When we caught up with Piero Lissoni last year he had just returned from a visit to Mexico. This time it was Iceland, a country he describes as "unbelievable" and a cinematic show with an "absurd contrast of scenography – black sand, white snow, and incredibly green grass".
Describing the inspiration of experiences without "the classical level of show off", is much like Piero Lissoni's approach to design: pared back to the essential elements of material, form. and process. Working across architecture, graphics, exhibition and furniture design, Lissoni Associati is a thriving creative hub, with projects for furniture groups including Living Divani, Porro and Kartell, the design of houses, apartments and hotels, including the recently completed Roomers Hotel Baden-Baden in Germany, to the visual identity for the International Film Festival organised by the Venice Biennale Last year his interest in art led him to design photographer Giovanni Gastel's retrospective with curator Germano Celant at Palazzo della Ragione in Milan. Here we discuss Piero's first project with B&B Italia, a collaboration that began as a toast over dinner with B&B Italia's founder Piero Ambrogio Busnelli more than 20 years ago.
more space: For the launch of your first collection with B&B Italia you wrote: "I liked the idea of following in the wake of B&B Italia, of modernity”... Is B&B Italia a company you have always wanted to work with?
Piero Lissoni: Yes, don’t forget what they have done and the catalogue they have produced. B&B Italia is like a super target, you know what I mean. For everybody working with B&B Italia it is like a dream. Previously I was working with Cassina. One year ago I decided to change paths in my professional life. The people from B&B Italia had asked me to work with them for I don’t know how many years, and I decided that now was the time.
For me, it’s a long, long, long discussion, it’s a long debate, a long interferences between me and the B&B Italia team. I never work by myself. I am never alone. Without the internal B&B team: the technicians, the engineers, the tasteful people, nothing happens. We discuss what is possible to do, what I need, and what I need to do. In the end we discuss a new process and the design of a new collection. Then we start the project together.
When I talk about process it’s the industrial process, the factory process and the human process. It is a more openminded attitude and approach. I need to be 'in' the process and the process is for me the most important. That relationship between me and the factory is a special connection. Each part is important. I think about the engineer and materials, the graphic designers and the best way to show the pieces.
When you prepare something, for example Saké, you work with many different intelligences. The way they sew the cushions or the fabrics selected. I feel like a fashion designer because I need to understand the skills and the best way to make it. I think about the touch, the proportions. You start to remodel a cushion by 5mm or you change some softness so you work in your imagination with the team and they show you what is possible to do, or they show you something completely different. That is the secret of working with B&B Italia.
How long did the design process take?
More than one year, but it doesn’t matter. Sometimes the real secret is the capacity to lose time. If you design or make something to a super schedule with a precise timeline it’s okay, but it sounds a little bit too German. Sorry (laughter). In my mind when we design something together, it doesn’t matter if it’s Flos, or B&B Italia, or Kartell, or another client, the great capacity is to be able to lose time. Sometimes you are super concentrated, you are super fast, you do an incredible number of prototypes and corrections and prototypes, and after that you need calm. You need to lose time, to throw it away a bit. To disconnect yourself by looking through a transparent mirror. You have to reflect and detach yourself. After that you start to run again. To be honest, we threw away more or less one year. We start, we stop, we start again, we run, we start again, we stop. Then in the last month before the Salone del Mobile we start to run quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly, and then we showed the whole collection in Milan.
I am interested in the flexibility of Saké – it's a sofa, a bed, a place to relax… I see it responding to the growing fluidity of interior spaces. Was this an important direction for the collection?
I designed a series of sofas but I don’t know if it’s correct to use the name sofa when you design something in this way, Saké has many different possibilities. Don’t forget I am an industrial designer and when you design something you first have to follow the rules: quality, functionality, production and repetition. In the end you have to repeat and repeat and repeat again, the same piece thousands of times. But at the same time with Saké I also designed an ambience. I didn’t just follow the comfort because it is in the nature of the piece and I didn’t only follow style. In my mind I wanted to use another part to connect the collection in a more silent way with the space around, with life. That’s it. Finito. That’s the secret inside the collection.
The names Saké and Formiche – where does the narrative connect?
Saké is an interesting connection because many years ago, more or less every one or two months, Piero Busnelli, the great founder of B&B Italia and for me, more than a genius, invited me for dinner at a special Japanese restaurant in Milano. A very good Japanese restaurant. It was a tradition to spend some time together, to discuss life, plans, travel, creativity, girls... (laughter). Every time Mr Busnell and I took a toast he said to me, "Piero I know that now you are with Cassina but one day you will become a designer for me".
In 2017, I decided to honour that promise with the name Saké. So again, all Italian design is passing through the hand of Mr Busnelli. The second name is Formiche, or 'ants' in english. They are small tables with long thin legs like ants. In Europe ants are nice, less aggressive than Australian ants. I don’t know why in Australia everything looks very beautiful but tries to eat you! (laughter)
Thank you Piero.