Italian architect Piero Lissoni recently sat down with est living managing director Miffy Coady while in Melbourne for Space Furniture’s 30th birthday celebration. In this conversation, Piero discusses a new visual direction for B&B Italia, how he is leading a return to ‘the contemporary’, what constitutes an era-defining piece and what he sees as the biggest design challenges globally. 

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 2

Dock sofa and coffee table by Piero Lissoni

You were appointed as creative director of B&B Italia, commencing January 2021, with a vision to focus on the ‘contemporary’. Two and a half years on, how have you set out to achieve this?

Piero Lissoni: Piero Ambrogio Busnelli and Cesare Cassina founded B&B Italia as C&B in the ‘60s. Then it became B&B Italia with Piero Ambrogio Busnelli at the helm. It was his idea to be super contemporary. Many years later, the pieces are ‘modern’. When Mario Bellini first designed the Camaleonda, it was a contemporary piece. In 2023, you need to jump again to this level of contemporary. To push and discover new designers, projects, qualities, and attitudes. Think about the fact that the market is completely different. Now the market is worldwide and products are sold completely differently. My work is to become contemporary again.

The Camaleonda is a modern piece now, 50 years old. We work around a new level of industrialisation. When reissuing this piece, we changed the old technological issues inside; we redesigned everything. It’s like a body; the structure, the muscles, and the nerves are different, but they appear the same from the outside. Another example is the La Bambole, which was formerly foam, but we put a new body inside; it’s a recycled plastic body. We took away 75 per cent of the foam because it’s not recyclable right now. Stella McCartney did a special edition with new intelligent fabrics – they are natural. It’s a new generation of thoughts, of things and material. It’s a brilliant attitude for jumping into the future. 

Think about the Arco lamp by Castiglioni. You don’t touch the shape; you don’t touch the material. Now, it’s an LED light inside. We chose the correct LED light that fills the original lamp as intended. It’s like the original one, but it’s new. Sometimes, we don’t need to ‘show off’ the evolution.

We have to be cautious of the term sustainability. It has become a superficial approach. Are you sustainable? I’m not stupid. Inside an industrial system, we need to be sustainable. The responsibility is in my DNA. The durability of something is the secret. 

I like to be a bit provocative. 

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 3

Dock sofa and Spool coffee table by Piero Lissoni

You’re currently in Australia leading the in-showroom creative direction for the brand in both Sydney and Melbourne. What is the inspiration behind this new visual direction?

Piero Lissoni: The shops are not houses. They are, for me, like a theatre stage. I need to design a theatre stage. Today, you saw the Camaleonda sofa and the piece from Patricia and Antonio Citterio, but tomorrow morning, we will change the stage and redesign everything. We need to offer these kinds of ideas, be quick to change and show the correct qualities of B&B Italia. That’s it. 

I like to use the background to create the feeling of being inside a B&B space. It’s an architectural choice. Ultimately, we lead with a natural screen and natural light; I like combining natural and artificial. 

In Milan, for Milan Design Week and Salone del Mobile, I always do a special exhibition for B&B Italia. Sometimes it’s a little bit crazy. For example, this year, we used big dots and electronic shapes, a bit pop art-inspired. The feeling for Salone del Mobile 2023 was just that; it depends on the theme.

The real aspect of B&B Italia is in the factory. We show the real face of B&B Italia. When you are there, you know you are at B&B Italia. 

B&B Italia has a stable of era-defining pieces – a credit to a long history of designer collaborations. In 2023, what constitutes an era-defining product for you? 

Piero Lissoni: When the Up series chair by Gaetano Pesce was first released, it wasn’t very popular. In terms of numbers, it wasn’t a successful piece. But forty years later, it’s more successful than ever. 

I see the Up Chair as a level of ‘new contemporary’, which I am always trying to push. Sometimes, we follow too many marketing rules, which means the market is more familiar, contaminated with light colours, and everything is very calm, very Bougerie. This year, I tried to show B&B Italia as more ‘contemporary’ and more noisy. 

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 10

Sake sofa by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

What is your favourite B&B Italia piece? 

Piero Lissoni: The Antonio Citterio Diesis sofa. In leather. Diesis is a musical term that sets the tone.

As a prolific designer and creative director across multiple renowned Italian brands, where do you go to appreciate exceptional design?

Piero Lissoni: I live in Europe. It’s everywhere. It’s quite easy to move from Milano to Copenhagen. In one hour, I’ll be there – or in London or Paris. 

It’s so easy to access – from the Gaudi houses in Barcelona to the Mies Van der Rohe architecture in Germany or the Czech Republic.

What is most important to you as a designer today?

Piero Lissoni: I never accept a brief to design something without vision. If you come to me and ask, “You are more or less quite a famous architect. I would like for you to design something because I need your name.” Forget it. I need a vision. I need this braveness to jump somewhere.

Being a designer, in the end, is a profession. If you ask me to design something because you need my name, I don’t do it. It doesn’t matter if you pay a lot of money. 

I never accept a brief to design something without vision. If you come to me and ask, ‘You are more or less quite a famous architect. I would like for you to design something because I need your name.’ Forget it. I need a vision.”

 

– Piero Lissoni

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 11

Sake sofa by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 9

Sake sofa by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

Looking back on your career as a designer, with hindsight, what advice would you give your younger self? 

Piero Lissoni: To travel more. When I started to work, I didn’t travel a lot during that time. It wasn’t possible, and the workload was quite heavy. I invested every cent in my profession. So, looking back, I would say work less and travel more.

What have you seen to be the biggest challenge for Italian design in 2023?

Piero Lissoni: It’s connected with one simple detail. Factories. The real Italian design movement is in the factories. 

Sometimes, the biggest challenge is there is a lot of great design in Italy, but unfortunately, we don’t have the factories. The production and the vision are the secret.

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 8

Sake sofa by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

What are the biggest challenges for design globally in 2023?

Piero Lissoni: Design needs a vision. If you think about design from a general point of view, it’s more or less possible to do it. But you need a vision.

In the golden age of design and architecture, between the fifties and sixties, three different countries/ regions demonstrated this. In the USA, it was a new level of industrial design, with the likes of Herman Miller. They developed the American idea of industrial design. The other two regions were Scandinavia and Italy, with brands such as Cassina, B&B Italia and Boffi. The connection between all of them; visionary people started to create a movement. 

Designing with vision also brings me to the point of replica in design. I remember a few years ago I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil with Boffi CEO Roberto Gavazzi to discuss a new super Boffi shop.

We were in a high-end quarter in Sao Paulo, full of beautiful shops, from Prada to Hermes. For the design field, selling European design in Brazil is virtually impossible because they have 100 per cent of taxes. Anyway, we were in the car and we saw this amazing glass pavilion in the middle of a garden with a huge neon sign labelled Boffi. I asked Roberto why I hadn’t ever known about this store. But all of it was fake, totally fake. Full of fake Boffi kitchens. Boffi was my first client from the end of the eighties but as a brand, it was born in 1925. They copied the catalogue and all. I was shocked. 

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 12

Borea outdoor by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

“We have to be cautious of the term sustainability. It has become a superficial approach. Are you sustainable? I’m not stupid. Inside an industrial system, we need to be sustainable. The responsibility is in my DNA.”

 

– Piero Lissoni

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 1

Borea outdoor by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

Rapid Fire:

Favourite colour?

Piero Lissoni: In a normal life, white. It’s incredible in a huge panorama of colours. When people think about the colour white, they think it’s ‘one’. There are a thousand different whites. Another colour is not black, but a special dark grey with different vibrations of grey. I’m well known for the fact I use a lot of white and a lot of grey. 

Fabric or leather?

Piero Lissoni: Fabric. One hundred per cent.

Marble or wood?

Piero Lissoni: Wood. You grow the trees. You don’t need to destroy forests because it’s possible to grow and cut trees. This is instead of cutting into mountains for marble – it’s impossible to ‘grow the mountains – the marble’.

Three words to describe your design:

Piero Lissoni: Design, design, design.

What is the first thing you notice when you walk into a room?

Piero Lissoni: Usually, it’s the distances, a combination and contamination of different pieces and the light. The first feeling is the distances; the second one is like a psychical approach, an intuitive approach  – space and objects together – and the light.

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 13

Nooch outdoor by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

est living in conversation piero lissoni bb italia 5 1

Nooch outdoor by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia

Who inspires you – or where do you go for inspiration?

Piero Lissoni: Life: culture, curiosity, questions. And doubt. A lot of doubt. 

It’s a romantic attitude to think, okay, I saw something and the inspiration exists after that. 

The inspiration is a fake problem. In our lives, professional thinking is disciplined, day-by-day work, with a lot of research, discussion, and teamwork – I’m not alone. To be honest, I never wake up in the morning with a fantastic idea. It’s not true. I may develop a fantastic idea, but they are not connected with professional issues.

What does your personal design space look like?

Piero Lissoni: Sometimes I spend time in the studio, or walking around, or in a small cafe; we have a few cafes near the studio. I also take time out in Tuscany and stay there for a few days alone with books, papers and sketches. My house is in the south part of Tuscany, in Maremma. It’s a very wild part of Tuscany, very natural. I need time to be alone in my space; no noise, no calling, no phone. 

How many are in your team?

Piero Lissoni: 120-125 people in Milan, plus New York, and we move all around the world for different sites. When I design a piece for B&B Italia, I never design something by myself. It’s teamwork.

Sometimes, the biggest challenge is there is a lot of great design in Italy, but unfortunately, we don’t have the factories. The production and the vision are the secret.”

 

– Piero Lissoni

est living milan 2023 boffi piero lissoni 02

Piero Lissoni

The post In Conversation | Piero Lissoni appeared first on est living | exceptional living.

©