Ferruccio Laviani: “I’ll tell you how Orbital began”

The designer from Cremona traces back through the genesis of the lamp-sculpture that marked the beginning of three decades of collaboration with Foscarini

Orbital by Foscarini, design Ferruccio Laviani – Photo © Gianluca Vassallo
Orbital by Foscarini, design Ferruccio Laviani – Photo © Gianluca Vassallo

“In 1992 Orbital – the lamp-sculpture that disrupted the lighting stereotypes of the day – kicked off the collaboration between Foscarini and Ferruccio Laviani. It was a wager. There was no guarantee that a lamp with that appearance would be successful. Nor that it would have survived the test of time,” writes Carlo Urbinati, founder and president of Foscarini, in the booklet that pays homage to 30 years of Orbital and of interaction with Laviani.

“Orbital was the first product I had designed on my own,” Laviani recalls. “I did it in 1991, at the age of 32, when I was working for Michele De Lucchi. One evening after work, I began to make a pencil drawing of a lamp on a big sheet of tracing paper. It was Orbital.”

Da sinistra, il designer Ferruccio Laviani e Carlo Urbinati, fondatore e presidente di Foscarini. Photo credit: Lorenzo Lucca, Elisa Piemontesi PLUME.

This was the start of one of Foscarini’s biggest success stories, a lamp-sculpture that marked the start of three decades of cooperation between Ferruccio Laviani and the company based in Marcon. “My encounter with Foscarini came by chance. In 1991 the company called in Rodolfo Dordoni as art director. Rodolfo and I were friends, though he is certainly not someone who makes choices on that basis. But since he was proposing a range of various designers for the first Foscarini collection, he asked me, in complete freedom, to think about a lamp. And I showed him Orbital.”

Lo schizzo della lampada Orbital

Orbital went straight into production, just as it had been designed: “Absolutely nothing was changed. From an aesthetic standpoint, it is a lamp that sums up all the inspirations I had in that period, the color, the decoration that came from the world of Memphis, my love affairs that ranged from Nanda Vigo to the artist Alexander Calder, my passion for the English school of the late 1980s, including Ron Arad and Nigel Coates. Inspirations and references that I mixed together, giving rise to this lamp that had never been seen before, but had a language that can easily be traced back to the imaginary of the time, an aspect that perhaps has decreed its success. Orbital was an immediate hit, a bestseller, together with the Lumiere lamp by Rodolfo Dordoni of the previous year.” 

Notturno Laviani, il progetto fotografico di Gianluca Vassallo per celebrare i 30 anni di Orbital e della collaborazione tra Laviani e Foscarini

Where did the name come from? “Orbital was a music group in the 1990s, and the name worked because the lamp has a metal fulcrum around which the colored glass pieces rotate, as if in orbit. The name sounded a bit Mid-Century, a bit Fifties sci-fi… everyone liked it right away.” 

In these 30 years Orbital has also been offered in a total white version and a reflecting model: “I have an unprecedented black one in my office, which no one has ever seen, because it was never produced.” A lamp that has entered the collective imagination, and has traveled all around the world: “The white version, for example, was chosen for one of the first advertisements for the personal computers of IBM, but it also appears in a video of Mary J. Blige. It is a lamp that has had important references from a visual standpoint. An object that no longer has an age – it was appealing then, it’s appealing today, and perhaps it will be still, 30 years from now, even if it does represent a period, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” 

Il disegno di Orbital

A breakthrough project back then, and still today: “I absolutely do not compare myself to Sottsass, I’d like to make that clear. But in my studio I have the Callimaco by Ettore Sottsass for Artemide (1982), and my Orbital for Foscarini. What I have always liked about Callimaco is the ability of Sottsass to shift the Memphis philosophy into an industrial product, to make Memphis – which was for an elite – available to everyone, with a mass-market product. In my view, Orbital does the same thing; it is a lamp where artistic and cultural inspirations converge and become an industrial product, at an affordable, proper price.”