Heidi Dokulil and David Clark met Ora-Ito in Milan to talk food, friends, a chair he’s released for Zanotta that plays homage to Carlo Mollino, and his latest big idea that promises to change the way we experience live music. DC: How old are you and how many years have you been a designer?
OI: I just turned 30 and one week ago I also celebrated 10 years as a designer.
DC: You started your design career with a series of hypothetical or ‘fake’ products for iconic brands such as Louis Vuitton. How did that come about?
OI: I was kicked out of design school after a few months because I was not a good student. Nobody wanted to work with me because I was young and had designed nothing, so I thought: ‘If they don’t want me, I’ll go by force.’ I pirated famous brands that were part of our collective memory, brands I grew up with, such as Apple, Nike and Louis Vuitton, and I did products without asking them. Then I put them on the Internet and it became like a crazy phenomenon. Suddenly I was a very famous designer who had designed nothing. I don’t recommend what I did for others. It was a good time for me to appear because the impact of computers was still new and nobody had pirated brands before. The technology expressed my dream, and without it I would not have had the chance that I did.
HD: Your studio is based in Paris. How many people do you have working with you now?
OI: Fifteen. I’m a professional of nothing so I need a lot of support! It’s very important because I work in many different fields – I come up with crazy projects and the engineer helps make it happen.
HD: There are a lot of designers in Paris making waves at the moment.
OI: Yes, almost all of them. Jean-Marie Massaud is doing very well; the Bouroullec brothers; Patrick Jouin; Christophe Pillet; and Matalli Crasset.
HD: Out of those people, whose work do you relate to the most?
OI: It depends. On the way they manage their career, I would say the Bouroullecs because there is a nice link through all their work. They have their own distinct style, and that I like. As for personal taste, I would say Jean-Marie Massaud, but he doesn’t have that same sense of evolution; you cannot see a product and say this is him. That is something I don’t like so much, but in terms of products, he’s one of the best. And Christophe Pillet – a very elegant line, not revolutionary, but so well made with such nice details.
DC: You mentioned that you recently went to the birthday party of Piero Busnelli, founder of B&B Italia. Is it your experience of working with Italian companies that they take more of a family approach to business?
OI: Yes it’s quite like a family. Working with Italian companies can be complicated at first. People say if you want to work with Italians you should be like a pit bull terrier and never give up. So I became like a pit bull. You should call 10 times a day, even if they don’t answer. They will answer on the 21st time. If you do that, they’re the best. I learned a lot from the Italians. My teachers were Mr Guismondi, Mr Cappellini, Mr Busnelli – all the ‘i’ people. It’s not possible in school to have teachers like that – to work with them is to have a school in direct life. When you work with them you enter the history of design. But if you work with one ‘family’, you work just with that family – and the point is to work with everybody. If you do that, and work with other families, after a while they get jealous, you know.
I also have a good relationship with Mr Guismondi [Artemide]. He’s like my grandfather; he’s very cool with me and I will do more products with him. Sometimes I like to work for just one company: it’s easier because otherwise you have to travel too much to make the same kind of things.
HD: Tell us about your new pieces at the Milan Furniture Fair this year.
OI: I’ve done a bed for Frighetto I’m very satisfied with, and a sofa I’m not yet satisfied with. Designing furniture and lighting is new for me. I did the opposite of most designers – I started by doing mobile phones and the stuff you normally do when you have 10 lamps or 20 sofas or 14 chairs to your name. I only started thinking about Milan four months ago and I’ve done four lamps for Artemide, the sofa, the bed, the Evolution chair for Zanotta – all in four months. This is really a challenge – normally you can’t make the product in that time. It took me two months to perfect Evolution. I commenced the drawing as a tribute to one of my favourite masters, Carlo Mollino, and his armchair Ardea. However, I wanted to add more air and light to the shape by changing the low, padded steel seat standing on its solid wooden base into a rounded light body, placed on a slender, sinuous stem. All my designs look very simple, but curiously it is very complex to make this happen: it is ‘simplexity’. Next year I’ll have more products. I quite like doing furniture now that I’ve found my style.
DC: What do you enjoy most about Milan?
OI: The food. For me Italian food is the best – better than French. I come here more for the food than the design.
HD: You and Ross Lovegrove seem to have a good rapport. Have you found Ross or other designers helpful in sharing ideas and building relationships in the design community?
OI: I don’t spend much time with other designers because I don’t have so much fun with them. Ross is different: he’s fantastic. We are different generations – he could be my dad – but I think he always has the ‘light’ in his eyes. So many designers are closed. That’s why I don’t have so many friends who are designers. My friends are lawyers, singers, actors, artists; some don’t work and some are crazy guys.
HD: What ideas are you working on at the moment?
OI: I have a lot going on with companies around the world, but Apple is a focus for me now because I have created something like iTunes, only better. I like to move, dance. Last summer I was in Ibiza with friends and they left me sleeping one night to go out dancing. I don’t have my driver’s license. I phoned them but they didn’t answer and I thought, ‘Why can’t I listen over the Internet?’ So I started a company that does something like iTunes but better. I organised four people to go and sign contracts with 100 clubs around the world to let us broadcast their music live. So you can listen to music from clubs all over the world, 24 hours because of all the different time zones. I think my job is to have good ideas not just design. Good design comes from a good idea. Sometimes the idea doesn’t have shape, it’s just a good thing to do for fun.