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November 28, 2008

He's the main man who made plastic fantastic. Kartell Chairman Claudio Luti was recently honored with a Visionaries career award from the New York Museum of Arts and Design for his extensive achievements in design and technology. This recognition coincides with the release of Frilly, the latest full-color polycarbonate chair from Kartell, designed by Patricia Urquiola.

Claudio Luti

I had a chance to sit down and chat with Mr. Luti at the Kartell showroom in SoHo about technology, creativity, the evolution of Kartell, and the universality of good design.

How do (does?) the designer and developing technology inform each other?

I’m not waiting for a specific design to fall from the sky along with some exceptional way to make it. Sometimes, we develop a fantastic new technology and the design follows. More often, however, I give creativity the maximum freedom first, and try to follow up with the technological solutions to realize the piece afterwards.

How do you see your relationship with your designers?

It’s all about working together with the designer: I give all of the resources and capabilities from my side and also incorporate all the creativity from the side of the designers. The more time we spend together, the more successful we become. I invest my time—every time—directly with the designers, and in this way, every time is a different experience. Every designer is different in how they work. It’s a process. Both sides must be generous with their time, of course, but also with their ideas and how to incorporate technology, their intuition, the trends, fashion, and materials, etc.

How has Kartell evolved with and influenced the changing design landscape since you took over as chairman?

Plastic was used in the seventies and eighties because it was inexpensive. When I started at Kartell [in 1988], the question was: how we can create quality pieces? We had to do something that had not been done. The first chair, Dr. Glob, was completely different from the previous approaches. We mixed two different materials, metal and plastic, with different colorations and a matte texture. The angles required new engineering techniques that changed the volume with the thickness of the material. Now everyone’s doing it, but we were the first ones working on the quality and innovation of industrial products in plastic. It was a complete turn around.

Do you feel that design is viewed and treated differently in the US, versus Europe, or the rest of the world?

Absolutely not. I think that the makers, like me, are people who like to invest time, risk, and money into innovation, and I feel that the approach of the consumer—when we are thinking of new projects worldwide—is the same.

For example, this month we’ve introduced the [Patricia Urquiola designed] Frilly to the world, and we’ve made no changes for specific regional markets. We’re launching everywhere with the same colors, and we’ll have the same demand. The best selling product right now is the Ghost. It is number one everywhere. And the number one color is the transparency, everywhere. All our stores have a similar aesthetic, image, and all the retail approach is the same. My view on the world is that every day it becomes smaller, closer, and I like to work with the best everywhere, it doesn’t matter where they come from; I invest in this type of innovation every day of my life.

View the Museum of Arts and Design video honoring Mr. Luti below.

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