May 1st, 2009
Everybody was talking about the think tank at Design Miami...
by Geordie Greig
'It's about changing the way we live,' says Silvia Fendi as she sits in the Florida sunshine listening to wild and wacky conversation among the world's most adventurous designers. They talk plastic and steel, rust and grass, concrete and crystals and all manner of new materials to reimagine sofas, beds, bookshelves and other everyday objects with. Designers are essentially reinventing the wheel when it comes to furniture - the future look of our homes is up for grabs.
Silvia, the creative Tsarina at the Italian fashion house Fendi, is fascinated by how designers are scheming to reshape our lives in the 21st century, and is determined to ride this new wave of creativity. She wants to give something back to the world of design - the same drive that led her family to global success in fashion.
So she sponsored a conference at Design Miami, the annual design extravaganza. She commissioned the event's director Ambra Medda,a zeitgeist-cool curator with a degree in Chinese language and culture and Asian art from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, to bring together a group of leading experimental designers to share their thoughts on the purpose, value and ethics of design - even its politics. They shared their ambitions and hopes and talked of new functions for furniture. In Fendi's pavilion they explained how they want to change ordinary objects into extraordinary works of functionality and art.
Fendi believes that it is designers, rather than artists, who are tapping into new ideas today. Medda, her guru in the field, has a unique understanding of the worlds of both art and design. She is the author of Destination, a guide to the world's top 60 design hotstpots.
For years Fendi has been fascinated and inspired by the minds and works of painters and sculptors, but she increasingly felt that to draw upon their influence was a path too well-trodden by fashion designers. She wanted to discover where new rules are being broken or created, and to find the people who are thinking outside the conventions of the time. 'We also wanted to share what we found,' she says. 'Just as everyone can go into the shops and see our bags or our clothes, so we wanted to stage a very public conversation about new design.'
When you think about it, there is nothing so odd about this. Patrons of the arts have long been intrigued by engineering as well as by the simple beaut)' of paint and form. From Periclean Athens to Renaissance Italy, designers of all sorts, including architects and engineers, have been involved in the beautification of public spaces like cities and private objects like chairs. Take Brunelleschi's dome and the Medicis' extraordinary Vasari Corridor in Florence. If the great patrons of former times were alive today, they would definitely think like Silvia Fendi. They'd go to the National Gallery but they'd also read Wallpaper*.
Anyone in Miami could walk into the Fendi talking-shop free of charge. Two British designers, Tom Dixon and Max Lamb, were there; they were exhibiting but they also wanted to join in the dialogue. Lamb is to Brit design what Damien Hirst was to Brit art 20 years ago young, experimental and starting to make a name for himself, but still at that early stage in his career where he is unspoiled by fame and the pressures of the market. For him, batting ideas around in Miami was a startling contrast to his normal life at home and in his studio on a gritty industrial estate in north London.
It was not all work and no play. Israeli designer Arik Levy, cheery in a bright-red jacket, explained he likes to take three and a half months' holiday a year. Tom Dixon's museum-class furniture in inch-thick steel looked extremely sturdy, sturdier evidently than the man himself- he recounted breaking his leg in a motorbike accident. The Brazilian duo Fernando and Humberto Campana explained why they use amethyst crystals in the weave structure of some of their furniture: 'There are no boundaries, only bridges.' Design should not be a prison of commandments. 'It can be ephemeral -it should be biodegradable,' said Humberto. His brother Fernando chimed in: 'If life itself is ephemeral.'