A road trip across the USA
Many projects and activities have been conceived in response to the Covid emergency. Among them, the initiative of the Head of Zanotta USA, Francesco Secchiaroli, who, precisely one year ago, embarked on an unprecedented design adventure: a road trip across the USA.
At a time when social distance has become the norm and people only meet online, Francesco decided to shorten the distance with dealers and partners around the United States and to go in person to meet them, from one coast of the country to the other, passing through the most iconic places.
He left from New York with his trailer full of products from the new Zanotta collection together with some of the most emblematic pieces. The goal was to reach Seattle and come back to NYC going through Miami, crossing Texas, New Mexico, California and the national parks of Arizona and Utah, to meet dealers and design partners, but, above all, to meet people again.
When I read about this project, I was finally rediscovering the value of design as a profession focused on people, experience, curiosity and boldness. I also finally recognised the essence of 'made in Italy' affirmed without rhetoric.
I had the pleasure of talking to Francesco and being told about this initiative for Zanotta.
Enza: At a time when distances are shortening online and smart working allows you to carry out any kind of social and commercial exchange directly from your computer, you decided to react with a 'superhuman' operation. I call it “superhuman” because you have gone so far as to humanise an activity that for decades now seems to have been reduced to emails, online meetings or, at best, to a lunch or a drink as part of a cold business procedure.
Francesco Secchiaroli: This project was born out of a personal, and therefore human, need. In the midst of the pandemic, I felt an irrepressible need for contact with people. This design journey was started, therefore, almost instinctively to go and meet Zanotta dealers and design partners in person. It was only during the trip that the project was enriched with meanings and objectives. First and foremost, to bring social relations back to the centre, in a contemporary humanism that expresses the essence and philosophy of the brand. Meeting the dealers in "their home" proved to be a completely different experience from the usual, and those I had always considered mainly as business partners, I perceived as friends. They were open, warm, they needed humanity, I created human relationships! They invited me into their home, even though this is not not a US cultural custom. The trailer shows the message: 'Design will save the world'. By this, I mean design as the ability to have a systemic vision and to put people at the centre of interest.
Enza: You spoke of brand philosophy, and it is well known that Zanotta is one of the most iconic companies of Italian design. Besides the aspects of design culture, I was also very struck by the commercial side of this project. I mean that this journey makes me think of the ventures of great merchants of the past, among whom the Italians stood out. The long journeys to exchange goods and money were characterised by a great need for discovery and motivated by strong curiosity and initiative. Merchants were a bit like reporters, returning home to tell stories about distant lands, different cultures, unknown riches and resources. Do you see yourself in this figure and do you think it is in line with the brand's philosophy?
Francesco Secchiaroli: It is a reference that responds very well to the nature of this venture. Although I live in New York, I was unaware of the vastness and local diversity of the USA. This project turned into a personal voyage of discovery. To meet dealers, I used to take the plane; for the first time, I saw what was in between, between cities, I got to know the America of empty spaces.
I encountered a multitude of approaches, habits and even laws. For example, compared to Covid, each state has adopted completely different laws and, therefore, during my trip, I had to adapt to more or less strict rules and controls. Moreover, I saw the United States in a very unusual way. In addition to the Covid emergency, another momentous event for the US and the whole world was taking place: the presidential elections. I left the day before the elections and my first stop was Washington. I saw deserted places crossed only by tanks. Apocalyptic scenarios.
I thought I would complete this trip in five weeks. In the end, it lasted 4 months and 24,000 miles. When I realised the power of the scenarios I was encountering, I decided to also make a visual documentary, a photographic project. So, on the road, I started to take shots of Zanotta pieces in iconic locations. I asked my friend, designer and photographer Marco Lafiandra, to join me on the trip. From this moment on, the adventure became even richer and more interesting. Marco's extreme aesthetic sensitivity led to the creation of a powerful photographic story.
Enza: Regarding the visual narrative, which I find very powerful, it seems to me that it perfectly reflects the image of Made in Italy in an original and contemporary way, with no need for rhetoric. The relationship between object and context, and in particular the contrasting proportions, accentuates the elegant, detailed, unobtrusive and sophisticated character of Zanotta pieces.
Francesco Secchiaroli: Yes, that's exactly what it is. By placing Zanotta products in dramatic and boundless scenarios - even the trees are enormous in size - the refined detail stands out. But the point is that, during the process of defining the images, in which we tried to recreate perfect dialogues between objects and landscape, the strength of the design of our products is reaffirmed. I believe, in fact, that it would not have been possible to create these visual dialogues if the products had not a high conceptual and innovative content. The images, in short, speak for themselves about the value of good design. Think of the "Allunaggio" chair designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1965. It was born out of a simple requirement: an outdoor seat that was light, strong and covered the grass as little as possible. We placed it in the middle of the desert, and it also dialogues perfectly with this environment.
This is good design: unobtrusive and timeless. To emphasise this aspect, we recreated a living room with timeless design pieces, such as the Carlo Mollino "Reale" table in front of the Prada faux store designed by the Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset in 2005 at Marfa. It is a permanent artistic installation located in the middle of the Chihuahua desert, 37 miles from Marfa, on the Mexican border. In the middle of nothing. This faux store built following Prada's boutiques aesthetic codes is provocatively conceived to naturally deteriorate with time without undergoing any external repair or restoration. It is a provocation about the transience of fashion. Our provocation is, on the contrary, an affirmation of the immortality of good design. Zanotta's philosophy is based on design content and is not concerned with style.
Enza: Are you going to repeat this adventure and turn it into a real format, or is there a risk that it will lose its meaning in times other than the pandemic?
Francesco Secchiaroli: Regardless of the specific way of promoting design, what interests Zanotta is to bring it closer to people and above all to present it through experience. We want to move away from the modes of the retail world, whether it is a physical place where compositions of furniture are displayed to form fake environments, or online platforms where there is a complete lack of direct and real experience with the object. To make you understand better, I will mention Zanotta's latest retail project in New York.
We opened Zanotta House New York, a place of meeting and relationship. In this space partners, customers, architects and designers will have the occasion of experiencing Zanotta's products through "actions", like a dinner, a business breakfast, a presentation, up to hospitality for the night. Zanotta inaugurates this extraordinary location in the heart of Manhattan: not a showroom or a boutique apartment, but a connector of experiences where the product is directly lived.
Enza: I believe that only a Company with such an awareness of its own quality and strength of design content would undertake such an operation. Allowing customers to experience your products over a long period of time and through real activities means you know you can offer a high quality experience.
Francesco Secchiaroli: It takes self-awareness, passion, care for people and attention to quality, as well as a touch of madness. This is good design and this is Zanotta.