Midway through a press conference on the first night of Italy’s annual ceramic tile fair, Cersaie’s longtime marketing director Cristina Faedi (who now works as an independent tile consultant) played a trailer for the upcoming Michael Mann movie Ferrari. She pointed out that much of the film was shot in Modena, “the district of ceramics,” and that the biopic’s high-adrenaline teaser reflected the drive of ceramics manufacturers, which have raced ahead with exciting new launches in spite of ongoing business difficulties posed by high energy costs and the lingering pandemic. But as a showcase of an actor’s ability to inhabit a role that transforms them into someone else entirely, the trailer also called to mind another parallel. 

An accordion-style display of white marble-look slabs at Cersaie 2023.

Materia Slab’s veining runs right through a tile’s body, allowing slabs to maintain a continuous look even when they’re cut.

Adam Driver was born in San Diego, California, but Ferrari will mark his second time playing a famous Italian. (Reactions to his turn as Maurizio Gucci were mixed, and the decision to cast him as Enzo Ferrari was not without its share of controversy.) Meanwhile, many of Cersaie 2023’s exhibitors have developed incredible skill creating stone-, concrete-, timber- and even metal-look designs that have grown increasingly convincing in both appearance and texture. Much like when an actor portrays a popular public figure, the resemblance between these products and their original sources of inspiration can be downright uncanny. (And while the merits of an actor’s performance can be subjective, the technological sophistication of imitation ceramics is harder to critique.) This year was no exception, with convincing takes on travertine especially common throughout the show.

A trio of people walk past a series of glowing arches filled in with colourful geometric tiles at Cersaie 2023.

Ceramica Bardelli’s new Caleido collection (centre).

Then again, in cinema and in ceramics, impersonation can only take you so far. Sparking a strong emotional connection with an audience requires not just technical skill but also artistic talent. To that end, the real entertainment value at Cersaie 2023 was found in products that demonstrated the beauty of creative expression. The fair’s many hand-painted offerings (by Ceramica Bardelli, Ceramica Vietrese, Antiche Fornaci D’Agostino and Cersarda, among others) were a particular highlight. Furthermore, ABK Group proudly introduced its newly expanded portfolio, which now includes two recently acquired sub-brands — Fuoriformato and 14 Ora Italiana — that specialize in evocative slabs hand-decorated with traditional techniques.

Two men in suits walk past a wall of tiles with a rippling textural treatment at Cersaie 2023.

Windy, designed by Nendo for Decoratori Bassanesi.

But not all the creativity on display at Cersaie 2023 was conveyed through a paintbrush. Several manufacturers teamed up with titans of the design industry — among them, Zaha Hadid Architects, Nendo and Paolo Navone — for high-profile collaborations that were as conceptually interesting as they were visually striking. Sodai Design was another scene-stealer. Debuting a fresh creative direction, the brand relaunched its catalogue with five core collections all offered in the same 21-colour palette. Silkroad, a fresh introduction for Cersaie 2023, represents a contemporary take on traditional textiles. Upon close inspection, its patterns are composed of embossed “stitching” that nods to the collection’s inspiration without performing any “gotcha”-style visual trickery. These tiles were displayed alongside those from the brand’s Majesty collection, which offers not so much an impersonation of marble as a playfully exuberant abstraction of it, rendered in supersaturated Crayola hues that you’d never find in nature.

Photo Gallery: Cersaie 2023 Balances Imitation with Creative Expression

Majesty and Silkroad at Sodai Design.

It remains to be seen what Adam Driver brings to his role in Ferrari. On the one hand, he might manage to execute every one of Enzo’s verbal tics and trademark facial expressions with impressive technical accuracy. But on the other, he might choose to conjure up something else altogether — a performance that has its roots in real life, but moves past familiarity in favour of something more fantastical. At Cersaie 2023, visitors could find ceramics playing the part of marble, ceramics acting as canvases for incredible art, and ceramics that fell somewhere in between. Which of these products gets cast in a leading role is now up to designers.

Photo Gallery: Touring Cersaie 2023

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