The history of Italian design stretches back to Roman antiquity where surviving balconies, terraces, decorative floors and interiors, and similar architectural highlights of Roman villas capture and illuminate Rome’s position as a hub of design creativity at the heart of the known world. Later, in the medieval world of da Vinci and Michelangelo, the flowering of the Italian Renaissance once again inspired the world, setting Italy’s creative spirit at the forefront of renaissance culture and innovation. In modern times, as the following examples will show, Italy’s proud cultural heritage still endures.
Italian fashion designs rival the world’s best, with Rome and Milan regarded as global fashion capitals. Italian nobility were renaissance trendsetters and, from the 11th – 16th centuries, where ‘Italian style’ led the world followed. Though later overtaken by their French rivals, Italian fashion designs once again returned to prominence during the mid 20th century with designs by Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Versace, and others. Simple shapes, innovative fabric use and exquisite hand-finishing caught the eyes of the world, especially the rich and famous who coveted the latest styles and accessories.
Milan’s annual Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the world’s flagship interior design fair, has kept Italian designers in the international spotlight since the 1950s. Back then, Italian manufacturers were amongst the first to raise the status of their innovative interior designers. Those who established an international reputation include architect and avant-garde designer, Gaetone Pesce, and Giò Ponti, designer of chairs, side tables and lamps. Similarly, contemporary manufacturers Natuzzi produce a range of designs celebrating Italian craftsmanship, with each aspect of production conducted entirely within their own factories.
The flowing lines, and curves of a classic Italian-designed car are unmistakeable. Famous designers such as those at Ferrari and Lamborghini have mastered the art of creating a car which ‘looks fast, even when it’s not moving’. Nevertheless, when it does move, the work of Italian design engineers invariably guarantees that driving these magnificent ‘poster’ cars is a lot more exciting than driving a standard model. Many Italian-designed production cars have inherited their design and performance characteristics from the racing circuit, where Italian design expertise still reigns supreme.
Italian bikes enjoy the same ‘mystique’ as Italian cars. Once again, the primary reason relates to the experience of riding one. Fausto Coppi was one of the all time greats of the Tour de France, and favoured Bianchi bikes with their distinctive light blue. Designed and built by those with a passion for cycling, modern Italian bikes are fast. Frame builders such as Guerciotti and Torelli adopt a unique approach to frame geometry, producing ultra-comfortable bikes designed to perform well under all road conditions. With these bikes, the ‘fit’ between rider and machine must be perfect – that is why some machines have a range of 18 different frame sizes rising incrementally by just 0.5 cm.
Classic Italian furniture designs typically incorporate marble and iron work and create a stylish look by referencing architectural design elements. Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo are all furniture styles originating in Italy, associated with the historical evolution of style and design between the 11th and 16th centuries. These celebrated traditions, together with a wealth of innovative contemporary designs, offer modern homeowners a rich choice of beautiful furniture.
Italian designs and designers remain high-profile in the modern world in a host of formats, and Italy’s contemporary creative artists continue to demonstrate that form must never be limited by function. Thanks to them, ‘Italian style’ still translates across our modern world as ‘refined, decorative elegance’ – a noble achievement which does justice to their Roman predecessors.