With Salone del Mobile in full swing this week in Milan, all eyes are on the world of Italian design. We spoke with Ippolita Rostagno, founder and creative director of Italian superbrand Artemest, about must-know artisans, the spirit of craftsmanship, and how to see her hometown of Florence like a local.76
Q: What are some of the differences between design work in Italy and design work in the United States?
A: A major difference is certainly the influence of history. In Italy, design is tightly linked to craftsmanship and its past; hence it needs to comply—while innovating—with centuries of tradition. One could say that Italian taste is dictated by the absorption of centuries of aesthetic canons as expressed in art and architecture. In the US, this kind of taste has to be cultivated, as there is not as much history to rely on. In essence, Italian design is a perfect synthesis of idea and craft, while in the US, the idea can often overshadow execution.
Q: What was the inspiration behind your company Artemest?
A: Everything I do is inspired by beauty, but my idea for this website was prompted by the economic crisis. I wanted to help fellow artisans find an outlet for their amazing products and thus safeguard centuries of know-how and tradition. The ambition is to give Italian artisans the tools and knowledge to face a globalized world.
Q: How do you select the artisans and brands you work with?
A: The general criteria are beauty, craftsmanship, and design. All our artisans are passionate about what they do and it’s wonderful to witness this commitment to quality across all different product categories. My aim is to bring traditional Italian craftsmanship into the 21st century while preserving historical manufacturing techniques.
Q: What are some of the most intriguing Italian brands people need to know about?
A: Rather than focusing on brands, we strive to showcase the work of relatively unknown artisans in an effort to teach people the value of the various trades. I think the point nowadays is to rediscover traditional craftsmanship clusters, for instance the 10 or 20 ceramic districts still standing in Italy. With that said, of course I have my favorites, but I encourage everyone to check out the site and decide for themselves.
Q: With Salone here, all eyes are yet again on Italy. What are some of the must-see events and places?
A: During the Salone, Milan becomes a bustling city and every single store has something to offer design enthusiasts. The three main areas to explore are Brera, Tortona and Ventura. Brera is the iconic art and design neighborhood in the center of town, where our pop-up shop is located. Tortona is close to the famous Navigli canals and is where many fashion brands—such as Zegna, Fendi and Moncler—have their showrooms. Ventura is a more industrial area where you can find younger international exhibitors. On top of that, there are two new spots: the Armani Silos and MUDEC, the Museum of Cultures designed by David Chipperfield. And lastly, I recommend visiting the Triennale Design Museum.
Q: How would you say the design world has changed the most since you started your career?
A: The two most significant changes in design that I have registered are the rise of women as primary consumers and the advent of technology in every aspect of our lives. Women are now discerning collectors, and of course this new demand has had a profound effect on what and how things are made. In turn, technology has enabled designers to achieve results that were unthinkable just a couple of decades ago, such as Zaha Hadid’s parametricism in architecture.
Q: As a native of Florence, what is the one thing everyone needs to see in the city (but perhaps rarely gets to)?
A: I feel few tourists in Florence get a real feeling of workshop life. Just head to the Oltrarno neighborhood (that is, literally, beyond the Arno river) and wander around the ateliers of wood carvers, marble sculptors, goldsmiths and silversmiths. Most of them will be proud to show off how they transform raw materials into beautiful flawless objects. And don’t miss the Pontormo “Deposition” painting that is hiding in the tiny Santa Felicita church just off Ponte Vecchio.