1949 – 2009
60 years of design and technological innovation Kartell, the leading Italian industrial design company for the past 60 years, has always expressed itself through its products, the fruit of its ceaseless research in the field of plastic materials and of its constant experimentation with new technologies. Its unique style expresses the language and the atmosphere of the period while managing to be totally contemporary at the same time. The many international acknowledgements it has received, including nine Compasso d’Oro awards, and its continuous presence at shows and in the main museums throughout the world are the result of constant product evolution and the collaboration of a team of prestigious designers. Its history has seen continuous revolutions in form, technology, sales and distribution, first within the home, through the redefinition of so many objects in daily use, and then through city streets all over the world, where it has opened single brand stores which embody its philosophy and identity. In a globalised world it is the value of the brand name and the way it communicates that distinguish it from other companies. It is this very soul of the company that makes Kartell so competitive in today’s world. ITS HISTORY The Fifties - The Beginnings Kartell was founded in 1949 by Giulio Castelli, a chemical engineer who aimed to “produce objects with innovative features seen as the application of new technologies, with an eye to economy of materials and efficiency in the process”. He began his activities producing automobile accessories, homeware, lighting fixtures and laboratory ware. Right from the start Kartell took the wholly innovative approach of designing items based on technological research and design essential in tackling “the design of plastics” which, unlike natural materials, have no visible identity before they are processed. The first “made in Kartell” product was launched in 1950 - the portasci (ski rack) designed by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi and produced in collaboration with Pirelli. The actual revolution took place, however, when plastics were introduced into the domestic environment. In 1951 the homeware sector came into being. The most typical examples of Kartell design in the fifties were in fact the household articles of Gino Colombini who was head of Kartell’s technical division in those days. He found the “right form” for these brand new materials and created objects where utility and beauty could be combined and contribute to the changes in the domestic landscape under way at the time. With the intent of “bringing plastic into the home” Kartell began in 1953 by producing polyethylene pails and small bathtubs and went on to products of considerable cultural significance such as the alzaimmondizie con manico (dustpan) with the shockproof polystyrene handle (still on show in many museums around the world) which replaced the metal dustpan with wooden handle. Then there was the spremilimoni KS1481 (lemon juicer) whose shape became the model for all juicers produced by electrical appliance manufacturers in the years to follow.
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The Sixties – The Divisions were formed In 1958 the lighting sector was born. It began initially with the production of lamps exploiting the English Rotaflex patent and then followed with the KD Line using the industrial process of plastic injection moulding. Kartell developed new and brilliant functional solutions for home lighting. The lampada 4006 lamp by Achille and Piergiacomo Castiglioni, exemplary in its formal simplicity, was the first suspension lamp produced characterised by lightness and indestructibility. The 4006 led the way to a production that lasted twenty years from 1958 to 1981 and involved such experts as Giotto Stoppino, Marco Zanuso and Joe Colombo. The opening of the sector dedicated to Kartell’s laboratory ware came in 1958 when the company had already accumulated an in-depth knowledge of plastic materials and had won numerous prizes in recognition of the quality of its products. Plastics, because of their shatterproof and resistant qualities, lent themselves to laboratory ware and were an improvement in quality over traditional materials such as glass, ceramics and wood. The first experiments consisted of producing such well-known labware products on the market as beakers, cylinders and funnels out of plastic, polystyrene and polyethylene. Kartell’s important contribution to the sector was due to the use of new plastics and to product design which included very important functional modifications as well. As far back as 1959, Gino Colombini had made an important contribution to design when he re-invented one of the most common objects - the plastic test tube holder. Winner of five Compasso d’Oro awards, of Medals at the twelfth and thirteenth Triennale and of the Interplast Design Award in London, in 1963 Kartell started producing plastic furniture. During the course of the sixties, as Italian design and Milanese design in particular made a name for itself internationally, Kartell consolidated its own identity as it explored the versatility of materials and availed itself of the abilities of external designers such as Giotto Stoppino, Marco Zanuso and Joe Colombo. In 1964 the famous Sedia per bambini 4999 (children’s chair) designed by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper was the first plastic chair in the world. Matchable, folding, easily cleaned and with soft embracing lines, it was overwhelmingly successful. While interpreting a traditional type of seating, the seduta sovrapponibile 4867- Universale (stacking seat), designed by Joe Colombo in 1968, was the formal answer on how to use very new materials and technology. Produced from a single mould, it was the first chair in the world to be made entirely of injection-moulded ABS and is still today one of the most representative products of Italian design. At the end of the decade, Kartell was producing surprising furnishing items such as the Componibili (modular elements) which, after the flower boxes, were the new types of furnishings invented by Anna Castelli Ferrieri in response to various behavioural trends taking root in home living.
The Seventies - The New Domestic scenario The seventies were characterised by a new awareness of the working environment and of collective services. The technology of expanded materials was used for the first time in producing Gae Aulenti’s series of chairs, tables and armchairs, which gave expression to free and “plastic” shapes, and to Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s Outline system, which anticipated the demands of a quick and informal lifestyle. In 1979, applying the sophisticated technology of polyurethane structural moulding, which made it possible to embed metal inserts in plastic, Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s stools line brilliantly solved the problem of strong structural stresses which up till then had made it impossible to produce high plastic stools.
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Another project realised in 1979 was the Sistema Scuola (school system) designed by Centrokappa, a system of furniture elements for the schoolroom but also for play, composed of seats, benches and tables equipped with a series of accessories which could be mounted and dismounted using large screws and toy screwdrivers. Around the mid-seventies, as the furniture division consolidated and with the spread of multifunction electrical appliances, Kartell decided to withdraw gradually from the homeware sector and to direct its attention to interior design articles. The Kartell in tavola (Kartell at the table) line created by Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Centrokappa and Franco Raggi represented the last homeware production and included tableware and food containers in transparent and brightly coloured materials designed to look good on the table and be functional in the refrigerator, anticipating the need to abolish the distinction between the kitchen environment considered a service area and the dining room area considered a place where one is served. Towards the end of the decade, Kartell was already well-established in the labware sector and began to consolidate its position in the field of analytical equipment (which included the very interesting glass-drying equipment, and the electro-magnetic dryer) and in the disposable products market where form and feature were closely linked to specialised use and required highly sophisticated design intervention. The Labware Division is still using the most sophisticated technology today, and designs and produces items to the highest standards of quality.
The Eighties - Transition In the eighties, under the artistic direction of Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Kartell furniture united industrial logic and the high technology approach with suggestions of post modernism. New products were produced such as the 4300 table, the first entirely injection-moulded table of considerable size, and the infinitely stackable 4870 chair. In 1988, as he approached the age of 70, Giulio Castelli passed the helm to his son-in-law, Claudio Luti, who took over the trademark. Luti revised the catalogue while remaining faithful to the Kartell DNA and concentrated his strategies on the product promoting quality-based project research which emphasised tactile qualities and sound perception. He sought the collaboration of the most famous international designers, first among whom was Philippe Starck. This fruitful association generated innovative forms and products thanks to the pragmatism and entrepreneurial intuition of Luti and to the creative genius of the famous French designer. This fresh approach to materials set the course for change at Kartell: the processing, manipulation and enhancement of the final product, which although entirely made of plastic, took on different connotations, modes and forms. In 1988, the Dr. Glob chair by Philippe Starck was the first product in the world of significant calibre with sharp corners and novel colours and was a forerunner of the themes which would dominate the subsequent years.
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The Nineties - The Technological Challenges In the nineties plastic began to be used with other materials such as aluminium, iron and wood. The surfaces became opaque with special finishes and very broad colour ranges as in the case of Vico Magistretti’s Mauna-Kea series, which offered 160 variations in colour and a production organised so that the customer would receive his orders within a week. Kartell’s collection was further enhanced by the contributions of various international designers and exceptional products such as Bookworm by Ron Arad and the Battista trolley by Antonio Citterio and Oliver Loew. It was in this period that Luti gathered around himself a creative team of international designers – Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Antonio Citterio, Vico Magistretti, Enzo Mari, Alberto Meda and Paolo Rizzatto – a team that together with Kartell built a special feeling through dialogue and the continual exchange of ideas on designs, until a perfect balance was reached between the design experience of the designer, potentials and company needs.
The first decade of the New Millennium 2000 – The Revolutions in Transparency In the first decade of the new millennium transparency is protagonist. After years of research and thanks to a revolutionary innovation, Kartell was the first company in the world to use polycarbonate in the production of furnishings. The result was La Marie, a wholly transparent chair of modern minimalist design. From this moment forth Kartell developed and expanded upon the theme of transparency which made it so unique and original and continued research on surfaces, starting with the use of new technologies and performing materials. The continuous evolution in the use of materials and experimentation with new technologies in the search for new properties were fundamental to product development with regard to research on functional performance and to the development of new aesthetic qualities. It was this research that made possible satinising, transparency, flexibility, resistance to atmospheric agents, softness and finishes. Kartell became the first company to produce painted transparent surfaces and the first to use rotational moulding technology which made it possible for the first time in this sector to produce a sofa entirely made of plastic, the Bubble Club by Philippe Starck. Starting in 2002, Kartell once again entered the lighting sector. The Easy and FL/Y hanging lamps by Ferruccio Laviani and then the table lamps Take and Bourgie were created. These objects proved the extraordinary ability of the company to satisfy the wildest aesthetic ambitions relying on the wealth of technological knowledge acquired over sixty years of production experience. Hand in glove with the fashion world, Kartell in 2007 kicked off the “Mademoiselle à la mode” project: the small chair designed by Philippe Starck was “clothed” by the main Italian and international fashion brands, such as Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Moschino, Burberry, Etro, Gaultier and Lacroix. Another important step forward in fashion happened in 2008 with the launch of “Glue Cinderella”, a collection of plastic ballerina shoes, the fruit of company know-how in the world of plastic materials and the sophisticated design of .normaluisa. Meanwhile the designer team grew so that today it includes Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Antonio Citterio, Alberto Meda, Patrick Jouin, Ferruccio Laviani, Piero Lissoni, Patricia Urquiola, Marcel Wanders, Tokujin Yoshioka, Fabio Novembre and Mario Bellini.
Communications Right from its beginnings Kartell always participated in the cultural debate on industrial design: in 1956 Qualità, the first house organ in the sector, was published and dealt with matters of design and plastic materials, with Michele Provinciali in charge of the layout. In the seventies the company entered the publishing world and published Kartellnews and the magazine Modo, edited by Alessandro Mendini. Centrokappa came into being, a company founded by Valerio Castelli. In addition to coordinating the Kartell image, Castelli also helped promote Italian design throughout the world by organising a showroom, now part of the Museum, and cultural events on design themes. Again in 1972, at the invitation of the MoMA of New York, Kartell participated in the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, with the production of three prototypes of avant gard residential proposals designed by Gae Aulenti, Ettore Sottsass and Marco Zanuso, and with other products which were included in the permanent collection of the museum. Its full commitment to scientific research and the accumulation of sophisticated knowhow to make products which favour quality over quantity proved to be the winning choice. In the eighties Kartell, wishing to provide the public with new cultural content, increased its marketing and communications through the “Kartell 1949 – 1983. Progetti per il presente” (Designs for the present) exhibition thus beginning an in-depth study of its own history. In 1999, the Kartell Museum was established to celebrate the trademark’s fifty years. Custodian and narrator of one of the richest and most fascinating chapters in the history of Italian design, of a unique reality, artificer of the extraordinary alliance between plastic and design, animated by constant commitment to the “technological challenge”, the Museum occupies 2500 square metres in the Kartell plant and was designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Ignazio Gardella. The design layout by Ferruccio Laviani includes auto accessories, homeware, lamps, laboratory items, furniture and furnishing accessories. The exhibition tour offers visitors the most diversified opportunities for an immediate interpretation of over 1000 icon-objects which have been part of our daily landscape from 1949 to the present day. Through guided tours, research, publications, the organisation of international exhibitions, and through its exceptional collections and the very extensive document archives, photographs and designs available to students and researchers, the Kartell Museum works to spread the culture of design to the public. Its collections are in demand by the most important museums in the world starting with the Centre Pompidou in Paris which held the monographic exhibition La Donation Kartell in 2000. Among the numerous publications, kARTell, published in 2002, is an extraordinary collection of over 150 interpretations of Kartell products seen through the eyes of prestigious photographers, contemporary artists and writers, collected in a special edition published by Skira Editore and produced with the contribution of Franca Sozzani, Editor of Vogue Italia. The various authors include Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle, Peter Lindbergh, Fabrizio Ferri, Bruce Weber, Maurizio Cattelan and Vanessa Beecroft. 150 photographs comment on the value of design consecrated as an icon and the unquestionable exchange that developed between Design, Fashion, Art and Photography. The Triennale, in fact, devoted an exhibition to it. In the first decade of the new millennium Kartell communicates mostly through its products and single brand stores. New exhibition booths are ever more spectacular, grander and with great visual impact, curated by Ferruccio Laviani, each time to illustrate design, research, innovation, new tendencies and the results achieved. All Kartell flagship stores take great care with their stagings and the display window layouts, and the interiors are refurbished and re-worked periodically with eye-catching designs of great impact. Product launches are organised through dedicated in-store events at flagship stores: spaces are transformed, display windows are re-designed and the new icons become protagonists - from the Mr Impossible chair by Philippe Starck to the Lou Lou Ghost “baby”, from Frilly designed by Patricia Urquiola to the Papyrus of the Bouroullec brothers.
Retail It was the wish of Claudio Luti to open the first Kartell flagship store in 1997 on via Turati in Milan, and his retail strategy proved to be the winning communications arm for the Kartell trademark right from the start. The Kartell Flagship stores are the elite place dedicated to communicating company philosophy and values together with the product and to showing the consumer public its own particular interpretation of home needs. The Kartell Flagship stores are recognizable spaces within the various urban contexts, whose main theme becomes the product in its identity They are neutral containers calculated to best exhibit and glorify the product and to make it desirable. Containers where the objects placed on large luminous platforms are the real stars with their colours and attractive shapes. And all the while the exhibition system emphasises and enhances the quality of the materials and illustrates and raises the visibility of the brand design. The strength of the concept is in its simplicity and the fact that the idea can be reproduced. It is a successful proposal, an international and global formula free of the limitations of borders, and it ranges from the United States to Europe, from the Far East to Australia gathering the most important consensus: that of consumers. After a cautious beginning, retailing has recently surged at the rate of 30 to 40 new openings a year. In 2001 single brand stores opened in Paris and New York, and in 2002 there was an absolute marathon with three store openings in Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Expansion continued on five continents from Asia to the Middle East, from Australia to South America, fast-growing markets with a great love for design, perfection, creativity and artistic excellence of the “Made in Italy”. In 2009, an ambitious plan for expansion confirmed the reinforcement of the distribution network and the corporate image. With the most recent openings, Kartell has brought its trademark to Bejing, Shanghai, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Cairo and Hamburg with a total of about 130 flagship stores and 150 shops-in-shop. In addition to these are about 4000 multi-brand sales points in 96 countries throughout the world.
The Designers Kartell’s sixty years of history are inevitably interwoven with those of the many famous designers – Italian and international – who have followed each other over the years. The first great name to flank the trademark was Gino Colombini whose signature was on a large part of the early homeware. With the start-up of lighting production, the brothers Achille and Piergiacomo Castiglioni entered the scene with the first hanging lamp produced using opaline polymethyl acrylate. Cheap, democratic and made of light and resistant materials, the Kartell lights sold very well in those years and earned public acclaim. In the sixties Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso designed the first chair in the world made of plastic, the Sedia per bambini 4999 (children’s chair), and Joe Colombo created the only wood product ever made by the company, Poltrona 4801 (armchair), and a collection of table lamps made of ABS. It was in those years that Anna Castelli Ferrieri, wife of Giulio Castelli, became deeply involved. An architect and designer of great stature, who designed the famous Componibili (modular elements) which are still in the catalogue, and who designed in 1973 the plans for the new Kartell plant in Noviglio, the current company headquarters. In the seventies Giotto Stoppino brought his creativity to lighting and interior design items and designed such smash hits as the portariviste (magazine rack) which is still being sold today. In 1973 Centrokappa was established, a veritable creative company forge which in its 10 years of activity was very active in the industrial design sector
with complete designing and engineering (one of the many examples is the Sistema Scuola (School System) and in the field of company image and visual communications. In 1974 Gae Aulenti created a line of very colourful furniture in rigid polyurethane which FIAT chose for its showrooms. The eighties were characterised by the creative direction of Anna Castelli Ferrieri, who developed a series of products in an environment fostering research and the use of advanced technologies. The first big international names arrived at the end of that decade when Claudio Luti took over the reins, concentrated on product quality and developed a new collection. He arrived at a time when there was a temporary feeling of physiological “tiredness” in the company and within just a few years was able to bring about technological and stylistic innovations and revitalise the catalogue. While respecting the Kartell “soul”, its know-how and its winning industrial strategy, he recognised the need to pursue a different type of research on products and materials and was thus in part responsible for liberating plastic from the connotation, typical of the eighties, of being a cheap material. He brought in major international designer names, first among whom was Philippe Starck. The twenty years of collaboration with the French designer marked the “transparency revolution”. In 1999 Starck in fact designed the first transparent polycarbonate chair, La Marie, after which came the happy “Ghost” family, Bubble Club, the first sofa in the world created using rotational moulding, and the Mr. Impossible chair made of two laser-welded polycarbonate frames and many others. Many famous designers joined the creative team in those years and gave birth to veritable best-sellers, icons of the Kartell style the world over: Ron Arad, with his flexible Bookworm bookcase (it is estimated that 2 million metres of this bookcase have been sold up to present), Vico Magistretti, with his Mauna-Kea chairs first and then the Maui (more than a million pieces of Maui were sold and it vies with Starck’s Louis Ghost chair for the absolute sales record), Antonio Citterio whose Battista trolley transformed an object formerly hidden away into something chic, Ferruccio Laviani who created a new series of lamps including the famous Bourgie, up to the recent creations of Lissoni, Urquiola, Bouroullec, Jouin, Meda, Yoshioka, Wanders, Novembre e Bellini.