TOM & BARNABA FORNASETTI
A live conversation between Tom Dixon and Barnaba Fornasetti
During #24Milan, Tom Dixon spoke to Barnaba Fornasetti via Hologram. Barnaba speaks from his hypnotic, eclectic and magical home in the North East of Milan, which previously belonged to his father, Piero Fornasetti – renowned designer and artist, and founder of the Italian homeware label Fornasetti.
Barnaba’s talent for design extends beyond homeware. After he took over his father’s company, he launched a scent collection, inspired by the sketches of bottles he discovered in his fathers’ archives.
Tom, having played bass guitar professionally for two years, and Barnaba, a part-time DJ, agree that music is a form of innovation. Speaking from his music room, where shelves are stacked with hundreds of records, Barnaba notes the intrinsic link between music and creativity.
“Fornasetti is not really design, because ‘Design’ means ‘Industrial Design’. Fornasetti is more decoration than design. So, decoration is something you can apply [to] everything – everywhere in many, many different fields so the possibility of decoration is more than the possibility of design in a certain sense– It’s something you can explore in many different ways, and music is one of the ways.”
“My challenge was always to connect images with music.”
Barnaba explains that music is a form of decoration in the public sphere – you don’t need to buy a product, you can simply immerse yourself in it.
Fornasetti has extended into the world of fashion through the 2021 Louis Vuitton-Fornasetti collaboration. This collection of womenswear and accessories uses a rich combination of colours, textures and traditional and cutting-edge techniques to combine Fornasetti’s illustrations with Nicolas Ghesquière’s strikingly contemporary design. Read more about the collection here.
“Nicholas [from Louis Vuitton] was able to give a different approach, a different image to the Fornasetti… another way to see decoration applied in a different situation, in a different field.”
Tom and Barnaba possess another similarity, in that they are both owners of eponymous companies. Tom says that he “sometimes has trouble separating off from the company”. Barnaba explains how this impacts him.
“There is my father and there is me, but Fornasetti is both and there are some companies inside the company… but the brand is just Fornasetti…”
“I like very much ‘Imagination’. Those are words that my father chose when they asked “If you want to do a perfume – If you will do a perfume, how will you call this perfume?”, and he said “Imagination”, and I think that is a very good name for a company.”
Music begins to play. It is a piece that Barnaba created. He tells Tom about his upcoming music. He describes it as “very, very modern with home electronics, [and] also [a] dance mood”.
Watch the full conversation below.
Tom Dixon: So sad that I can’t be at your party in Milan which is the high point of the week, discussing people who are invited, but I’m sorry I can’t be there for real, but I’ve arrived by hologram. That’s at least a substitute.
Barnaba Fornasetti: There are a thousand people that are wishing that they are -
TD: So I wanted to talk to you, you know – You know it’s the sixtieth anniversary of the – Of the Milan fair and, um – So, we wanted to celebrate that idea a bit, but can you remember your first ever Salone?
BF: I can’t really remember, but yeah – I remember the first party we did for the Salone because we was always outside the Salone. Only one time we made an exhibition in the Salone, in the fair. It was an exhibition only of trays. It was nice, and I remember that it was snowing in April, so -
TD: In April?
BF: Yeah! It was incredible. I don’t remember. It was in the early-nineties, alright?
TD: So, I’ve always been interested, and I think in your house it’s very visible: the way that Italians live with design, you know? In the UK I think, for a lot of people it’s a profession and it might be something that you buy, but you don’t really live with it in the way that happens in Italy, and I learnt a lot about that in Milan. Can you tell me how important design is for the Milanese?
BF: Well it’s something very – It’s one of the most important activities in Milan: Design and Fashion. So, what is interesting is also the spirit of the Salone that is a little missing during the last time. At the beginning was very open. Every showroom was open. Many houses was open, many, many studios. Now it’s more difficult because it’s too much people. So, maybe now this change meant of – Because the pandemic, maybe in the future we can go back to be more soft, less crowded, and maybe it can be interesting: the developing of the Salone in the future. I don’t wanna say it is something that goes back, but something different. Less crowded, more focused in, yes, as you say: Inside the spaces. Sometimes houses if it’s possible, or sometimes studios, or showrooms, shops, everywhere in the city. Everywhere it’s crowded from the city.
TD: Ok, now I’ve always been interested also in your going beyond design. I know that you do perfumes, and I know also that I’ve seen you doing the DJ, um, spots. So, music is super important for you, right? You know that I started off as a musician as well, right, but tell me about the connection with Music and Design in your mind.
BF: Well I - First of all, Music was always my passion from when I was a child, but what is important, because you are always talking about design: Fornasetti is not really design, because ‘Design’ means ‘Industrial Design’. Fornasetti is more decoration than design. So, decoration is something you can apply everything – Everywhere in many, many different fields so the possibility of decoration is more than the possibility of design in a certain sense. It’s a kind – It’s something you can explore in many different ways, and Music is one of the ways. My challenge was always to connect images with music and so that’s why we did an opera because it was very interesting for me to interfere with the theatre, with the scenography etcetera, and also because I like the idea to – Because especially our techniques – They are very expensive in producing because we make very high quality objects that, of course, they have a cost. A high cost. I like the idea to have more possibility, to have – To approach much more public making decoration in different ways. Not related of a product you have to buy. So, there are, for example, I don’t know, public spaces – Different ways to see the decoration that is a kind of thing who can transmit a message, transmit emotions etcetera.
TD: So, you – You see it as communication: either music or decoration or design – More as communication than making shapes?
BF: Both altogether, yes!
TD: Yeah. So, I met you a long time ago when, um, when we were boys almost. You used to travel to London, right? Do you still have a connection to London?
BF: Sorry, no, I didn’t understand the question.
TD: When we were – When we were younger you used to visit London before, yes?
BF: Ah, yes!
BF: Yes, you know for Italians –
TD: You used to travel in an old Rover, correct?
BF: Ah, yes. (Laughs) It’s down in the box. The Olivia it’s called.
TD: Olivia is still in the box?
BF: It’s – No, it’s working, it’s travelling, it’s going very well. I wish to – Anyway, no, talking about London in the sixties for the young generation – Italian young generation was a kind of meet, kind of Mecca where to go because the Music comes from there. Also, my first record was Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and that’s because in Italy we didn’t have so big explosion. There was, yes, many groups copying English music. Our identity at the time was a little in the shade and was difficult to come out of that, you know. Now they start - we start to have very good musicians also in Italy, but I remember -
TD: Really? (Laughs)
BF: Yes! You don’t believe me?
TD: I don’t believe you, come on! Are you gonna play some of that music now for us?
BF: Some Italian music?
TD: No! I’d like to -
BF: No, if you want, but don’t think we have the time, but I can make a compilation to – Italian very good quality music. Anyway -
TD: Ok, it’s a – It’s a deal! So, what will you be showing that’s new with Fornasetti right now?
BF: Sorry? What -
TD: What is the - Que Novita? What’s the new Fornasetti? You’re gonna do an opera?
BF: You mean for the next Salone, or?
TD: Right! What else are we gonna see from Fornasetti?
BF: Now we are – We just had the collaboration with Louis Vuitton, so I decided to be connected with the Fashion in some way. That was something that I avoid for many years, but now I think it’s time because there are too many imitations, too many inspirations, many fakes, so I say “Why not?”. When someone like Louis Vuitton comes and asks to do a collection I cannot say no and, um, so it was fine. It was very – It was a nice experience. Nicholas is a great guy. He understood me perfectly. He was able to give a different approach, a different image to the Fornasetti – The creation and that is another way to see decoration applied in a different – In a different situation, in a different field. (Laughs)
TD: Ok! So, Instagram is -
BF: You made a restaurant in - You made a restaurant in Milan, so you are -
TD: Yeah. Yeah, we have a restaurant, but of course it’s closed like everything else. It’s closed in London, but we open next week.
BF: Ok, good.
TD: So, come and eat next time. So, last question Barnaba: You know we share a problem, (Barnaba pushes a button and music begins to play) and an opportunity which is that our names are the company name and our own personal name as well, um, so, my company being called Tom Dixon: sometimes I have trouble separating off from the company. Do you have that problem as well?
BF: Ah! Yes, because there is my father and there is me, but Fornasetti is both and there are some companies inside the company – The principle company – The holding as you’d say, even if we are very, very small. It’s Imagination – The name of the company -
BF: - but the brand is just Fornasetti because everybody knows Fornasetti, but I like very much ‘Imagination’. Those are words that my father chose when they asked “If you want to do a perfume – If you will do a perfume, how will you call this perfume?”, and he said “Imagination”, and I think that is a very good name for a company. Another company – The company who produce Fornasetti is called Follia Pratica – Practical Folie, (laughs) so that’s -
TD: Who’s playing the music?
BF: Yes, this is a piece that – It’s the only piece that I make – That I signed together with a friend of mine that is a real revolution. They are a DJ taking some light voice, and after some electronics. We did in this room this piece.
TD: Hang on – Is that you singing? Fantastic!
BF: You can find this piece on the web.
BF: It’s the only one. Now we are working – I’m working with some friends to another project using the music of our Don Giovanni who was recorded live, so we have all the different instruments and the voices separated and we tried to make a remix of the classical Don Giovanni. Very, very modern with home electronics, very also dance mood and we were thinking also to give to other creations this opportunity to use Don Giovanni as a theme to the whole of the remix – To make other things and this can be a concert or something or an event. Put together the musicians who want to work around the work like yours, like mine, like new ones -
TD: That’s fantastic! I’m ready - Please send me the tape!
TD: Thank you very much, Barnaba! Keep it short because we’re in a digital format.
TD: I hope to see you very soon in Milan or in London, yeah?
BF: I hope so!
TD: A presto!