A FLICK THROUGH any arty magazine reveals that the world of furniture design is still dominated by a particular type of person. You know the kind I mean: usually male, often Nordic and always immaculately decked out in a blazer and architect glasses, they talk in easily digestible sound bites that are lapped up by the design-hungry public. They are so flawless that – dare I say it – they can come across as a little lifeless.
It’s this immaculate but flat world that Patrizia Moroso rips through like a one-woman hurricane. Patrizia is, for the uninitiated, the art director of her family’s eponymous luxury sofa company, Moroso, and one of the design industry’s more extroverted characters. A bubbly and effusive Italian, she has spent her career gleefully pushing the boundaries of the creative world with her innovative furniture designs and willingness to talk frankly to the media.
When we meet during her recent stop in Hong Kong, Patrizia is on top form. Within seconds of sitting down she’s chatting away in a charming stream of consciousness that, once started, proves almost impossible to stop. Not that I’d want to interrupt, as Patrizia has some interesting stories to tell.
Nearly three decades have passed since Patrizia took control of the design side of Moroso while her more business-minded brother took charge of the books. Over that time they have successfully developed Moroso from a small local business into an international powerhouse that has become famous for its forward-thinking furniture. Along the way, she has collaborated with world-famous designers: Ron Arad, Tord Boontje and Tokujin Yoshioka, among others. This year Patrizia placed 41st on Wallpaper* magazine’s annual Power 100 List and shortly after our interview the Italian President appointed her a Cavaliere del Lavoro, the equivalent of a damehood.
Moroso sofas sit in office lobbies, private homes and luxury hotels throughout the world, so the announcement that Lane Crawford in Hong Kong will be stocking Moroso products from December 12 sent the city’s design aficionados into a tizzy. The same announcement by Xtra in Singapore elicited a similar reaction. But before we talk about Moroso’s expansion into Asia, Patrizia takes me through a whistlestop tour of the company history.
When Patrizia first joined Moroso, she had just graduated from art school in Bologna and admits that she was “thinking to be maybe an art curator, a gallerist, something like that – that was my dream.” But her plans were put on hold when her parents called one day to discuss the future. “They said, ‘We can close the company or not – it depends on you and your brother.’ If you want to help us, we can go on; if not, we can close because we don’t know what to do. I said, ‘Oh no, please don’t close – we can help you.’ ”
The rest, as the hackneyed phrase goes, is history. “I discovered that design was a passion because, in a way, it was part of my DNA. I was born into this family, eating bread and furniture. Since I was really very, very young, a little baby, I was not with a babysitter – I was with my mother, she was sewing and I was playing with fabrics and things like that. I was passionate about the revolution of design in Italy in the ’60s and ’70s with very important people like Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini and all the radical design that was in the country at that moment.”
Discussing Moroso’s current expansion into Asia, Patrizia says, “This is the first time that we’re here seriously. We’re now in Singapore and Hong Kong. We’re also in the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing.
“I’m very, very happy because, until now, Italian designers arrived here in Asia in a sort of closed, structured way – the white sofas, the brown chairs, the carpet, the wardrobe. It’s all very elegant, OK, but it’s absolutely boring after a while. It’s a sort of ready-made, pre-prepared, pre-digested house, [and the designers are] treating Chinese customers as if they don’t understand design. It’s as if they go: ‘here’s the box’. Inside the box there’s everything that you want. They treat Chinese customers as if they don’t understand, so they give them everything prepared. We’re not thinking like this. Never thinking like this.
“Maybe 20 years ago, 15 years ago, when Italians started to come [to China] the customers weren’t prepared, but the customers are very fast in learning. I remember my first trip in China many years ago – nobody knew nothing about design, nothing about architecture. But in 20 years what has happened is incredible. Look at the change! The evolution has been so bright and so fast. The customers don’t love to be in a box! I believe that, now, we’re really coming in a massive way in Asia, and I know that there will be people understanding our language.”
Judging from the hype surrounding the Moroso launches in Asia, Patrizia is right to suggest that there’s a hunger for their furniture. Yet, as even the most design literate people can struggle to understand the connections between Moroso products, does the brand really have a single language? “The common thread, the fil rouge in Moroso products, is that they’re all different from one to another,” Patrizia admits. “There is no one [product] that is similar to another. It’s a strange common thread, but that’s it. I love to put many different things together.
“I don’t see the reason why, if I have Patricia Urquiola, I have to work with someone who is close to her. I have her to do some things and she is the best [at what she does]. Then there’s Ron Arad, he is the best in his way – sort of sculpture, an artistic way of approaching design – so there’s no sense to have another one that is making sculpture. If I work with Ross Lovegrove, who is following the idea of a beautiful new nature and a new way of designing, there’s no sense to have another person thinking the same. So I try, like making a bouquet of different flowers in the garden, to put them in harmony – not crazy, of course – but I prefer to bring all different flowers.”