One adjective is rarely enough for Patrizia Moroso.
“Very 80s, very strong, very dynamic,” or “so delicate, so intelligent, so clever” – everything she describes is overwhelmed by her bright and infectious enthusiasm, the same enthusiasm that has made her one of the most influential figures in design.
Moroso is one of the great brands of Italian contemporary furniture, and it is Patrizia, the daughter of the company’s founder and its art director for the last 20 years, who has made it the agenda-setting label of the last few years. Under her patronage, designers such as Tord Boontje and Patricia Urquiola have become some of the most influential in European design, and the rest of the company’s roster reads as a register of Europe’s brightest; Ron Arad, Marc Newson, Ross Lovegrove, Marcel Wanders, Konstantin Grcic and Tom Dixon have all worked for Patrizia Moroso at some point.
I meet her at Moroso’s stand at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, at the height of the busiest afternoon of the fair. She is a charismatic presence, greeting passers-by with an effusive “Ciao!” as they walk by our table on Moroso’s imposing stand. “Friends. From Udine. My home town is a really nice place,” she explains, before returning to our conversation.
To Moroso there is no doubt about what design is for – publicity. She has said in a previous interview that “advertising is used to get yourself known; design work is a marvellous alternative.” Perhaps it is this realisation – that design is no longer about function, but image – that has led to some of her most important discoveries.
Tord Boontje was relatively unknown when Moroso called him after she saw a picture of the Garland light (for Habitat, 2002) in British Elle. “I saw a picture of that and I said, ‘Ah! I must know this person!’” she recalls. “And I keep this page, I take it away, I put it in my agenda, and it stays there for months. One day I find the number in London and I call him. I said, ‘I want to know you, I love your work’, and he said: ‘Wow! Yes!’”
By far Boontje’s best known work up to that point was the metal Garland Light for Habitat, which he followed in 2004 with his Midsummer Light for Artechnica. “This man has a lot of grace inside, so delicate, so intelligent, so clever. To make such a beautiful thing with nothing, spending nothing and making something that is so precious,” Moroso says. Her admiration is girlish; the gasps are those of a genuine enthusiast.
The result of the ensuing collaboration was Boontje’s Happy Ever After show in 2004. Although he had already exhibited in Milan with Swarovksi two years earlier, this was his first exhibition with a big Italian label. It was a triumph, helping to usher in a now ubiquitous trend towards intricate decoration. What Boontje and Moroso started has become orthodox. And Moroso is not afraid to mine this. Boontje is a big feature of the 2006 collection, with his rotation-moulded polyethylene Nest armchair and the Corian T-Bon Bon tables, both of which are decorated with Boontje’s trademark flowers. The Hello Lovely mirror is another highlight, made from ultra-clear glass screenprinted in two layers to create the illusion of a three-dimensional image. The decorative image is, of course, floral.
Another designer that Moroso can lay claim to having launched as a major name is Patricia Urquiola, whose very personal relationship with Moroso has led to her becoming, in effect, part of Moroso’s art team. Urquiola (with collaborator Martino Berghinz and artist Corinna Cadetto) designed Moroso’s stand at the Salone, this year creating an all-white sanctuary hung with rotating banners, decorated with graphic images by Cadetto. Urquiola (who is a qualified architect) is also working on the plans for Moroso’s own house. She says: “With Patrizia we have a friendship that is incredible, and this is the first thing.” It is clear that while Urquiola is the kind of designer who has earned a certain freedom with the brands she works with, the relationship with Moroso is extremely relaxed compared to the traditionally masculine world of Italian furniture manufacturing. “I have a very nice relation with other companies like B&B, but that is more adult,” adds Urquiola. “[Patrizia] is a woman, and we can go to the hairdresser, you know what I mean? It’s very easy. I think when a relationship is like this, you see it in the work.”
Moroso’s expertise in finding the next big thing comes from more than two decades as art director of the company her father founded in 1952. Her first involvement with Moroso was in the early 1980s, when she returned to Udine (where Moroso is still based) from university in Bologna, where she studied fine art. At that time the company was suffering from the hangover of the global economic crisis of the late 1970s. It was in this tough commercial environment that Moroso’s ideas of design as branding were honed. “In a crisis, only if you have a name, a brand, only if you are someone in the market, can you sell,” she says. Her approach was to use the young architects and designers she had met at art school in Bologna to create media-friendly collections. “The first was Massimo Iosa Ghini [the founder of the Bolidism movement in the 1980s and associated with the Memphis group], who was from Bologna, a friend of mine. This guy was very clever and very smart. He was creating a sort of new philosophy, putting together Italian Futurism and the American streamline.”
The collection was a PR success, and launched Moroso as a patron of design as art. She continues: “We did that for fun and for passion, not for market demand, and we discovered that designers could change your image. The image started from that point, it was very strong, very modern, very young. From that point I’ve done something new every year with friends. Ron Arad, Marc Newson and all the others.”
In the last few years, beginning with its 50th anniversary exhibition during the Milan Furniture Fair in 2002 and continuing to this year’s Milan exhibition, Moroso has reached the top of its game. Its stand was one of the very few in the entire Salone showing products that were technologically innovative. While other brands were content to update their lines with a few flowers, Moroso was exhibiting Kram + Weisshaar’s computer-generated Breeding Tables (renamed Countach) and an experiment in combining haute couture textiles and furniture (Ron Arad’s collaboration with Issey Miyake’s A-POC on a series of coverings for his Ripple chair).
Patrizia Moroso’s appetite seems undimmed, and her attitude excitingly contemporary against many of the Italian brands that seem so tired in comparison. “My company is for me the sum of all my designers,” she says. “We have been growing fast in the last three years. We had a fantastic experience in 2002 because it was our 50th anniversary. When we were deciding what to do to celebrate this, someone in the company was saying we can have a show of all we have done in the past. I said no. I felt that everything was changing in that moment. I don’t want to celebrate the past, because we are in the new millennium, we are in the future finally.”