Fabio Novembre, a visionary designer

Fabio Novembre is a visionary designer, whose works can be found across the globe. From the headquarters of AC Milan, which he designed in 2015, to Lamborghini’s Bologna campus, which he is currently putting together. Not to mention work for Abarth, Fiat, Blumarine, Lavazza, Stuart Weitzman, Kartell and others, including Driade, where he was recently named art director

by Claudia Giulia Ferrauto

WITH A STYLE THAT IS BOTH UNMISTAKABLE AND IMPOSSIBLE TO PIGEONHOLE, Novembre combines elegance and pop, a rock ‘n’ roll exterior with a zen spirit. He epitomises contradictions, and embraces them gleefully. He has an incredible ability to communicate his ideas, and is one of the few people in his peer group to have perfectly grasped the use of social media, to the extent that he is seen as a trendsetter.

Is everything you do published online? «Yes, I don’t see any separation between private and public life, I simply see different levels of sensitivity in one’s lifestyle, but it’s an individual choice».

(In the picture: The Hit Gallery in Hong Kong, in the Times Square business centre, is inspired by the surreal atmosphere of De Chirico’s paintings. Designed like an art gallery, where clothes and accessories are the works on display, the contrast between black and white creates an optical effect, further heightened by an unreal blue background. Photo: Dennis Lo)

How was the Novembre studio founded? «The perfect opportunity arose in 1994, when I met Anna Molinari and she asked me to design a shop for her in Hong Kong. That initial stroke of luck was like a spark that lit the fire, but feeding the flames is part of my everyday work».

You are director ofthe Domus Academy, a member of the scientific committee for the new Triennale Design Museum and art director at Driade: how do these three roles complement, restrict and enrich one another?
«I must confess that I’ve become a multitasker as I’ve grown older. Up until a few years ago, doing all these things at once would have made my head spin, but now I can handle them fine; indeed, I think they provide the stimulus I need to keep myself under the right amount of pressure. Life is multifaceted, and observing it from different viewpoints helps you understand its complexity».

(From macro to micro. Novembre designed the Berlin showroom of Bisazza, a leading producer of glass mosaic tiles. The windows with two eyes, one blue and one brown, pay homage to David Bowie).

Talking of complexity, what philosophy best represents your approach to design?
«I like to find traces of harmony in the most adverse conditions. In some ways I feel like a descendant ofthe Futurist movement; all my work is imbued with dynamism. The volumes I design seem to be captured at the moment of greatest evolutionary tension. Perhaps that’s why I can never square up surfaces, and why my corners are always rounded. Euclidean geometry aims to simplify complexity – the world of fractals offers us a more interesting reality and mathematical rules that leave us closer to understanding our own existence». 

(in the picture: one of his most iconic designs is undoubtedly the Driade Nemo chair. Here furniture design is used as an excuse to tell stories with an abstract and universal human figure at their centre, producing idealised beauty reminiscent of Greek art. A comfortable face/armchair that, like a mask, simultaneously hides and reveals the sitter).

How do your designs start off, and how do you develop them?
«My approach stems froma limitation that I have sought to turn into an opportunity – I am absolutely hopeless at drawing, and so I replaced lines with text, adopting methods used in the cinema, thanks to a directing course I did in New York after graduating. I put together my work like one puts together a film: I start with the script, do the casting and, when everything is ready, start to shoot».

Let’s try to cast the designs that tell your story – who would be the stars of this film?
«My designs are like children, I don’t havefavourites, and, furthermore, I am always focused on the things to come. But to answer your question, I’ve always tried to combine architecture with design and interiors, from my 100 piazze trays for Driade to Eurfor Kartell. It was turning 50 that made me realise I needed to go bigger. This is the time for architecture, so now one of the stars of the film would be tackling large-scale projects».

Staying with architecture, there’s a lot of discussion going on at the moment about the San Siro and the new stadium – how do you envisage it?
«In the past I was commissioned by AC Milan, along with Arup Italia, to come up with a design, and we developed some new criteria for a city stadium. I imagine it having a ground floor that is open every day, with social spaces and entertainment venues. It should be integrated into the city, so it is family-friendly and takes up as little space as possible, and with the pitch below ground level, with the first-circle terraces at street level. In a city like Milan, which continues to grow upwards, the rooftop could also offer unexpected opportunities».

Last summer I saw your Nemo chair on the deck of a megayacht. How do you feel when your designs show up in contexts so far removed from their original inspiration?
«The creativeprocess is like human procreation. Things develop their own identity, not dissimilar from the genetic make-up of that which created them, but with their own specific, unique nature. When I see my objects in unexpected places, I feel a mix of affection andpride, similar to the kindly eye of a father, but these are children of the world, not just my offspring». How have your studio’s clients changed over time? «I don’t think it is the clients that have changed, but the times. Procedures and habits are children of their time. The market has turned global. I’m always travelling around the world, seeking to build working relationships with companies that would never come to me if I stayed waiting in my studio. These are incredible times, when everything is possible, but you have to throw yourself into it completely, never trying to save your energy».You have had lots of important teachers.

Let’s end with a phrase that has been handed down to you and that you carry with you in your work. “I’m not for, I’m not against, I’m with”. (Ettore Sottsass)

(Fabio Novembre, a visionary designer – Barchemagazine.com – July 2019)