The story behind Mart can be traced back to the 1960s when furniture giant B&B Italia emerged on the scene at a time of huge social, political and technological change. It was post-war Europe and for Piero Ambrogio Busnelli the founder of B&B Italia, that meant looking for ideas in sometimes unexpected places. A chance encounter with a rubber duck manufacturer in the UK became the catalyst for a new way to make sofas as well as the company’s trailblazing philosophy for innovation through collaboration.
At a time of handcrafted manufacturing the Italian furniture industry during the 1960s was focused on small and traditional clusters of makers in the Lombardy region of Italy. B&B Italia had launched in 1966 and its founder Piero Ambrogio Busnelli was on a trip to London when a factory making rubber ducks caught his eye – specifically its use of cold-pressed polyurethane and production moulds. That chance encounter opened a door and a whole new way for Busnelli to see the B&B Italia company.
Switching timber frames with a new industrialised process now meant that a B&B Italia sofa which traditionally took a month to make at their Novedrate factory, could now be made in less than an hour. Bringing the new technology onto the factory floor also sparked the formation of the company’s formidable Research & Development Centre and the many award-winning design projects that followed, including the UP Collection by Gaetano Pesce, Mario Bellini’s La Bambole, the Bend sofa by Patricia Urquiola, Zaha Hadid’s Moon System and Naoto Fukasawa’s Harbor armchair. While fundamentally, technology has marked every stage of the B&B Italia trajectory over the past 50 years as it continues to develop relationships across the broader manufacturing sector.
When B&B Italia’s art director and long-term collaborator Antonio Citterio began working on the Mart collection, it was the footwear industry he turned to. The design and technological advancements in thermoformed leather became the focus of experimentation in the development of a new production technology. A series of beautifully pared back and finely detailed moulded leather shells were developed with Citterio's exacting design expression. Two chairs, one smaller and one wider, each with a swivel base – in either a disk or a cross – use a simple manual movement to create “a silhouette imprinted to convey the idea of relaxation”. The result is a collection that like all great design ideas, appears effortless in its resolve.