NEW START: a mantra for Italian design firms

Written by Eleonora Usseglio Prinsi

Week 37

Every year with the approach of Salone del Mobile (Milan Design Week), there are always questions surrounding the state of Italian design. People complain about the lack of spaces for young creatives, others push to promote new cities that effectively support experimentation and new innovations, and some believe that Italian craftsmanship cannot be scrapped by the dynamism of London and New York.
In such a vibrant and competitive realm, it has become more pressing for Italian companies to innovate and find new market strategies, in which creativity is expressed not just in terms of design, but also through managerial strategies that can create new beginnings for historical Italian brands.
NEW START has become the mantra for many Italian labels, which through radical choices and substantial transfers of shares are dismembering consolidated family businesses to deal with a market that is increasingly in the hands of large investment companies.
This is the case with Driade. After a severe financial crisis, the company was rescued in 2013 by investors Giovanni Perissinotto and Stefano Core, who are part of the Italian Creation Group. Thanks to an injection of capital, Driade was revived, and has made a comeback this year. This is also thanks to celebrated David Chipperfield, who was appointed as the brands new artistic director late last year.
The results have been imminent: a new showroom of 500 square meters in Milan’s Via Borgogna, and the redevelopment of the famed Evelyn floor lamp, that was originally designed by British architects in collaboration with Driade for the Shore Club Hotel in Miami, at the end of the nineties. The lamp was launched at the last Salone del Mobile, together with Elisa, a sofa designed by Enzo Mari and ZIGZAG library by Konstantin Grcic.
Also within the ‘New Start’ ecosystem, Boffi, the high-end brand for kitchens and bathrooms, has acquired 100% of De Padova, the worldwide iconic furniture design company.

Alas, it is appropriate to say, “unity is strength”, for the new partnership will see these two iconic brands maintain their own identities, yet be united by the shared aim of creating a platform of excellence for the design industry. They will sustain the Italian “know how” by forming a stronger bond and increasing involvement in both private and contract sectors.
In other news, talk released on the Piambianco news site, stating that B&B was about to be sold to Knoll (the American design company), looking to compete with Haworth, was promptly denied.
Haworth, at the beginning of 2014 acquired the Poltrona Frau Group (over 98% stake in the company that owns Meda establishments leased to the group) that includes Cassina, Poltrona Frau and Cappellini. The latter, led by Giulio Capellini, launched a new team of young Italian and foreign designers, including Antonio Facco, Lanzavecchia + Wai and GamFratesi at Milan Design Week.
Hence, this talent scouting by Giulio Cappellini seems to have been safeguarded as a result of the acquisition by the US giant (1.4 billion in revenue) led by Italian Franco Bianchi, who since 2005 has been president and CEO.
Ultimately, B&B selected Investindustrial, an investment company founded by Andrea C. Bonomi, as their new majority partner, who only one year ago bought 80% of Flos (design lighting company) shares.
Giorgio Busnelli, as Piero Gandini in Flos, will continue in his CEO role, ensuring the necessary resources are acquired to carry out its entrepreneurial ventures and creative plans.
The signs seem encouraging to face these difficult times. Many iconic brands are working towards preserving the Made in Italy philosophy, by searching for coherent solutions and financial backing, without losing their entrepreneurial sensibility so often found in small-medium enterprises.