His plane landed two hours before our meeting. Despite the fact that he had to catch another flight returning to Milan in ten hours or so, his tight schedule didn’t dim his charm or palpable enthusiasm in discussing his work. The man in question? The great Giulio Cappellini, art director of Italian design firm Cappellini, whom Costas Voyatzis and I had the pleasure of meeting while he was visiting Athens as the guest of honour at the RICHE Gallery during a special event to mark the official collaboration between RICHE and the house of Cappellini.
The name Cappellini is synonymous with incredible design, impeccable craftsmanship and innovation. It’s a name viewed with respect by seasoned design professionals and novice aficionados alike. “I like to work with ‘long sellers’ and not ‘best sellers’,” Giulio Cappellini tells us with a lilting Italian accent. “This is important,” he explains, “because if a chair has been available on the market for 15-30 years it’s because it’s really good, and that’s like a guarantee for consumers.”
Giulio Cappellini began working for his three decades old family company in 1979. Since then, he’s championed the talents of then design-unknowns but now design-greats such as Marc Newson, Tom Dixon and Jasper Morrison and continues to be on the lookout for new talent today. In his words, “at Cappellini, the doors are always open.” He travels approximately 100 days out of the year, often as a visiting professor at design schools where he’s approached by students eager to show him their rough prototypes.
Upon being asked about the particular criterion he uses to gauge who has the makings to join the Cappellini family, his answer comes immediately: “If I want to have a piece in my home tomorrow!” He never instructs new designers on what they should design but simply gives them the Cappellini catalogue and asks them to create something for it. Referencing his 20-25 year collaboration with Jasper Morrison and Marc Newson, amongst others, Giulio Cappellini says, “I want designers to follow their idea from beginning to end. When we have a good relationship, then we can create great products.”
He loves working with people from different countries because each brings a different approach to design. A few years ago he attended an exhibition on African art at Paris’ Pompidou Centre where all of the pieces on show were made by African artists using materials found in their home cities. This birthed the idea for “Cappellini Love”, an experimental project highlighting local materials and techniques from around the world. “In Europe, an Indian product is considered to be ‘ethnic.’ But in India, something European is ‘ethnic.’” he says. “In Italy we have very good artisans, materials and ideas. But I’m also curious and eager to search the rest of the world for incredible things.”
How has the market changed in the 30 plus years of his career? “Today, the market is the world,” he says. He adds that sales have increased in new markets where public spaces (i.e. restaurants, hotels) use design products, because this shows potential customers how these products can be utilised as more than just art pieces. Giulio Cappellini also shares that young people are paying a great deal of attention to design. “Today, the challenge and goal is to create good design but in the form of a more accessible product. Also, a good designer can design a chair that costs 2,000 euro or 300 euro, but the consumer must be educated in understanding why there’s a price difference.”
Costas Voyatzis (Yatzer's editor in chief) mentions the commotion Giulio Cappellini creates during Milan’s Salone Satellite. “People nudge each other - speak about you in hushed tones when they point you out. You’re a design father,” Costas tells him. Cappellini smiles, humbly, yet obviously amused at the idea. “I don’t mind being approached,” he says and mentions Nendo, a Japanese design studio whose designers did just that a few years back. “One of my father’s designers, Achille Castiglioni, taught me that on the one hand we have to create good products, but on the other, we have to use humour and make people smile, dream. That’s the most important thing.”
“To invent new shapes is very difficult, that was all done in the 50’s and 60’s,” Cappellini divulges when asked if there’s anything left to invent in the design world. “Today we work with new materials, technologies and production systems. Technology and creativity go together; the real and the virtual.” He’s about to visit the University of Milan to talk about that melding, which is behind the concept of the Smart Factory, meaning a factory where the technology used in production supports the creativity behind the design. “The most interesting work today is landscapes. Within a ‘landscape’ the design originates from the idea of the environment and then the right product is created for it.”
We ask him what his thoughts are on Greek design. “The taste in Greece is super sophisticated. Even in simple things…” he says, indicating the plate of stunningly presented hors d’oeuvres on the table before us, “there’s real quality.” We ask him about his collaboration with RICHE, the reason for his current trip to Athens. “The important thing is to understand the spirit of Cappellini and I think that Marco Vouzounerakis - RICHE Gallery's director - is the right person with the right venue. I only just arrived and already have ten new ideas that we can collaborate on!”
It’s easy to see why. What Marco has done with the RICHE Gallery is fuse a gallery-like space with high-end design under one roof. The eclectic selection of a number of Cappellini’s most iconic products that are on display are wonderfully accented by the creative works of multitalented artists such as Aggelos Antonopoulos, Gregory Lagos, Constantin Xenakis and Vasiliki, among others. In fact, it’s this mix that brings out the best of both fine and decorative art and provides potential customers with an expert’s take as to how they might “cohabitate” in a private or public setting.
When we ask him what product he believes customers most associate with the brand, he laughs with relief. “I thought you were going to ask me which was my favourite product, but I can’t –a father can’t choose between his children!” He thinks for a second. “In the past it was Kuramata’s chest of drawers. But I remember years ago I was touring North America and when they would say, ‘Cappellini,’ they would make the shape of the S in the air with their finger referencing Dixon’s S Chair.”
What’s next? “Art Basel Miami. I collect contemporary art,” he shares, enthusiastically. To say that Giulio Cappellini still has all the excitement and curiosity he possessed as a young architecture student at Milan’s Polytecnico would be redundant. “It’s my life,” he agrees. “My wife says that first I’m married to my job and then to her. But I’m curious and believe there is always something new to discover. Inspiration is everywhere.”
And in the world of Cappellini, this couldn’t be more evident.