• Itineraries

About looking at things with new eyes

Signature redesign

«Look at usual things with unusual eyes» (from "Progettare il moderno" in Alias, 2002) is the aphorism much loved by Magistretti that summarizes the concept of citing anonymous designs, traditional repertoires or beloved designers in the history of design, contained in several of the designer's projects. Thus, Magistretti pays homage to signature design by making "tributes" to the renowned figures of the modern style: from Mackintosh to Thonet and, by recognising the value of the original idea of the design, revisited in a cultured key - at times explicit, at other times less so - highlights specific technical or formal aspects. Thonet is perhaps the most recurring name, evident in the reinterpretation of Chair 811, designed in wood by Marcel Breuer in 1925 and that, translated in aluminium and plastic, becomes the Silver seating system (1989) for De Padova ("Ritratti di sedia" in Area, 1990), or the chair 0303 (2004), again produced by Thonet together with a table. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, an author apparently far removed from Magistretti, is evoked and appreciated for his elegant geometry, that returns as a citation in the Golem chair (1968) by Poggi, with the tall curved backrest to better support the person's spinal column, which will again be referred to in 1986 in the Koube chair for Aidec Tokyo, inserted in the "Tre Sedie" collection (Koube Catalogue, Aidec Tokyo). Despite the difference in material, with plastic replacing curved plywood, the Maui chair (1996) for Kartell, is a direct reference to the iconic Fourmi chair by Arne Jacobsen. Shaker's basic American craftsmanship (De Padova Catalogue, 1990), as in Maine (1992) for De Padova, combined with Danish handicraft, remain the most frequent references in Magistretti, because of the object's compliance with the function and its essential aesthetics.

Reinterpreting anonymous traditions

Not everybody knows that one of the most photographed chairs in the legendary times of the "Swinging London", is a revisitation of an Italian popular chair: the glossy red Carimate chair (1960; "Sedie a struttura tradizionale" in Interni, 1982) - whose name derives from the context in which it was first used, a golf club on the outskirts of Milan - by Vico Magistretti, was first handcrafted by Cassina and later by De Padova and elected by Habitat the chair of the swinging revolution. The idea of making a homage citation of anonymous designs, of traditional - and even folkloric - repertoires, pervades many of Magistretti's projects. It happens with the Marocca chair (1987, De Padova Catalogue, 1987), a revisitation of the tavern chairs in the Friuli or Veneto regions, an authentic reinterpretation of the Italian nature, not sophisticated but genuinely elegant: «Like with vegetable soup - said Magistretti - find a model that reminds us of the same, gorgeous one that we saw in a grappa pub on the Ponte Vecchio of Bassano». In the Eclisse table lamp (1967, Artemide), the idea arises from the model of a miners' lantern, even if the designer never made a secret of the fact that the more fictional inspiration was drawn from Jean Valjean's dark lantern in "Les Misérables", with the light inside, behind a little door that opens and shuts. Here Vico Magistretti overcomes the difficulty with an idea so simple that it almost appears anonymous. The lamp is renovated thanks to Magistretti's capacity to rethink the technical aspects and the materials with great care.

The surprise of the ready-made

«There's a way of doing things in another way» pontificated Magistretti in an interview, while talking of the intuition that induced him to design the popular and revolutionary Sindbad sofa (1981, Cassina), which drew inspiration from an English horse blanket. It was a perfect example of the ready-made design theme that he explored with different typologies of objects, from the Edison table (1985, Cassina catalogue), with the typical structure that evoked gas pipes, or Vidun (1987, De Padova, article in Casa Vogue, 1988), featuring a large screw-shaped support base, or the Morocco lamp (1998, Fontana Arte), whose diffusor is made with a composition of wine glasses. For Magistretti, the ready-made, is not only an expedient to amuse himself in making something "shaped as", but a sort of design method that, by relying on the curious and exploring look of the author, is projected and concretised in a clear and enjoyable solution. It is a sort of déplacement or "change of use" that becomes evident in the use of a horse saddle chair, turned upside-down, that transforms into the elegant and comfortable Incisa chair by De Padova in 1992, or in the horse jockey position transformed into the shape of the Lester (1987, "Lampada Lester" in Interni, 1987) lamp for Oluce. Going from large to small, the method can also apply to details, thus the iconic texture of the Silver chair (1989, De Padova, "Vico Magistretti" in Domus, 1993) is taken from the grid-like pattern of an egg-container seen in an oriental street market; the elastic band that girths the Belt sofa (2006, De Padova), as the very name reveals, is taken from the function of an elastic belt or band. In Magistretti, the intuition of translating anything visual into form is an art.

Rosa Chiesa and Ali Filippini