“I designed objects following my feelings” – Interview with Italian designer & art director Raffaella Mangiarotti
Raffaella Mangiarotti talks us through her illustrious design career building on the history and identities of Italian brands.
A chair, a table, even the store interior for a refrigerator brand—Italian designer Raffaella Mangiarotti always finds a way to convey her unique sense of style. It might have something to do with the fact that she has designed practically everything in the twenty years she has been on the scene.
Originally from Pavia, Mangiarotti graduated with a degree in Architecture from the Politecnico di Milano with Tomás Maldonado in 1991 before taking her first steps in the world of design at the studio of Marco Zanuso. In the same year, she became half the creative duo behind deepdesign, a Milan-based studio that would go on and work with the likes of Coca-Cola, Panasonic and Smeg.
Following in the footsteps of the grandmasters of 20th-century design, the Milan-based designer has a functionalist and rationalist approach to design. She describes it as holistic:
“My designs combine sensual femininity with the rational demands of the situation,” she says. “I’ve always been intrigued by the shape of things and how they work or could have been different. I’ve always questioned everything.”
It’s an approach that has seen her win countless awards over the years, namely the Selezione Compasso d’Oro and several Young & Design Awards, which she received within the first five years of leaving design school. Mangiarotti has also held the position of art director at several other Italian furniture brands including Serralunga (2010-2015), Manerba (2014-2018).
Fast forward to today and Mangiarotti is currently the art director for Italian office furniture brand IOC and a teacher at the Politecnico di Milano. She also produces pieces for brands including Pianca and Opinion Ciatti.
With a career as multifaceted as that, we wanted to find out more. So we asked Mangiarotti about her journey up until this point, what it’s like to put her stamp on the identity of so many different brands, and what she’s working on right now…
Your work covers a broad spectrum of design, how did you end up focusing on product & furniture design and art direction?
Raffaella Mangiarotti: “When I started designing I was more interested in understanding which shape things should have depending on their function. I developed many concepts that challenged established objects’ typologies, defining completely new forms. Therefore I studied centripetal washing machines, bidirectional hair dryers, folding strollers, and many other products.
It was certainly an exciting period and product design was exactly the right expression of my natural attitude. I worked on technical products looking for a more feminine expressiveness and functionality, highlighting more the sense of care for the user rather than the performance they could achieve. I developed this path as deepdesign with a dear friend, Matteo Bazzicalupo.
With maturity, I felt the need to develop more of a personal aesthetic language. I also started to work on my own. I designed objects following my feelings. I approached the world of furniture with the humility of someone who knows nothing about it yet, someone who has yet to gain experience in this specific sector. Following more a passion than a work necessity. The artistic direction was then a natural consequence.”
You have designed several products for the Italian furniture brand IOC (International Office Concept), including the Joy pouf and the Corvetto coffee tables. Can you tell us about your process within this collaboration?
Raffaella Mangiarotti: “I think human relationships are important in my work. Through a good dialogue, you can understand how people are and consequently find the right design strategy for the company, a direction that respects its specific nature.
As a designer, I’ve been lucky enough to meet inspired entrepreneurs who have shared and believed in my thinking. I have found innovative engineers and technicians who almost never really said “no, it can’t be done” but always tried to find a solution even when it seemed impossible. Sharing my thoughts and passion with them is one of the best things about my job.”
You also take care of the art direction for IOC, defining the products, catalogues and designers the brand collaborates with. Can you tell us more about your role as art director and how you contribute to the growth of the company?
Raffaella Mangiarotti: “Being an art director means managing different tasks: choosing with the entrepreneur the direction to take, understanding the company’s values, selecting the most suitable designers for the vision you want to develop, defining the products range, the coordinated image on every media, designing showrooms or stands at trade fairs.
You share a vision and a dream with the entrepreneur and the company. My vision with IOC wasn’t about “the office,” but I’ve always enjoyed talking about welcoming, beautiful and functional places for people to work.
As a designer, I am interested above all in people. I’m not so interested in market research or marketing statistics, I prefer to deal sensitively with people, people like you and me, whose emotions I think I know best.
In a workplace, we spend more time than at home, and it is a time when we are awake, so it should be a place even more beautiful than our own home. A place that is human, kind, beautiful and generous. A place of well-being, comfort and functionality. If we work in a comfortable and functional environment, we become happier and more productive.”
You helped Manerba redefine its strategic path from a small to a modern, larger brand. What goal did you initially envision for the company? And how did you achieve your expectations?
Raffaella Mangiarotti: “We started out with a traditional company, which made things that were well-made but a little too serious, a little too grey, a little too dark, to arrive at a welcoming and colourful company. I wanted to express functionality, fluidity, with an emotion of elegance and happiness.
I immediately had the impression that the owners, two well-prepared and serious women, were pursuing an extremely masculine path, inheriting the company from their father, and I thought of transforming the company – as a tailor would do with a made-to-measure suit. Tailored for them above all and also for me. The company and the brand were transformed in just a few years and we had a very good economic result as an effect.”
Discover more about Manerba, check out Manerba’s flexible furniture that accommodates post-pandemic working.
How do you set up an art direction for a small studio aiming to become bigger? What are the important aspects to consider to achieve this goal?
Raffaella Mangiarotti: “I don’t know if it is possible to establish a rule and I don’t know if my way is correct but this is what I do. I start by analyzing the company and the market, and then I share with the company a vision. I need to feel that this vision is good with respect to the contemporary lifestyle and to their specific identity.
The identity is not an aesthetical problem but is more a complex fact that depends on their economic, historical, productive and also organisational resources. Then I invest some time in understanding whether the team functions well. Without a good team, a good job could not get off the ground. And building the right team is not easy, you have to continuously work on it.
Art direction is an extremely involved job, sometimes it seems you have to put 200% of yourself to give a precise and unique identity to a brand, you have to take care of everything together. And only after 2-3 years do you start to feel the true expression of the identity and the brand.”
What will be the next step for Raffaella Mangiarotti?
Raffaella Mangiarotti: “I’m working right now on some projects with new clients. Even though the last two years were so heavy from a human point of view, they have unexpectedly opened up new and interesting collaborations on a national and international level.
Now it’s a matter of putting my heart and concentration into it, doing a few things and trying to do them well, with the ambition that they might last over time. More than designing ecological products, I want to become ecological in my way of doing things.”
Want to know more about recent Raffaella Mangiarotti’s work? Don’t miss Pianca introduces echoes of nature into their new furniture for Milan Design Week 2021.