One name, two souls: a product brand and a design center fueled by innovation
This is the essence of MOMODESIGN, a Milan-based design company which has made its mark in the market by creating iconic products under its own name, while also achieving prestigious design collaborations with third-party brands.
Rooted in the heart of Milan since 1981, MOMODESIGN has cultivated a rich legacy of design innovation and creativity. Initially emerging as a design studio within the MOMO Group, renowned for its luxury car accessories, the brand’s evolution into an independent entity was driven by its unique history and iconic FGTR demi-jet helmet’s resounding success, now an emblem of its identity.
Guided by the belief that design not only shapes the desires of companies, but also enhances their identities, the studio continues to pioneer new horizons and business opportunities while staying true to its Italian design heritage.
As Milanese natives, we decided to ask Paolo Cattaneo, the CEO of the company, a few questions. We wanted to trace the steps that have brought the studio into existence and continue to define it today. Additionally, to satisfy some personal curiosities about the role that MOMODESIGN plays in the market, given its dual nature as both a product brand and a design center.
From this perspective, it can be considered a benchmark for the many design studios that are seeking their own path, especially when it comes to business strategies and market survival.
How did MOMODESIGN come into existence? What is its history?
“MOMODESIGN originated in Milan in 1981 as a subsidiary of the MOMO Group, a renowned leader in luxury car accessories founded by the passionate gentleman driver, Giampiero Moretti. Over the course of 11 successful years, what started as a passion evolved into a business venture, giving rise to two specialized divisions: one focused on motor racing and competition – MOMO CORSE – and the other dedicated to design: MOMODESIGN.
Initially, Centro Stile (aka design center) specialized in researching and developing car design accessories. This encompassed not only crafting Formula 1 steering wheels for Ferrari, for which Momo served as the official supplier, but also creating accessories for standard and high-end steering wheels, covering everything from accessory design to interior aesthetics.
The challenge of expressing our creativity within the constraints of a seemingly simple yet highly technical object like a steering wheel fostered our ability to design truly unique items. Right from the outset, Centro Stile seamlessly merged automotive research with industrial design, delving into projects in the lifestyle sector.
This exploration in the early 1980s led to a line of men’s accessories crafted from cutting-edge materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, and magnesium. My father, Marco Cattaneo, who served as the group’s CEO for three decades, had an unwavering passion for innovation and distinctive design concepts. Consequently, we produced one-of-a-kind products with a strong and unmistakable identity.
The ‘Essenziale’ watch stands out as the first remarkable men’s accessory – an object of pure design that achieved recognition by becoming a part of New York’s exclusive MoMa Museum collection in 1982.”
MOMODESIGN is both a product brand and a design studio. Despite having a product brand, why did you choose to design for others?
“MOMODESIGN embarked on its journey as a design studio within the group in the late 1990s. Subsequently, it evolved into an independent entity, forging its distinct identity, and ultimately, it emerged as a brand in its own right. This transformation was driven by its unique history and the resounding success of the iconic FGTR demi-jet helmet, which has since become an enduring symbol.
The brand’s identity is intricately tied to product design, and thanks to its reputation for excellence, the Centro Stile swiftly gained intrinsic value. Given our rich heritage, MOMODESIGN naturally adopted an expansive vision and enthusiastically embraced opportunities to collaborate with external partners, adopting a design studio approach. This approach greatly diversified the spectrum of projects we engaged in and afforded us the opportunity to accumulate expertise across a wide array of sectors.
One of our early ventures involved a co-branding collaboration with Polk Audio for designing car stereos, while another partnership saw us collaborating with Logitech on the creation of a genuine leather F1 console for PlayStation. Building upon the success of these initial collaborations, Centro Stile began offering industrial design consultancy services to other companies.
One of our most recent collaborations resulted in the development of a forged carbon handlebar for Cannondale. This handlebar is featured on the fourth generation of the Super Six Evo racing bike, representing the lightest and most aerodynamic version to date.”
In terms of MOMODESIGN’s brand development, what role do you play, and how do you approach the selection, design, and realization of products within the brand?
“We successfully transitioned from the realm of four-wheel vehicles to the world of two-wheelers. Initially, our foray into designing helmets served as a seamless bridge between the past and the present. The iconic FGTR helmet boasts numerous distinctive elements. What truly set us apart was our ability to intuitively grasp the unspoken needs of urban dwellers navigating bustling cities on a daily basis.
Our approach to design was user-centric, prioritizing the individual over the mode of transport. We reimagined the helmet, shifting its identity from a mandatory safety item to a stylish, fashion-forward accessory. At the time, our bold and unique logo graphics had no equals. The helmet’s unconventional military-inspired shape, coupled with the fusion of technical precision and artisanal craftsmanship, epitomized our distinct design philosophy.
The city, constantly evolving and setting new trends and requirements, has always been a wellspring of inspiration for us. Our diversification from the motorcycle realm into outdoor, lifestyle, and electric urban mobility was born out of a commitment to meeting evolving needs. While we continually innovate and adapt, we remain rooted in our original ethos.
Our strategic outlook harmoniously aligns with Centro Stile’s design vision, resulting in an ever-evolving process that encompasses various facets, from the emotional and intuitive aspects to the exploration of technical, functional, and material solutions, as well as the study of color in all its myriad shades and finishes.
From the outset, our collaborative efforts with licensees, who manufacture and distribute our collections, have yielded a diverse range of products, including watches, helmets, and cutting-edge technical clothing collections for motorcycles, scooters, and e-bikes.”
Regarding MOMOdesign Centro Stile’s design philosophy, what distinguishes it from other design studios in the market? What elements define its unique approach?
“Our distinctive advantage lies in the exceptional expertise we’ve amassed while working on projects for both our in-house brand and external companies. This unique blend of experiences has allowed us to gain insights from diverse industries and acquire a wide array of skills, which, in turn, have expanded the horizons of our creativity, research endeavors, and innovative solution experimentation.
Our research encompasses a multitude of design themes, enabling us to accumulate extensive expertise, both within Italy and on the international stage. The dual nature of Centro Stile has proven to be immensely advantageous for our clients. On one hand, it grants us direct market insights through our own product lines, spanning various sectors.
On the other hand, it facilitates engagement with diverse realities, enabling us to offer an external perspective characterized by a marketing-oriented approach. Our approach is grounded in an international perspective, underscored by consistency, design innovation, and Italian styling, which serve as the foundational elements for every new project we undertake.
We are a design studio rooted in Milan, and for us, Italian style is not just a design choice but a cultural imperative woven into the fabric of every project we embrace. We’ve grown up appreciating the profound value that Italian design has represented and continues to symbolize on the global stage today.”
Considering your firsthand experience with products, what types of projects does MOMOdesign Centro Stile undertake, and what specific expertise do you bring to your clients?
“MOMODESIGN’s Centro Stile operates as an industrial design consultancy, collaborating with companies across diverse industries to craft tailor-made product solutions that align with their specific requirements. Our design endeavors span a wide spectrum, encompassing various design scales, with a primary focus on product-related services, including the alignment of design languages. Concurrently, we also provide graphic design and comprehensive design services.
Our portfolio boasts projects across diverse domains. Over the past 15 years, we’ve honed our expertise in domestic appliances, catering to market-leading clients. We’ve also undertaken numerous ventures in professional equipment, such as the design of tripods for professional cameras and coffee machines for the catering industry.
Our most recent undertakings have revolved around creating a collection of technical motorcycle garments under our brand’s purview, alongside the development of electrical products related to micro-mobility and various accessories within this sector. Our ability to distinguish ourselves is rooted in the relentless pursuit of excellence, our adaptability in cultivating client relationships, and the unwavering presence of passion and creativity in all that we do.”
Lastly, what, in your opinion, characterizes good design? How does Design add value to companies?
“Through these experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to contemplate what constitutes “good” design for us. At its core, it entails envisioning an object that transcends its practical utility, imbuing it with culturally resonant aesthetics that are firmly rooted in societal context.
Good design, in essence, harmonizes a diverse array of elements. It boasts a distinct, recognizable signature, an emotionally evocative symbolism, and a timeless style that maintains a forward-looking perspective, all with the aim of making a positive impact on people’s lives.
Design plays a pivotal role in shaping the aspirations of companies, aiding them in amplifying their identities, and simultaneously paving the way for new business prospects to unfold.”