Calvi Brambilla: when storytelling becomes scenic design

What is the relationship between container and content in your set-up concept?
The container must never prevail over content, and those who design museums are all too aware of this. Usually, artists and creators prefer a white box for displaying works. Working in exhibition design we find there must be communication between the box and contents arranged inside it. This is why we like contamination, we enjoy being caught up in suggestions originating from the world of art, cinema and theatre, and introducing them within exhibitions. Lately, the idea of creating more architectonic stands has also worked quite well, an example is the one designed for Flos at Euroluce last April. Out of seven settings we built at the Salone del Mobile, this one was the most acclaimed, not only in virtue of its size, but also because it presented itself as an architecture, resenting objects as works of art.

How has the approach to the exbhibition changed?
There is a search for immediacy. Last year we were lauded for the stand designed for Pedrali at Orgatec 2016 (winner of the German Design Award 2018, Ed.), it was acknowledged as a highly eye-catching set-up for Instagram.
PB: Because of social networks, in contemporaneity we have become extremely accustomed to rapid reading, and this has also had a profound effect in trade fair settings, where no one has time to read. This can be a problem when looking to convey the quality of products or details, which obviously requires longer reading times. For interiors it’s different, but with regards to set-ups, we play a marketing role, very similar to an agency designing a campaign. We are directing a temporary event. In order to do so we must brandish a variety of skills: architecture, design, communication, an ability to manipulate colours.

The use of colours is a leitmotif in your design.
We enjoy it and we are not afraid, despite the clichéd belief that an absence of colour denotes something that is elegant or refined, or particularly intellectual. Now is a particularly favourable time for colour, so we feel even more at ease. Now we are focusing above all on materiality, because colour works well on digital and print, but often we are asked ‘why must people actually go to a fair’. The answer is because people like physically visiting a space. It is not the same thing as seeing it online: being there and experiencing it is something else altogether. This is where materiality and tactile appeal become fundamental.

Where do you start from with this ‘marketing activity’?
FC: It is important to understand how a company works, what it does, how and why: it is about discovering the details of processes. Before even setting foot in a showroom, people should visit factories, to gauge the company’s know-how, and what bearing this has on prices. Italian know-how is truly a result of years-long experience, experimentation and the determination of a handful of people who invented Made in Italy. This needs to be understood, and for us this is a key aspect when communicating a company.
PB: Fabio and I easily get bored, we need to be hyper-stimulated. We enjoy working with companies which make interesting and slightly crazy things. Barovier&Toso is a fine example, with its top craftsmanship products.
We had to do our research and learn to develop an understanding of quality.

Did your collaboration with Antoniolupi determine your entry into the bathroom sector?
Yeas, exactly. Currently we’re working on the restyling of the showroom in Milan, 400 sqm in total. Antoniolupi is a very interesting company with whom we felt an immediate affinity. It is managed by four brothers and we are particularly fond of Andrea, the Art Director, who is quite crazy. The truth is that the company is actually doing really well, in fact it didn’t need us. However there was an awareness of the need to look to the future and improve its current state. Only top business men truly understand the importance of outdoing oneself.

What fascinates you about companies, what stimulates you into collaborating with them?
Fabio and I are very different in almost everything, but we do have some points in common and one of these is that we are quite enthusiastic about the Italian modus operandi and design, not least historic design. This is what fascinates us the most and we like companies who have held on to this attitude. This is why businessmen and designers must be able to envision creating something which doesn’t even exist yet. To be trend setters and not mere followers. There are many Italian companies who still have this skill.
FC: It is not about producing at all cost. We are more interested in broader reflections on what is missing from a company’s collection. This product or aspect then becomes the project theme.
PB: This is the case for the table Ettore, which we designed for Pianca (winner of the Good Design Award 2017, Ed.). We were called because the company realised they needed to introduce something different. This piece was developed, characterised by a central leg which appears suspended over a mirror base. A subtle touch of irony lingers in the background, which we always enjoy adding.

There is also irony in the Zanotta project: Stories?
With Zanotta we really pulled our heads together and worked extensively on brand positioning, which involved defining the company’s identity with the invention of Stories, six contemporary ways of living involving six distinct characters. The aim was to clearly denote typical Zanotta customers who may appear unconventional, but are not as rare as we may think.
FC: These six characters were somewhat overdrawn because we needed strong personalities to define something that was abstract. However in general we always try to play things down a lot, because we believe that living is about much more than just owning or positioning an object and selecting colours that go well together. We are not interested in decoration for its own sake, rather we’re interested in stories of true life, where we can downplay and find solutions, also with irony.