Those who follow my blog have by now figured out that I have a soft spot for manual knowhow. This is not only a metter of liking something but also of understanding that only by promoting and re-evaluating the professionality of the many maestros that dot our creative landscape we will be able to build a future for what’s made in Italy. For all these reasons, I am happy to share with the public at large – since professionals probably already know them, after their present at last year’s Fuori Salone in Milan – Segno Italiano www.segnoitaliano.it, a group of young design pros who, through developing lovely documentaries, are supporting both their own re-edition of traditional Italian manufacts and craftmanship as a whole. By illustrating what’s behind objects and what makes them valuable. A communication approach that I find delicate and delicious. Have a look at these videos on the making of the traditional Chiavari chairs (vimeo.com/22236782) and Tyrol ceramics(http://vimeo.com/framedealer/ceramicaatestina). These are small jewels that make us Italians feel – for once – proud of who we are. I have asked Segno Italiano why they dedicate so much time and effort in supporting craftmanship. Here is our chat.
Why is it important, particularly today, to put the value of Italian craftmanship in the spotlight? There are two fundamental reasons: one is cultural and the other one stems from the present situation. On one hand, we wish to protect an extremely valuable knowhow that would otherwise most likely end up being forgotten. And that would be a very serious cultural loss, considering the fundamental role that crafts have had in the development of our country both in distant and closer to date Italy. On the other hand, in the present climate of economic instability, in which also large groups and multinationals are forced to review their internal structures, and in which the very way of doing business is being questioned and is opened to revisions, Segno Italiano wishes to provide an outlook that envisages providing putting small craftmens’ workshops with a new competitive edge. Alone, they might well disappear. Together, they stand a chance. We view the crisis as a possibility to look at ways of doing business and culture under a different perspective: this we see as the purpose of our small brand and initiative.
Is Segno Italiano your primary professional activity? Segno Italiano was born as an initiative of 4 architects and designers and our professionalities lies at its heart. Our trained eye helps us get a glimpse of beauty and perceive the inner quality of traditional objects while at the same time figure out their potential in contemporary outlooks, not only in terms of actually making out new collections but also in communicating knowhow through projects and installations.
How do you select the craftsmen that you deal with? Merit and quality are the only criteria. How we get to them is obviously part of a selection process that looks out at the actual territory on one hand and at publications and book browing. We also leverage quite heavily on our network (or blog www.segnoitaliano.it/news/ and facebook page www.facebook.com/segnoitaliano), accessible to anyone: we are always on the lookout for worthy craftsmen or traditional, extinct products that it might be worth to bring back to a new life.
Is there a business model behind this activity, I am referring mainly to the documentary research part? Or is it puresely a cultural need? We created Sgno Italiano because we wanted to put Italian craftmanship under the spotlight. Very little is actually being done, despite the fact that lots of people agree with our views on this. In his beautiful book “Futuro Artigiano” (ed. Marsilio, 2011), Stefano Micelli talks about Japan, for instance, where the state itself supports craftsmen – in very concrete ways – and considers them a living cultural heritage. The research, cataloguing and documenting activities are definitely cultural operations. The accurate selection and the systematization of such excellence, together with the creation of ad hoc events conceived to touch the consumer are on the other hand aimed at internationalizing the understanding of the value of the work and of course at selling the pieces. This is a business model in itself, once in which culture and economics go hand in hand. In this, we were definitely inspired by Carlo Petrini and the Slow Food movement as well as by its entrepreneur-driven translation provided by Oscar Farinetti with Eataly.
What’s coming up from Segno Italiano? Milan is not only the place where we live and work but also the international design stage. Hence for the 2012 Fuori Salone, we will create (also to celebrate our first anniversary) a third chapter on Italian craft excellence: it will have to do with the Trentino region. We will also be present in the Brera area in various showrooms and with installations dedicated to specific themes. In May, 30 years after Colombo Sanguineti, the last Italian craftsman who was able to bring the Chiavari chairs to the US, Segno Italiano will follow his steps with an event in Chelsea during the New York furniture fair, the ICFF. In which way do you envisage your knowhow to be used by other designers, architects or companies? Do you see yourselves as craft scouts? The whole Segno Italiano operation is based on the idea of drawing up a map of the status quo of Italian crafts knowhow as it is on the country’s territory. We will create a precious data bank that may well become an inspiration for design evolution. The first step towards this direction will be the Laboratori series that we will present during the Salone del Mobile in Milan: an event focused on ceramics that wishes to link design and manual knowhow in an active and proactive manner.