Ambra Medda (Founder Design Miami/ and L'ArcoBaleno)

Il design italiano, eccellenza in America e nel mondo

Nov 14, 2013 5156 ITA ENG

One of the main sectors of Made in Italy's excellence is design. We are historically leaders in this field: we, the Italians, have in our dna the mixture required to be the best in designing things, and in realizing them in the proper way. America, on the other hand, has in its dna what is required to realize ideas, dreams and entrepreneurial endeavors, and that is why Italian designers had such a big success in the US. We talk about this with a young, talented, successful Italian who is a citizen of the world very well proud of her Italian roots, a rising star in the design global system: Ambra Medda.

Ambra, despite your young age you are among the most relevant persons in the world, in the field of interior design. Among the things for which you are well known, you founded what is called the "Global Forum of design": Design Miami/. Please let us something more about this very important event ?

I was very young when I started Design Miami/. The real desire came from feeling that collectible design didn't have an appointment where the community could come together, to push forward the conversation and the market. The design that I deal with is primarily collectible, important pieces that are both historical and contemporary, both from emergent and from established designers: and it just felt as though that industry was relegated into a niche. There were lots of fair at that time that presented design in a very eclectic way, which I love: I love markets, I love unexpected combinations of things. But this situation didn't really do justice to how important these collectible pieces were.

So I visited Art Basel in 2004, and recognized that there was a lot of overlap with the art world: with art dealers who were collecting design, with a lot of media who were covering both art and design, and a lot of design galleries collecting art. That brought me to believe that it was the right moment to create a platform to get together people ... it didn't really started off as a fair, at the beginning I thought I wanted rent space and do an exhibition with important design from midcentury, Italian pieces from designers like Franco Albini, and Giò Ponti ... and then mix them with contemporary pieces. And as I started to talk to people there as a lot of enthusiasm, and all of a sudden I realized there was so much, such a good reception to the idea. Then I thought we could escalate and so I made a list of the most important design galleries worldwide: I called them saying that I'd like to put together a small fair dedicated to design, and everybody said yes ... and so it began.

Then we decided to award every year a designer; special satellite programs popped up, such as presentations or events ... and it was a huge success: this was 2005. Art Basel, that I was working with at that time, said "you should bring the fair to Basel", because Art Basel happens in Miami in December and in Basel in June: and so we brought the fair in Switzerland too, and again it was a big success. So year after year it has grown and it has become this important appointment for gallerists, museum directors, curators, journalists, designers ... and as soon as you put all these people together, something magical happens: new relationships are born, there's an exchange of merchandise and thoughts, there's an ongoing conversation. The ultimate feeling was that a gap had been filled, and people was excited to participate.

I did that for six years, and it was fascinating: an incredible journey, I was based in Miami and travelling a lot, and when I felt that the fair had reached what I wanted it to become, I started to think about what I would want to do next. Now there's a new director, which we appointed before I left: the fair is continuing to grow and doing very well.

I'm curious about who is this Italian girl who was able to realize all this ... what's your story?

I'm from Sardinia, my mother is from Cagliari province. My father is Austrian, I was born in Greece and we moved to London shortly after I was born: then after ten years we moved to Milan. After a few years I came back to London to finish high school and then to study Chinese language and culture, which was a fantastic thing that brought me to Bejing.

My mother is a design dealer, so I kind of grew up very much among designers: she was also always presenting some historical works by some of the most important Italian designers and architects from the 40s and the 50s, mixing that with contemporary design.

I thought my career would have been as an art dealer, but then I came to New York and I felt that the art environment was too much aggressive and commercial, while I discovered I treasured and enjoy the relation with designers and artists: so I decided to come back to design.

Why Miami is a reference point for the world of design?

Miami is a young city that is evolving, with an incredible desire to attract and support culture. I think that this is part of the answer. Besides, to me the attraction of moving to Miami was that it felt like really fresh ground to operate and be part of the city, of its growth, of the evolution of its landscape: which was really exciting. New York is wonderful but it's very established, like everything's already been done, everything is overcrowded, while Miami has that freshness, wanting to define its growing, where both art and design play an important role. Plus, in Miami there's a lot of wealthy people, with second or third homes who live there just a few months throughout the year, and they're great supporters of the arts. And there's a lot of new architecture with several projects happening in real estate. In my opinion that's why Miami attracts many new ideas and commerce. I wouldn't say that Miami is historically a design capital: there's' a lot that happened in London, Paris and other cities which have a long legacy with design. But Miami plays its role, and does a very good job.

Italy has always universally been recognized as one of the most fertile countries for creativity and innovation, that are a fundamental part of the world of interior design. Why is that, according to you? And who has been the most important Italian innovator in this field?

The history of Italian design is incredibly enriching and empowering. There were major things that Italians really brought to life and designed in the way people want to live their everyday life. Design is so intertwined with people, so it's supposed to be used and appreciated whether you're creating something that's very functional or very beautiful. There were many Italian designers that had incredible vision matched with sensibility towards human needs and pleasure, and I think Italy remains very good at it, we're very in touch with the everyday life.

For instance, Giò Ponti was a total master: he could design a church or a spoon, a table or an interior of an office building; he started Domus Magazine, one of the most important magazines dedicated to design... so he was really a 360 degree thinker, a man who had great taste, great sensibility. He also had a fantastic sense of humor, he didn't take himself too seriously even if he was very academic and very knowledgeable, but always very fresh ... in a way, very Italian.

So I think Giò Ponti is somebody who has internationally marked design: and then there's many Italian companies that show great leadership and continue to attract international designers to come to produce things in Italy, because in Italy we understand how things should be made, we understand the importance of quality of materials in the things they design and produce. Every designer knows that in Italy we have an attention to details, and there's like a grace towards having a real passion for what you do, which is becoming more and more rare.

Is Italy still leader in the design sector, or even this leadership is gone, like others have?

A few days ago I was here in New York with Piero Gandini, who owns a company called Floss: they make lights, and they are really at the full front of the lighting industry. Piero is a man who have a great sensibility, he leads a company which is very successful but he still meets with the designers, has a one to one conversation to discuss their style and what's his idea of the product , working together with them: that's very rare. We still have companies quite big and very successful, but still led by people, not becoming that kind of massive infrastructure that has no soul. That's a huge advantage, and I admire them: the kind of design I deal with is not exactly industrial design, but I love it and among the best design companies there's a lot of Italy.

That said, now I see a crisis in creativity in Italy. Usually the reason starts from the roots: I think that school and education are basically what creates the terrain for design, art, literature, entertainment ... in a word, creativity. It seems to me that now the schools are preparing designers to go straight into industry: when I look at their portfolio, most young Italian designers now tend to do quite commercial jobs. Not that there's anything wrong, that's wonderful, but they're not incentivized to experiment. Maybe it's just a moment where Italy is not at a peek of its creativity, but I rarely see now an inspiration to make a mark or rethink how to do things. It is a huge generalization, I know, but it's a trend I'm feeling: if I have to tell you a list of ten most promising young designers, there's not an Italian on my mind right now. I wonder why, because I think we are so talented in so many ways, incredibly creative and used to innovate and do things differently. Probably everybody is pushed to play a little bit "safer" then before.

Sure, if you are a young hardworking passionate innovator in Italy these days, you are kind of an outsider, or at least that's how the system makes you feel ...

Yes I agree, you have no support, you meet an hostile environment, unfortunately that's why we're a little bit paralyzed. But I'm very hopeful that Italy will come out of it, and maybe sometimes things have to get really bad before they get really good: and things are cyclical.

Your new endeavor is called L'ArcoBaleno, one of the leading global web portals among those dedicated to the design. Can you tell us more about it?

L'ArcoBaleno is a cross between a magazine and a shop, for design. It's very editorially driven, so there are stories about trends, designers, events: everything related to design. I have a blog where I highlight interesting things that I see and interesting people that I meet. So it's very much about the design community: what they are making, what is being discussed, the materials they're using. And within the stories you can click and buy pieces related to the stories. It's very eclectic, we just started and I felt that it was necessary because there wasn't a platform to support in this way really good design contents, and hopefully it'll become a reference point for designers and anybody who wants to learn about design. It's simple and intuitive, so everybody can discover and navigate this world, and hopefully learn something and support the culture of design.

We put a lot of effort in choosing what to write about, how to select our topics. The pieces that we're selling are quite expensive, because they're rare. The common denominator for all these pieces, whether it's a basket or sunglasses or a table ... is that these things are special. We tell the story about the process or the person behind it, or the moment in history that defines this piece, and put everything into context to explain why is this object so important.

Historically, how close has been the relationship between our production in the interior design area and the United States market? Would we be correct in telling that design has helped Americans to know and appreciate Italy and the Italians?

Most certainly. We're the leading design nation, and clearly for the Italians the American market has been and is vital, and of course, lucrative. There's a lot of business to be made, and so a lot of Italian companies are based here, throughout the US: leading interior design firms, industrial design companies that are selling furniture, lighting. So in the design world there's a very positive relationship and a very strong dialogue between Italy and the US: design is a very powerful bridge that foster the exchange of a lot of commerce and a lot of culture between the two countries.

When Italians migrated in the US, they were in search of fortune, and this still goes on nowadays, even if we travel in different ways and conditions right now. America is still the land of opportunity, where ideas come true: my story confirms that, I couldn't imagine me at 23 years old starting a fair in Italy.

But these pioneers who came here with nothing , brought with them something immaterial: their attitude to manually work hard, an incredible skill towards craftsmanship, their passion and their expertise in how to do things with their own hands incredibly well. That helped them then, and after some years Americans did recognize that out of those hands not only came urban poor jobs, but also innovative, beautiful and functional objects: and that gave them another angle to consider the next generations of Italians in the US.

The Italian architects had a big role in this. They designed a lot of furniture, often entire environments specially requested by clients, not to mention sometimes entire buildings. The style and the quality transmitted by their art was very attractive and became an indicator of the Italian way to do things. America started to import objects, they wanted to own Italian made things trying to replicate how people were living the Italian way. Wealthy American people wanted the best architects to build and decorate their houses: and the best were Italians. Americans fell in love with Italian fantasy and playfulness, which is something that generally Americans don't have that much. A good example of this Italian creativity was Ettore Sottsass and his Memphis Group: in the 80s they came out with such wild and colorful ideas, loud and unexpected pieces that weren't functional but represented a "joie de vivre" that you couldn't stop yourself wanting them in your home. That's what we're lacking today, to me: in this moment young Italian designers don't have that spontaneity, that strength, that exuberance to make a mark and do things differently.

In conclusion, we ask you to reveal us some future Italian excellence which you believe will be, in this sector, a source of new pride for our country

Our most important designers are now older, but yes, there's a handful of talented Italian designers. Martino Gamper is the first that comes to my mind: he lives and works in London, he is very promising. Massimiliano Adami is another name that can become very important. Then there's a girl who I'm working with, Carolina Melis: she comes from Sardinia, she's making beautiful carpets with a great sense of imagination and working with very talented weavers, women who have being weaving with this traditional method for generations.

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