Now that the little phrase «Made in Italy» – a magic word that wears well in all seasons and sometimes serves to open unthinkable doors and markets – has made its triumphant entry into the official wording of a nerve ministry such as the Mise, renamed precisely in honor of “Enterprises and Made in Italy” (with satisfaction, we imagine, of radical chic), we have – by happy coincidence – finally a manual, precise, essential and totally shareable in the selection of what it is significant and of how this phrase has historically been produced, that it is first of all necessary to recommend its study (not reading: study!) to all those who fill their mouths with this word-suitcase as much as they can, often inappropriately and what is even worse , then surrounding themselves with objects and furnishings and products that not only do not live up to the word, but sometimes are quite the opposite, or a parody of it.
I’m talking about the important volume by Elena Dellapiana, The design and invention of Made in Italy, which best renews the non-fiction tradition of PBE Einaudi (pp. 320, € 25). The author, a professor at the Turin Polytechnic, took the trouble to investigate, verifying it in the field of studies (that is, in the documents from international exhibitions and in the design system which, in the twentieth century, counted most of all, together with the sports, fashion and food, to spread our image abroad), how and why our national specificity has managed to become a brand that goes far beyond the single, exceptional and successful product, however.
And the cover photo is already significant: it evokes the tradition of Latin classicism (the Roman arch in the background) with the “modernity” of the Vespa that breaks through, in its sunny desire to travel, in the 50s, and that changes, forever, Italy’s perception and status in the world. There is no doubt, in fact, that such a national specificity exists and that, in Dellapiana’s words, «it also corresponds to a sort of mythopoeia of creative acts which has led over time to produce and circulate, as well as art, including dishes, vases, fabrics, clothes, cars, scooters, food and drink. Objects of everyday life that have become carriers not only of aesthetic values, but also of evocative messages and lifestyles (theItalian way of life, the “sweet life”, etc.). All this has made it possible to make things, goods and assets coincide with the very essence of a nation and with its artistic and cultural tradition, generating “icons” of the Italian project, which in turn trigger both a thriving market and an unbridled collecting”. Here we are. Why this is so: these objects and their overall “system” (remembering Baudrillard and Bachelard), far from the vacuous shortcuts of the storytellingwere first constituted as a real, verifiable substance (inseparable form-function-aesthetic dictate) and then became also an emotional influence that other countries have never had (of course there is a manufacturing tradition everywhere, but who has ever heard of the specificity of Made in Romania or Made in Belgium, with all due respect: and they are just two random states) .
But that’s not all: because if Dellapiana gets to the bottom of the matter, even identifying in the Renaissance the moment in which, perhaps for the first time, an Italian design line was perceived (without Italy actually existing), it is then in the twentieth century that Italian objects become a unique real. They mix, as if by miracle, and it is difficult to explain, the very high artisan tradition with the desire for experimentation. If at the Chicago Expo, at the end of the 19th century, the image of Italy was still the Venetian gondolas (what could be more folkloric?), already in the 1920s (and thanks to phenomena such as the Monza School, the Parisian exhibitions also branded by the fascist aesthetics, futurism, artistic and productive), the situation was different, of extreme interest and revival. The proof is, for example, the Triennale, the fulcrum and showcase of our inventiveness. What, after the Second World War, then, allows the spread of the Italian design and production method, the so-called «genius»: it would be useless to list the icons here, but from Gio Ponti’s Superleggera (a real deus ex machina for our global image), to Brianza creativity, from Arco to Olivetti, up to the extreme Memphis or, indeed, to the Vespa, Italy has marked the field: and has become what it is (or, perhaps, what was). With salient moments, such as the Olivetti showroom in New York (when Nivola and BBPR showed that Italy was prehistoric and future design) up to the memorable exhibition at the Moma, curated by Ambasz, whose 50th anniversary occurs, which, hopefully, have not gone in vain.
«Made in Italy is», Dellapiana writes in a very significant way, «since the 80s of the last century «a global and globally recognized brand, which brings undoubted positive effects, but which also tends to cage designers and the market in an ultra-experienced cliché, from which it will be very difficult to get rid of». The bet, for the whole system of design, industry and the new Italian culture starts – unfortunately and fortunately – from here. Now yes, it takes Italian genius.