by ANDREA SCARPA - Photo by ANDREA COLZANI
When I started high school I also started to hang out in Milan
FROM BRIANZA TO THE BIG CITY
Used to a small town life in Brianza, adjusting to the metropolis was quite an extraordinary and surprising experience, especially because that was quite a bad time for Milan.
A SLOW PROCESS
I travel a lot but honestly I really love Milan. I strongly believe that Milan is a city to live, to discover step by step. It isn’t not a city that immediately presents itself, it really needs to be discovered little by little, with time.
Looking for beauty in Milan is a bit like a treasure hunt. Behind the very rigid facades of the buildings are extraordinary gardens. What surprises me the most after so many years I’ve lived in Milan… often, walking around, I discover some details or something surprising that had always been there and that I didn’t notice in twenty years.
NOT ONLY THE CENTER
Recently I went to the Fondazione Prada opening and I found an area of Milan I really didn’t know before. It’s great that cultural projects don’t take place only in the city center but also in other areas, so that they can be revaluated.
For its strictness, its passion, its great attention to detail and beauty, Milan was crucial. Especially during university I had this great opportunity…
THANK YOU GIO’
…to work for a year in Gio’ Ponti’s studio when he was still alive. I must say that (working alongside with) this man, a true Milanese who however brought Milan’s culture in the world, certainly was an extraordinary lesson for me.
MULTICULTURAL AND STRICT
People often say that we are extremely closed, that we aren’t very sociable and so on. I must say that certainly in other cities, probably due to climatic factors, people go out more and it’s much easier to socialize and make friends. What people generally say is that a Roman sin not happy in Milan but a Milanese is happy in Rome. Still, I think that Milan is changing from that point of view. It’s becoming more international, it’s opening, it is definitely becoming a multicultural city. I must say that this transition is taking place step by step and I don’t think it’s creating any trauma to the city. Perhaps, at the beginning, thinking of a multiethnic city was quite unusual or shocking, but today I think it’s absolutely normal, while maintaining its tradition of great rigor. In fact, if I have to define Milan, I’d say it is a strict city.
THE RETURN OF CULTURE
In the past years big businessmen have cut culture out of this city. I think that today culture is back in Milan and this makes me very happy.
NOT ONLY SHOPPING
Before, American or Asian tourists who came to Italy went to Venice, Rome, Florence and to Milan for shopping… now they understand that Milan is a city where you can see some wonderful museums, you can see some beautiful exhibitions and so on…
The Italian lifestyle, linked to Italian fashion, to food, to design, in many countries has a great appeal. I think that we have to defend this record and we must defend it by working on quality, quality and quality again. This is the fundamental aspect, we shouldn’t try to standardize our culture because otherwise it would become a lot less interesting.
It isn’t easy to be a young Italian designer, because of the great heritage… the first generation of Sozzas, Castiglioni, Zanuso, Aulenti and many more… the second generation of De Lucchi, Thun, Citterio, Lissoni… then there was an empty period. Today there is a new generation of young people I think are extremely interesting, also because they were able to break away from this contamination of the past masters and so they are moving freely, with curiosity, I must say… with a new vision of design.
Today the challenge is to make products priced fairly. So a good designer must be able to make a product with high artisan characteristics but also highly industrialized. This process is very important. I always say the goal of design is not only to end up in a museum’s permanent collection but also in people’s homes.
I think it’s still a very interesting reality that has brought to the public the world of creativity and design. I’m not convinced that Ikea’s creativity is 100% the result of Ikea’s minds… It often takes only a trip to Ikea to find elements that are strongly inspired by many products that maybe we, and many other Italian companies, made ten, fifteen, twenty years ago… But I’m very open from this point of view: I think that the consumer today is truly free to buy a table by Cappellini or a sofa by Cassina, and also six Ikea chairs. But that’s okay… And we absolutely must take this new freedom of the consumer into account. Before consumers wanted to have a house just like that of their friends, now they want to have a home that reflects their own culture, their own way of being.
When I’m back in Milan (after trips abroad) I realize that it is a small city but I must say that, in the end, I really miss its dimensions. Also considering a wider Milan, not only Milan’s six downtown streets, I must say that all in all it is pleasure to walk in this city, where I enjoy looking around, where still today there is a very human dimension that maybe one can’t find in big cities.
I must say I’m getting used to them. Going back home in the evening I used to look at these rising skyscrapers, then I looked at Giò Ponti’s Pirellone and I said to myself: ‘Thank God for Gio’ Ponti’.
DEFENDING MILAN’S STYLE
The quality of the buildings, the quality of the landscape that we are going to create is really important and above all, this quality must respect the history of a city. People must be able to feel if they are in Tokyo or in Milan. Often city centers look like duty free shops of an international airport, and people can’t understand where they are. Therefore it’s important to defend Milan’s style also in new constructions.
DISCOVER THE MECHANISMS
My advice to a young student, or young designer, who comes from abroad is to try to find out what the mechanisms of this city are, the dynamics of the city, and obviously, while expressing their creativity, to respect the history of this city.
IT ISN’T THE SOUTH, BUT…
It is not true that in Milan relationships are linked only to business or to convenience. I must say that one can also establish absolutely precise relationships. Probably in Milan we aren’t so open as in other parts of Italy, in the South people are much more expansive and open… We are a bit more reserved, but I must say that when we establish a relationship we establish a precise one.
Somebody able to ensure positive growth of the city and above all, in some respects, to revalue the enormous cultural heritage that we have.
In my opinion there shouldn’t be First class and Second class areas in Milan. This is a fundamental aspect. I imagine the future Milan as a more global Milan, not restricted to the city center… When I think of New York, in fact, I don’t only think of Manhattan, but of the whole city.
Today cities must be ready to welcome the world, the different cultures and religions of the world. So I honestly think that certain processes are absolutely natural.
Surely the Milanesità is still the most recognizable phenomenon. Despite all the different contaminations we still talk about Milan’s style, the Milanese… so there is still a strong identity.
CHINESE INNOVATIONS AND NORTH AFRICANS
We shouldn’t be scandalized if 30 % of Milan today is owned by the Chinese. This happens in Milan as in many other cities of the world. In Brianza, where I work, there are many very good workers who come from North Africa, and when I go to artisan workshops and see North Africans working there, I often smile because I say to myself: ‘Something like this would have never been possible twenty years ago’. So I think that all these elements are linked to growth and to the creation of a contemporary city.
STOP BEING SORRY FOR OURSELVES
Italians are always very good at amplifying the negative aspects of our reality. ‘Oh God, half an hour underground ride to get to the Fiera’, but if you’re in Paris it takes 50 minutes and maybe you have to wait for six trains to pass by before you can get on because they are full… ‘Oh God, at Linate nothing works’, but actually there are problems as in all airports of the world. I would tend to minimize certain things, we Italians often feel sorry for ourselves… However, it must be said, the Milanesi are always ready to strike back and defend their own reality and their own city.
IN JAKARTA, FOR EXAMPLE
Recently I was in Jakarta. A journey that was supposed to take an hour and a half ended up taking six hours because of the traffic. So I don’t complain anymore when in Milan I’m stuck in traffic for 10 minutes.
IS THE CRISIS OVER?
The crisis is in Italy and in Europe. In Southern Europe, a bit less in Northern Europe. Surely I must say that for the Italian industry there is no crisis if we head towards foreign markets, towards new markets. We are really seeing a major geographical change in the economies. Since Italians still have a great appeal in the world, we must surely try to exploit this.
BELIEVE IN ITALY
There is also a great psychological crisis. I fear that people don’t want to invest in Italy, that people no longer believe in Italy. I’m sorry to see that people don’t buy a house in Milan, but in Miami or in Dubai. I think we have to go back to believe in ourselves, to believe in the potential of this country.
The Milanesi get straight to the point of the situation, they don’t beat around the bush. For example, if we have a goal, we talk about that goal. Then if we go to breakfast or dinner together, that’s another story. This is very typical of the Milanese.
I work at a very tight pace, but also in other countries… Indeed, It’s often up to me to adapt to them. When I go to Korea I have appointments from six in the morning until midnight.
In northern Europe there are new interesting creative movements and I must say that in the Far East, not in China but in Taiwan and Indonesia, there are good quality projects, desire to learn… I have definitely seen some interesting ideas, but I think this is part of a cultural exchange that is increasingly becoming global. At the beginning we dealt among us Italians. Then at a cultural or creative level we related to the French, the British, the German… Now, ‘Why not?’, we relate to people from Taiwan.