Italian company Zanotta has been making landmark contributions to the design industry for over six decades. more space spoke to the family about the influence of the early days of the business on the company today and the role of curiosity in creativity.
Founded by Aurelio Zanotta in 1954, Italian furniture group Zanotta came to the fore in the heady days of the late 1960s with Sacco, Blow, Throw-away, Mezzadro and Sella, designs that were cool and modern. But it wasn't until 1966 when the company began working with Achille Castiglioni, Marco Zanuso, Gae Aulenti and the architecture partnership of Paolo Lomazzi, Donato D’Urbino and Jonathan De Pas, that the world started to take notice.
In 1966 the Throw-away sofa was revolutionary as the first sofa formed in foam, made possible by technology employed by the Fiat car company and the vision of founder Aurelio Zanotta who egaged Willy Landels, the then editor of Harpers and Queen magazine, to design it.
In 1967 Zanotta launched Blow, the world's first inflatable chair and the first Zanotta product to reach a mass market. Designed by Lomazzi, D’Urbino and De Pas, Blow was inspired by pneumatic ‘Pop’ architecture and the ‘poor’ technology of inflatable dinghies. It became an acquirable symbol of being ‘modern’ in the 60s.
However it was in 1968 that Zanotta became a force in the furniture world with the launch of the Sacco bean bag. Now familiar to millions of people world-wide, Sacco is a piece of design without a fixed shape that says everything about a company that has always worked outside the norm. At the time it sold more pieces than any other in the Zanotta range and nearly 50 years later continues to be one of its biggest sellers.
When Aurelio Zanotta died in 1992, the family maintained control and now his children, Eleonora and Francesca are running the business. Eleonora and Francesca are both architects – Eleonora art directs each collection, while Francesca designs furniture and objects. Together they continue the strict philosophy for innovation and research established by their father.
The following interview with Eleonora and Francesca Zanotta explores the impact the formative 1950s and 60s still have on the company today, and the power of intuition instilled in them by their father.
more space: How would you describe Zanotta’s design strategy today?
Eleonora: I believe that the enormous intuition of my father Aurelio, founder of the company, still remains valid today: it is only through continuous product innovation that it is possible for a firm to grow. The 1989 slogan 'Produce culture and profit at the same time' adopted at the conference in Aspen Colorado, is more than ever true today.
Part of being innovative we are paying increased attention to the quality of life, starting with the question of ecology and then looking at everything that influences all the various environmental concepts, from the study of new social behaviors, to different individual inclinations, offering products that are more and more personalised.
From the innovative and revolutionary work of young designers and new materials and technologies that emerged in the 1950s and 60s, to today’s creations. What differences do you encounter?
Eleonora: That particular historical period, which was just after a devastating war, had the overall objective of rebuilding a new and better world. It was an effervescent moment, full of hope and optimism.
A very fertile ground for creativity in design and it produced some very revolutionary and innovative results. A lot has been produced and experimented in the 60 years since then.
Where do you look for inspiration today and how is the process different to 60 years ago?
Eleonora: The audacity and exuberance of that period has inevitably lessened. Nowadays I notice that designers’ attention is drawn more to practicality than experimentation, so instead of ‘audacious and revolutionary’ products we have ‘correct and well-designed’ ones. However, our antennae are always alert to any new requests that are made and above all we never forget the emotional and poetic qualities that a ‘well-made’ product has to have.
Francesca: The secret lies in being very perceptive, and in having a continual sense of curiosity at an everyday level. I go to exhibitions, and travel to interesting places that can be a source of inspiration for new ideas and help me to pick up on ‘submersed’ design tendencies.