Un'Introduzione al Disegno Italiano
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Italy was a design powerhouse throughout the 20th century. Regional fabrication techniques made it an innovation hub, and Italy’s staggering emphasis on family-run businesses has more than once staved off the short-sightedness of profit-driven design in favor of risk and beauty. But with the Futurists looking dated, and the dolce vita icons of the postwar boom–—think Olivetti’s groovy typewriters and all those putt-putting Vespas–—wafting a whiff of kitsch, what’s in store for Italian design now?

It’s been almost a century since the first iconic products started flying off assembly lines. Bialetti’s 1933 octagonal Moka coffeepot ushered aluminum into the kitchen. Alessi’s cold-pressed steel wares, made in Piedmont, followed. In the 1950s and ‘60s, family-run production houses embraced postwar materials and technologies creating a golden age of dazzling household objects. B&B Italia, Kartell, Flos, and countless others embraced the unexpected: Gaetano Pesce’s mammary-inspired inflatable UP chair; Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s stacking storage cylinders; and the Castiglioni brothers’ now-ubiquitous Arco lamp with its marble-footed, sweeping cantilever.

But today, thanks to feckless leadership and a sluggish economy teetering on the brink of crisis, the Italian stallion is looking rather like a gelding. Many small-scale manufacturers are struggling into oblivion, while others have yielded to corporate mergers that too often embrace the bland over the bold. Some notable exceptions—Moroso, Flos, Venini, to name a few—keep harnessing their inimitable production experience to explore cutting edge materials and deliver world-class products. And with an increasingly global pool of talent, Italian design doesn’t necessarily mean Italian designers.

The good news is that struggle is often a catalyst, as was surveyed in 2006 at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum in the exhibit The New Italian Design. The next generation of Italian designers is cosmopolitan, irreverent, and sometimes angry. Guilio Iacchetti, one prominent voice among them, coined the term “disobedient objects” to describe works that the Italian website Designboom says “strengthen the democratization of design” and “suggest deviations, short circuits, and contrasts.” Don’t be surprised to see the glossy sheen of history replaced with a prickly sense of engagement. The next crop of Italian icons may well confront us with ethics, politics, and a healthy dose of irony, but odds are they’ll still be immaculately made in Italy.

 

1909

The "Futurist Manifesto" is Published.

Click here for a slideshow timeline of important events in Italian design.

1913<br><br>Boccioni completes his sculpture <br><br>Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.

1913

Boccioni completes his sculpture

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.

1921<br><br>Giovanni Alessi founds the Alessi Company.

1921

Giovanni Alessi founds the Alessi Company.

1922<br><br>Beginning of <br><br>novecento neoclassical architectural movement

1922

Beginning of

novecento neoclassical architectural movement

1923<br><br>First Triennale di Milano (originally held in Monza as a Biennial exhibit).

1923

First Triennale di Milano (originally held in Monza as a Biennial exhibit).

1926<br><br>Founding of Gruppo 7, a collective that promotes Italian <br><br>razionalismo.

1926

Founding of Gruppo 7, a collective that promotes Italian

razionalismo.

1928<br><br>Domus magazine is founded.

1928

Domus magazine is founded.

1933<br><br>Renato Giuseppe Bertelli completes his sculpture <br><br>Profilo del Duce.

1933

Renato Giuseppe Bertelli completes his sculpture

Profilo del Duce.

1933<br><br>Bialetti Moka coffeemaker introduced.

1933

Bialetti Moka coffeemaker introduced.

1933<br><br>Pietro Chiesa and Gio Ponti design Luminator lamp.

1933

Pietro Chiesa and Gio Ponti design Luminator lamp.

1936<br><br>Completion of Terragni: Casa del Fascio, quintessential <br><br>razionalismo.

1936

Completion of Terragni: Casa del Fascio, quintessential

razionalismo.

1936<br><br>Fiat 500 Topolino introduced.

1936

Fiat 500 Topolino introduced.

1940<br><br>Franco Albini designs Seggiovia chair.

1940

Franco Albini designs Seggiovia chair.

1943<br><br>Moto Piaggio 5 scooter debuts.

1943

Moto Piaggio 5 scooter debuts.

1948<br><br>Gio Ponti redesigns La Pavoni espresso machine.

1948

Gio Ponti redesigns La Pavoni espresso machine.

1950<br><br>Kartell debuts its first product: the K101 Ski Rack by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi.

1950

Kartell debuts its first product: the K101 Ski Rack by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi.

1950<br><br>Franco Albini designs Gala chair.

1950

Franco Albini designs Gala chair.

1953<br><br>Ottavio and Rosita Missoni found the legendary Missoni fashion house.

1953

Ottavio and Rosita Missoni found the legendary Missoni fashion house.

1957<br><br>Castiglioni Brothers design Mezzadro stool.

1957

Castiglioni Brothers design Mezzadro stool.

1957<br><br>Gio Ponti designs Superleggera chair.

1957

Gio Ponti designs Superleggera chair.

1959<br><br>Enzo Mari designs 16 Animali puzzle.

1959

Enzo Mari designs 16 Animali puzzle.

1959<br><br>Torre Valasca is built in Milan.

1959

Torre Valasca is built in Milan.

1960Achille Castiglioni designs Gatto lamp for Flos.

1960Achille Castiglioni designs Gatto lamp for Flos.

1960

Fashion designer Valentino Garavani becomes known for "Valentino red."

1961<br><br>First Salone Internazionale del Mobile (International Furniture Fair of Milan) is held.

1961

First Salone Internazionale del Mobile (International Furniture Fair of Milan) is held.

1962<br><br>Ferrari releases 250 GTO.

1962

Ferrari releases 250 GTO.

1962<br><br>Sapper-Zanuso design a TV for Brionvega.

1962

Sapper-Zanuso design a TV for Brionvega.

1964<br><br>Giancarlo Mattioli designs Nesso lamp.

1964

Giancarlo Mattioli designs Nesso lamp.

1966<br><br>Superstudio holds <br><br>Superarchitettura show.

1966

Superstudio holds

Superarchitettura show.

1966<br><br>Vico Magistretti designs Eclisse lamp for Artemide.

1966

Vico Magistretti designs Eclisse lamp for Artemide.

1969<br><br>Olivetti introduces Valentine typewriter.

1969

Olivetti introduces Valentine typewriter.

1969<br><br>Gaetano Pesce designs UP chair.

1969

Gaetano Pesce designs UP chair.

1970<br><br>0Joe Colombo designs Boby Storage Trolly.

1970

0Joe Colombo designs Boby Storage Trolly.

1970<br><br>Carlo Scarpa begins design of the Brion-Vega Cemetery.

1970

Carlo Scarpa begins design of the Brion-Vega Cemetery.

1972<br><br>MoMA holds <br><br>Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibit.

1972

MoMA holds

Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibit.

1973<br><br>Enzo Mari designs Autocostruzione chair.

1973

Enzo Mari designs Autocostruzione chair.

1976<br><br>Eugenio Perazza founds Magis.

1976

Eugenio Perazza founds Magis.

1977<br><br>Giulio Cappellini becomes creative director of Cappellini.

1977

Giulio Cappellini becomes creative director of Cappellini.

1981<br><br>Memphis Group makes their debut at Salone del Mobile.

1981

Memphis Group makes their debut at Salone del Mobile.

1981<br><br>Ettore Sottsass designs Altair vase.

1981

Ettore Sottsass designs Altair vase.

1986<br><br>Bolidismo movement is founded.

1986

Bolidismo movement is founded.

1986<br><br>Michele de Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina design Tolomeo lamp.

1986

Michele de Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina design Tolomeo lamp.

1989<br><br>Aldo Rossi designs Parigi chair.

1989

Aldo Rossi designs Parigi chair.

1993<br><br>Stefano Giovannoni designs Merdolino toilet brush for Alessi.

1993

Stefano Giovannoni designs Merdolino toilet brush for Alessi.

1993<br><br>Dolce &amp; Gabbana create costumes for Madonna's &quot;Girlie Show&quot; tour.

1993

Dolce & Gabbana create costumes for Madonna's "Girlie Show" tour.

1996<br><br>Antonio Citterio designs Dolly chair for Kartell.

1996

Antonio Citterio designs Dolly chair for Kartell.

1997<br><br>Rodolfo Dordoni becomes creative director of Minotti.

1997

Rodolfo Dordoni becomes creative director of Minotti.

1997<br><br>Giulio Iacchetti designs La Mandarina pen.

1997

Giulio Iacchetti designs La Mandarina pen.

2000<br><br>Matteo Ragni and Giulio Iacchetti design Moscardino fork.

2000

Matteo Ragni and Giulio Iacchetti design Moscardino fork.

2002<br><br>Carlo Contin designs Mediterraneo fish bowl

2002

Carlo Contin designs Mediterraneo fish bowl

2005<br><br>Lagranja designs UTO lamp for Foscarini.

2005

Lagranja designs UTO lamp for Foscarini.

2005<br><br>Paolo Ulian designs Brush Ring toothbrush.

2005

Paolo Ulian designs Brush Ring toothbrush.

2006<br><br>Alessandra Baldereschi designs Helix corkscrew.

2006

Alessandra Baldereschi designs Helix corkscrew.

2006<br><br>Carlo Colombo designs the rectilinear Shanghai sofa system.

2006

Carlo Colombo designs the rectilinear Shanghai sofa system.

2008<br><br>BY Lissoni launches with the cooperation of Boffi.

2008

BY Lissoni launches with the cooperation of Boffi.

2009<br><br>Skitsch debuts at Salone del Mobile.

2009

Skitsch debuts at Salone del Mobile.

2009<br><br>Patricia Urquiola designs Fergana collection for Moroso.

2009

Patricia Urquiola designs Fergana collection for Moroso.

2010<br><br>Venice Architecture Biennale attracts over 170,00 visitors.

2010

Venice Architecture Biennale attracts over 170,00 visitors.

2010<br><br>Gaetano Pesce and Cassina celebrate Italy's 150th anniversary with Sessantuna.

2010

Gaetano Pesce and Cassina celebrate Italy's 150th anniversary with Sessantuna.

2011<br><br>Alberto Alessi becomes curator of Milan Triennale.

2011

Alberto Alessi becomes curator of Milan Triennale.

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