Legendary Designer Fornasetti’s Legacy Perpetuated by His Son
Interview and photography by Alessandro Bianchi for Petrolicious
Mr. Piero Fornasetti was a Milanese painter, sculptor, interior decorator, engraver of books, and a creator of more than 13,000 products. In terms of variety of decoration, Piero’s production of objects and furniture is one of the largest of the twentieth century. Celebrated as being among the most original creative talents of the twentieth century, Piero created a visual vocabulary that is instantly recognizable and unceasingly engaging. He designed a magical world, saturated in image and colour and filled with whimsy and wit.
Piero’s son, Barnaba, is perpetuating the Fornasetti tradition by continuing to produce, and revive, Fornasetti designs. At the helm of the company and its creative heart, Barnaba is the custodian of his father’s legacy.
It’s 11 AM as I wait for Mr. Barnaba Fornasetti in his studio. Looking around and observing every detail I notice that everything here is distinctively Fornasetti, from the rug on which my chair rests, to the Post-it dispenser on the desk sitting right under my nose. This is where Piero, his father, created his collection of drawings, motifs, and furniture that we know so well.
Once Barnaba sits across from me raising his knee toward his chest, I begin to ask him about the relationship between Fornasetti and the automobile.
Q: When did your interest in motoring begin?
A: At a very young age, I became so enamored with the motoring world, that as a grown-up, I wanted to be a coachbuilder. I collected model cars and the walls in my room were covered in car photos that I would cut out from various magazines (see photo). With time, my interest declined in conjunction with the hippie movement and a period of student protests. The automobile then became a means to enable my love of travel.
Q: Some time ago during a Fornasetti Exposition in Triennale, I noticed a Ford Granada customized with a Fornasetti motif. What would you say sparked this idea?
A: I bought the vehicle secondhand in the early ’80s, and one day my father and I found ourselves looking at it sitting outside our shop on Via Brera. Immediately, we thought it’d be fun to customize the sides with the same motifs we used on our showroom curtains. The result was the example which was later exhibited at Triennale. We call it l’Archivettura (a play on words which combines the words architecture and automobile).
Q: Was this a one-time occurrence, or did you consider collaborating with a brand?
A: We gave the same treatment to our family Mercedes. We used it as our business car but we soon decided to sell it. In the past, we’ve considered collaborating with other brands in time for the Salone del Mobile furniture fair, but these ideas never came to fruition.
Q: What’s your relationship with automobiles like now?
A: I have an unusual love-hate relationship with automobiles. As a resident of Milan, a city that has fallen victim to excess traffic and pollution, I ended up hating them, especially when I realize that the automobile has a strange erotic-like influence in people. It has become a status symbol that has had a negative influence on society. On the other hand, I maintain my love for the automobile and the fact that it represents my ability to travel and discover.
Q: Let’s turn to your 1959 Rover P4, which happens to be the first thing one notices when visiting your home. The way it’s parked with its headlights pointed toward the visitor, it’s almost a statement of passion and style.
A: In truth, my relationship with ‘Olivia’ (Barnaba named it as though it were a family member) happened by chance. It belonged to a friend in London who at one point in her life decided to return to Italy and get rid of her old Rover. That is how, in exchange for a furniture piece, I became the new owner and it has been resting under the garden canopy since the mid ’90s.
Q: What made you fall in love with ‘Olivia’?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by vintage automobiles. They’re so different from today’s overly regulated vehicles. They also have mass appeal. We’re not talking about a Bugatti, or an Aston Martin. It’s a vehicle that’s easily attainable without spending much, and I find the idea of being able to drive it in between today’s gigantic SUVs very fun.
Q: Has everything been kept original, or have you made any modifications to it?
A: In harmony with my idea of what an automobile should be, I’ve installed a methane gas system that allows me long, worry-free trips. I also changed the sun visors which were in pitiful condition. Nothing else has been touched. What you see now is the way it was when I acquired it from its previous owner.
Q: In conclusion, I would like to ask your thoughts on today’s automobiles.
A: I’ve always been of the opinion that the modern vehicle has lost its soul. As is the case with grand pianos of the past, it was the craftsman’s hand that bestowed each automobile he crafted with its distinctiveness. With today’s overwhelming presence of electronics and because they are no longer exclusive to a select few, the automobile has lost the poetry and charm it once commanded.