It’s impossible to ignore Italy in any conversation about food, style or industry; this country rich in cultural diversity and influences. In the Bel Paese , as the Italians affectionately refer to their homeland, history, art, design and savoir-vivre have long been part and parcel of everyday life. They are part of the cultural fabric of society and of the collective soul of the nation. Despite the diversity of names that have come out of Italy, there are few that materialise this spirit as well as Zanotta.
Created in 1954 by Aurelio Zanotta, the brand soon made its mark for its furniture and quality accessories, but also for heading the movement of post-war cultural transition, in which a new sensitivity arose from modernist trends, transmitting values of simplicity, functionality and visual lightness. Endowed with immense intuition, passion and a detailed knowledge of the worlds of art and industrial design, the founder focused his energy on the development of a unique brand, which combined the creativity of major designers and architects of the time.
In addition to this, Aurelio Zanotta was well aware of social, political and economic movements; the needs of a new generation and the change in customs, breaking away from most traditions of the past. In this light, the quest for new more democratic forms of furniture and for innovative production methods established Zanotta as a standout name in the 1960s. Pieces such as the ThrowAway — the first sofa to be produced industrially entirely out of expanded polyurethane, designed by Willie Landels, in 1965; or the iconic Blow — a blow-up armchair created in 1967 by De Pas D’Urbino Lomazzi, which embodied the avant-garde spirit and the new paradigm for interiors through its voluminous, irony-packed shape. Both came to demonstrate the Italian brand’s ability to capture the moment of every season, without, however, succumbing to fleeting fashions and retaining a timeless and lasting design.
This vision transmitted by Aurelio Zanotta would map out the future Zanotta to this day. Currently run by his daughters Eleonora, Francesca and Marta, the brand still boasts the same energy, passion for design and remains on its quest for new talent. It presents an eclectic collection, packed with furniture and accessories that enhance the everyday; Italian design classics, poetic pieces or functional elements of great technical beauty. The dynamism of the new generation of the Zanotta family is clear to see in the book Design: 101 Zanotta stories, published in 2015 to celebrate 60 years of the Italian brand. Edited by architect and critic Beppe Finessi, the small encyclopaedia explores and celebrates the history of Zanotta, from A to Z, revealing the curiosities of its most iconic pieces.
Throughout its history, the brand has been accumulating an enviable portfolio, achievable only by a company committed to promoting the true essence of design. Whether through the Edizioni range, dedicated to more artistic pieces, free of the restrictions of mass production — which includes creations by Bruno Munari, Alessandro Mendini or Ettore Sottsass — or its general furniture and accessories collection. Zanotta is particularly appealing in this matter, for its constant quest for quality, for its attention to detail and for exemplarily combining craftsmanship with industrial production.
There is no shortage of fine examples of icons gracing the collections of museums such as MoMA, in New York, or the V&A, in London, or, for that matter, of pieces that are certain to become classics in the future. However, creations by the designer trio of De Pas, D’Urbino and Lomazzi are inextricably linked to Zanotta and Sciangai is the perfect example of this. Elevating the status of the humble coat stand to form of art, Sciangai, from 1973, is a seemingly simple piece, but which, through an ingenious mechanism joining the various rods, can be opened and closed, as required. Inspired by the popular game of pick-up sticks, Sciangai can be used to hang up coats, bags, hats and scarves, while retaining its sculptural shape in ever-visible solid wood.
Another name that is readily associated with the Italian brand is that of the iconic Achille Castiglioni. On his own or accompanied by his elder brother Pier Giacomo, Castiglioni has developed for Zanotta some of the great classics of Italian design. Rich in poetry and with a generous dose of irony, pieces such as Mezzadro, a typical tractor seat converted into a stool; Sella, a Brooks bicycle saddle transformed into a tall rocking seat ; or the Servo range, which includes a series of accessories, such as side tables, flag holders or umbrella stands, among others.
Just like the Castiglioni brothers, Carlo Mollino is another important post-war figure and the creator behind some of the most striking pieces from the Milanese brand. Trained as an architect, lover of photography and racing cars, Mollino is the hand behind classics created in the 1940s and 1950s, such as the organic-shaped desk Carvour, the Ardea and Gilda armchairs or the sculptural table Reale, now available with a marble top.
For its part, Sacco, designed in 1968 by another Italian trio Gatti, Paolini and Teodoro represents the more informal attitudes of the following decades. As one of the iconic products – and also the most copied – of the Zanotta collection, this easy-chair explores the simple idea of filling a bag with small polystyrene balls to give substance to a timeless piece, which can fit to various situations and ways of sitting; a democratic chair for young and old.
Although the Italian brand is often associated with classics and pop pieces from the 1960s and 1970s, its collection has been continually refreshed over the years with creations by recognised and rising talents, such as Ludovica + Roberto Palomba, Damian Williamson, Frank Rettenbacher, Arik Levy and Alfredo Häberli, while maintaining the philosophy of the pragmatic maxim Aurelio Zanotta uttered in 1989: “Produce culture and profit at the same time.”
Originally published in Essential Macau.