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Minimalist master Piero Lissoni is surprisingly funny: Milan Design Week (photos)

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Minimalist master Piero Lissoni is surprisingly funny: Milan Design Week
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By Damon Johnstun

Special to The Oregonian

When Design Week Portland is hosting hundreds of free or low-cost events spotlighting design across all disciplines April 14-21, the world's most prestigious furniture fair, Salone del Mobile, will be going on in Milan, Italy. Portland design writer Damon Johnstun recaps some of the people he interviewed at the 2017 Milan fair. Watch for his coverage of furniture, lighting and kitchen design unveiled at this year's fair.

Humorous Milanese minimalist master Piero Lissoni

Milan Design Week is the largest design event in the world. Salone del Mobile's fairgrounds alone offer more than 4 million square feet of exhibition space. Scoring time with master Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni during the prestigious fair is like getting an audience with the Pope on Easter morning. With dogged persistence and a gigantic smile, somehow, I pulled it off.

I had wanted to speak with Lissoni for years, and this was my chance. I admire his seamlessly elegant designs. His work is always ahead of the trend and represents the epitome of contemporary Italian style. Lissoni's work veers toward minimalism; I wanted to understand the person who created these masterpieces of simplicity.

We met upstairs in the Porro booth at the Rho Fairgrounds outside of Milan. Lissoni has worked with this upscale modern furniture manufacturer for many years. As we started the interview, he asked me where I was from. When I told him that I was from Portland, I was surprised that he had not only visited Portland but he loved it. Further, he described the appeal of the deserted beaches and the natural beauty of the Oregon Coast. Lissoni spoke of it as "an incredible location."

Lissoni founded Lissoni Associati, a multidisciplinary architecture, interiors and design firm based in Milan, in 1986. This was followed by him opening the visual communications company Graph.x in 1996. Today, with offices in Milan, New York and Miami, his companies focus on architecture, interiors and product design, as well as graphics, art direction and corporate identity with projects across the globe.

During the past 30 years, Lissoni has worked with some of the biggest and most high-profile manufacturers in Italy. He likes the consistency of working as a member of a team and seeing it grow stronger with time.

For Lissoni, interaction and coming together of different minds is essential to creating objects. The idea of team is central to his work. Lissoni said, "without Kartell or Flos, Cassina, Knoll, Boffi, I would be nobody in the middle of nowhere. I am the public face because of the team, not because of me."

In 2016 Lissoni introduced the elegant Makura bed and the wood veneer/multicolor Modern wall unit he designed for Porro. He also introduced a massive table named Materic with a tapered round base and made from dark green marble.

In addition, he released one of the most important projects of Milan Design Week for B&B Italia. The new sofa system, SAKe, is extremely understated. In a sea of beautiful furniture, it does not scream for attention. It whispers.

The seat appears to float above small, tubular legs. The arms and back cushions look magically suspended but don't lose the comfortable luxury for which Italian design is known. In addition, one configuration converts to a sleeper sofa, the only one in B&B Italia's line.

Lissoni doesn't like to be too serious. He believes that architects and designers as a group, are "unbelievably boring."

"They have no sense of humor and only concentrate on themselves. Come on, we are not God; we are workers, workers, workers," he said.

He was also frustrated that the media describes creativity as a moment of inspiration rather than the honing of skills through years of study and work. He constantly challenges himself to learn and improve each day.

Lissoni described himself as an "evolved monkey." He works on his own evolution as a designer and human. He is not satisfied to only look through classical tomes. He works every day to discover something new in art, poetry, literature and photography. His taste in music ranges from the Bach to the Rolling Stones.

On a previous trip to Milan, I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Lissoni. I was surprised by his injection of humor. The stereotype for a minimalist is a serious, humorless and stiff individual, not a joke-cracking extrovert.

Lissoni credited the challenging nature of his family to fostering an atmosphere that allowed him to become a designer. He described growing up in his family as "being raised in a cage of snakes. I needed to be quick. My father was unbelievably funny, as was my mother. They both had a sharp sense of humor. If you wanted to survive, you needed to be very, very good."

This early training in comedy forced his mind to be nimble and translated into other areas of his life, especially design.

Although Lissoni has studied all around the world, he explained that his heart, soul and culture are Milanese. For him, to be Milanese means "being silent, a little bit simple and a little elegant. Milan is different from other cities in its energy. It is such an energetic town. It is a cosmopolitan city with an open mind while being small. Milan is blessed to be surrounded by amazing industrial design. It is not in Germany, Switzerland, Holland or anywhere else. It is Milan."

The growth of industrial design and manufacturing in post-World War II Italy set Milan up to become the design capital of the world in the same way Silicon Valley became the center of technology. "Everyone said that Chandigarh, India would be the next Silicon Valley, or that it was moving to Germany or outside Paris. Why is it [in Silicon Valley] and not somewhere else? The culture surrounds it," Lissoni said.

Transitioning to the topic of the United States, Lissoni conveyed both excitement and disappointment. "Things seem possible [in America]. People are so dynamic, being able to do what they want, but to be an architect or designer there" is difficult today, he said.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, America was on the forefront of furniture design with companies like Herman Miller. "Even though there are some small exceptions, in the United States, the first priorities are business, efficiency and money," he said. "Passion is generally undervalued. If you want to do something [special] today, you have to come to Europe."

For Lissoni, silence and simplicity are antidotes to the chaos of contemporary life with its constant messaging, multitasking and barrage of noise. According to Lissoni, "simplicity is the public face of complexity."

"To be elegant is a game. It is a challenge," he said. "To be elegant requires taking a lot of risks. Otherwise, you are flat. For example, it is not enough to dress the correct way in a blue jacket. You need to add something a little bit wrong. But if taken too far, it becomes ridiculous."

Lissoni believes in a mixture of intelligence and schizophrenia. He values this insecurity. His own work does not escape his critical eye. Even though he is considered a modern master, every time he sees a product or a building he designed, he second guesses the details, the color or the combination. He never feels satisfied and has been known to completely change a design 24 hours before the client presentation.

For Lissoni, the desire to constantly tweak things is an Italian quality. "I always feel not good enough, [and that I am] making an unbelievable sequence of mistakes," Lissoni said. "Sometimes my team has to intervene and tell me 'basta' ("that's enough"). 'Go away. Don't touch. Don't disturb again.' For you, it is completely and totally over. If you never doubt yourself, you can never ask yourself questions...it is not an easy, life but it is good."

If he had not been a designer, Lissoni said, with a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face, he would have been "a ski teacher, with a very bad attitude."

-- Damon Johnstun

@DamonJohnstun

Source : http://www.oregonlive.com/hg/index.ssf/2018/04/piero_lissoni_milan_salone_mob.html

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