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the good life | DESIGN |

The Black Arts


Italian designer-architect Giovanni di Bernardo sits down with andrea cheng to talk about his revolutionary carbon-fibre furniture

live in one place for too long and you may forget certain attributes that seem incredibly novel to a visitor. These could be the busy streets of Causeway Bay or Hong Kong Island’s luminescent skyline viewed from Kowloon. Having flown in from Italy, firsttime visitor Giovanni di Bernardo doesn’t miss out on any of Hong Kong’s energy, thanks to his host Silvio Berge, who thrives on the city’s vibrancy. As a former fashion designer, Berge has an eye for good design and talent, and right now, that talent is 37-year-old di Bernardo. Berge’s living room is where Italian tradition and contemporary decor merge and make sense, showcasing several of di Bernardo’s works, including Shark, a fire-engine-red lacquered wooden bench with jagged teeth as its legs, and Francesca, an elongated asymmetrical hourglass that emits a soft light. Di Bernardo gives me a quick tour and eagerly introduces me to each of his masterpieces before we sit down with our translator. Soon the air is filled with the rapid pace of the Italian language, dramatic hand gestures and rapid staccatos of “Si, si, si.” “I came to Hong Kong because I met Berge,” di Bernardo says. “Hong Kong is a good market because they have a taste, an understanding of the value of these objects. And also being European, [my designs] are something special.” Being European notwithstanding, di Bernardo’s designs are special because he’s heading the “black revolution” of introducing carbon fibrereinforced polymer to the design world. “It’s called ‘black revolution’ because the initial fibre is black,” he says. “Carbon fibre is something that’s used for aeroplanes and 120 – Prestige – FEBRUARY 2011


cars, but not necessarily for furniture. After doing a lot of research, I found out that this is a material that’s very workable, it’s different and speaks to my version of design. “You can make things out of [carbon fibre] that are lightweight and thin, yet still sturdy. I’m the only one who thought about using carbon fibre and making it into objects for daily use. There’s nothing similar, and I’m very proud of that.” Before he discovered carbon fibre and founded his own eponymous brand, di Bernardo always knew that design would figure in his future. His artistic pedigree dates back to a grandfather who found fame as a painter, and di Bernardo says he constantly designed and painted as a child. Now the holder of degrees in both architecture and industrial design, he considers himself an architect who does “not just think about the house, but who wants to know what goes inside the house.” He kick-started his career in Milan upon earning his master’s degree (with four offers after knocking on the doors of about 60 design studios), and now often quotes the saying of a former teacher: “It’s all in the detail. It doesn’t have to be big or over-thetop, as long as the lines are very natural. They can be very small in detail, but they still have to have a purpose.” Di Bernardo’s designs are contemporary both in terms of minimalism and fluidity of shape. “My ideas come at very odd moments,” he says, “when I’m eating, when I’m running, when I’m at the gym. “My inspiration is everywhere. I don’t go, ‘Now, we’ll design a chair.’ I have a dream of something, and then I make something out of it. For instance, when I design a chair, I don’t think much of the chair, but the vision of the chair becomes a chair – something you can actually use. Art first, then functionality – I try to marry all these things.” Although di Bernardo is talking through a translator, I instinctively know that when he speaks, it’s with seriousness about his art, inspiration and creative process. He talks slowly as he calmly and articulately explains concepts regardless of their abstraction. “Design today has an increasing responsibility, because I have to make the dreams of all people come true,” he continues. “One of the biggest calls for a designer would be to transfer his dreams to the actual buyer. The buyer takes the product home and has the same feelings.



“It’s not good enough just to create a dream and make it into something useful. It’s also that the designer has to see that people will be comfortable in it. You have to think that people will buy it and use it, and create objects that people will think about – reflect.” While his designs serve a greater purpose, they haven’t evolved in style since he got his start. Rather, di Bernardo says the one thing he’s learned over the years is that more research results in better ideas. Through reading, travelling and meeting different people, he’s quicker to arrive at a vision. This, he says, was how the idea of using carbon fibre in furniture design was born just three and a half years ago. And now it’s time for him to cross international waters, and he’s looking to break into the Asian market, beginning with Hong Kong. “He had this dream to create, and the place to do a dream and be successful is Hong Kong,” says Berge of di Bernardo. “You go to America, Europe and it’s difficult because the system isn’t working – you need to have how much money in the bank, licences and restriction laws. It kills you, so you don’t even want to go for it. That’s the amazing thing about Hong Kong, because it works.” Di Bernardo’s personal dream is to become a household name, where his designs can be found in at least three out of five houses. He acknowledges the hugeness of his dream, and that his designs may not suit everybody’s taste, but the idea behind his pursuit is to educate. He wants to change people’s “living space.” And in March, he’ll have the chance to show an entirely different lifestyle experience to Hong Kong through an exhibition of his designs. “I wanted Giovanni to come here, to experience the lifestyle here,” Berge says, excitedly. “We’ll create a room [at the exhibition] and fill it with all these pieces… people can be interested, feel the material – it’s all about the lifestyle.” A self-made man, di Bernardo is willing to put in the time to make his dream come true, from welcoming constructive criticism (his harshest critic is his wife) to being completely hands-on in building his pieces. “I’m there with the hand workers, and I do it myself,” he says. “Every object is like a baby. In the initial process, I’m there.” FEBRUARY 2011 – Prestige – 121

The Black Arts  

Italian designer-architect Giovanni di Bernardo sits down with Andrea Cheng to talk about his revolutionary carbon-fibre furniture

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