very well. The schools are collapsing. For instance, design schools need a sort of laboratory. In Italy design schools are usually very academic and they are not letting the students try or make because there is no money to do this and no spaces for this kind of approach to design that is so important.

The most important schools that I know, like the Royal College of Art and Design Academy Eindhoven, they are factories for young designers and they can try to make what they think. There are so many reasons, but we are losing the culture behind production. So I don't know how many more years we have production for because also companies are dying every day in Italy. This is so sad for me because really the craftsmen and the people that used to work in the factories have an incredible mentality, so I hope this will change.

Marcus Fairs: You don't sound very optimistic about Italian design and manufacturing.

Patrizia Moroso: I'm not optimistic because I see what happens. I think the companies have the knowledge so all of them together can really teach a lot because they are going on making beautiful objects designed by designers from all over the world, usually. Some are also Italian, but not so many unfortunately. Thirty or 40 years ago Italian design meant not only production but also Italian people as designers, architects, but now fewer and fewer. Now we have to do something to start again and think about making projects.

Marcus Fairs: Can Moroso still survive in Italy or will you have to move your business to a different city?

Patrizia Moroso: I'm very nostalgic; my roots are very deep. I'm living there, staying there. All our production is done in our little city and we'll go as long as I'm there. Of course we are curious and why not if you want to develop something that belongs to another culture and manufacture.

For instance, I remember when we went to India for hand embroidery. In Italy nobody knows this any more and Nipa Doshi [of Doshi Levien] was designing something that had to be done by hand in India, so we went to India but only for that. Or if I work with Tomek Rygalik, who is Polish, I want to develop some wooden chairs with him in Poland because he is living there, he knows how to work that wood in that factory, which could be our supplier.

So outside of Italy it is interesting if you have a reason to go, not to spend less money. The quality in Italy is very high and we want to keep it, so taking business somewhere else is stupid. Many of the companies that went to China ten years ago, they stopped production. First because the quality went down, then when China increased the quality. Now they also have good quality. The balance was not so convenient so they came back.

But what happens is that China is very fast, and people from China are running like trains. So in one second they see what is good and they are doing that. But if you go there and give all your information then it is obvious that someone can copy you, and very well. In China they have all the copies of everything, especially Supernatural chairs by Ross Lovegrove. In every coffee bar you can find them. They're not ours but they're very famous so I'm happy!

It's a country that is changing, also for them things are deeply changing. I saw architects that are fantastic. Young architects that are coming out of China that can be interesting working here, why not? What is more global, I don't know. But the work we are doing in Italy, in our cities, is very peculiar. And this is, in a way, the ratio we can give to the world. We don't want to disappear, making things all over because that is what happens every day for dresses, for everything. We want to be very related with our country.

Marcus Fairs: You've done the VIP lounge here at designjunction. Tell us what you think of the show.

Patrizia Moroso: Designjunction is a new fair but it's very interesting with a lot of young people here. I saw many young productions and designers, like in the past when I first went to England to meet the young Tom Dixon, the young Ron Arad, that generation. Every one of those people were making everything themselves, that was the beauty of English design, British design as they called it. This is also the secret of good design, to experiment in a moment of your profession with making by yourself. A good designer has to be able to produce something.

So that age in London was fantastic because all these names then became very famous. They were just doing things by themselves and I see a little bit of the same at this fair now. Some are very interesting, and why not help the fair to have a little place as a lounge.

  • franz

    Oh, the autumn campaign against Milan is officially started…

  • Nick

    It is not enough to create a “Somewhere Design Week” in order to make that place a design hub.

    Surely Milan might have a few problems occurring at this point in time, yes, but I am not, to this day, seeing any place elsewhere in the world that has the industrial and cultural strength to put something up that could rival with Milan and/or the Italian contribution to such a complex and fundamental aspect of life in the XXth and XXIst century that is design.

    What happened in Italy starting in the 60s has changed the perception of the living space on so many levels and for so many times that most of what we call “design”, being designed and produced elsewhere in the world today is still in essence, “Italian Design”.

    • pantau

      Can you give some examples? My impression is that regarding to furniture the majority is in essence scandinavian design (meaning Ikea).

  • andrea

    Sadly many Italian brands stop investing in the new thinking by talented, local, young, unknown designers in favor of the “usual suspects” of the global design firmament to sign their products.

    This was a sound and profitable marketing strategy during the last 15 years of globalization.

    Looking back, these brands history and success was built by local designers, (who never branded themselves as seems to be needed nowadays) interpreting the local culture and the unique local artisan and industrial manufacturing know-how.

    The strategy there was product and innovation centred: product architecture, rationale and good design, research on process, material, construction.

    The marketing centred strategy brought these brands to design-to-sell furniture in the same way of fashion brands sell their fashion, as H&M does when involving some renewed maison to design a collection to address specific and not-the-usual target.

    I believe this approach is somehow preventing a successful and dynamic dialogue between the overall design intelligence and the brands.

    So I see that this top-down approach (involving one designer and commission a product) is contrasting with the bottom up approach (incentive all the designers with ideas to post them and have their chances).

    At least in my experience, of an industrial designer born and active for some years in Milan, after understanding these dynamics, I never considered “wasting” my time in generating ideas to post to such companies.

    And of course this hurts the brands and what is worse, is that in the long run it will degrade the design landscape of the territory, because the many designers will look for opportunities where they think they really exist.

  • ET

    She’s always on the side of the designer. She says, I’m a designer, she never even wanted to look at my drawings. That’s it.

  • Ilia

    I am kinda upset to hear this kind of things from brands like Moroso. None of the pictures above have a piece designed by an Italian designer. Maybe because you guys want to be really cool and to look international so you are killing the Italy you are in? Italy is still full of talents who are forced to go abroad because of brands like Cappellini and Moroso or maybe Orlandi consider young Italians lame. Milano is the place that gave you life, that is your way of being thankful!

    Young Italian Designer