James Irvine, who recently died ( Feb, 2013 ) at the age of 54, was recognised as the design world’s ” Unofficial cultural attaché in Milan ”
James was an exceptionally talented designer, a very funny man and at the vanguard of changing European attitudes towards British design and designers.
There were few better at arguing and debating than James, waving his hands around making wild gestures all the while.
Life was James’s great pleasure and speciality ! He filled the space around him with his gestures, expressions and comments, a space in which you felt a connection to him. He had a very generous nature and was always pleased to arrange a dinner, a meeting, a project, a drink.
This is the story of a ” love affair ” which grew to become one of the key “unofficial cultural events within the Salone each year”
James will be sadly missed
Bar Basso is a true cult bar for sophisticated drinking devotees.
In 1967, Bar Basso became the first-ever Milanese bar to introduce the “aperitif” to everyday people, while before cocktails could only be found at the exclusive lounge bars of luxurious international grand hotels.
The history of this bar on Via Plinio, goes back to 1933 and its roots lie in the old school bartender tradition of Venice and Cortina.
In the Sixties cocktails were simply not part of Italian drinking culture, only available in the lounges and bars of international hotels. Bar Basso was a pioneer, offering people the delights and pleasures of Martinis, Manhattans and White Ladies in a genuine street corner bar.
But 1968 came along and like the rest of the world the city underwent a counter cultural revolution. For the new generation a Martini was not only dull and superficial, it was an icon of the establishment.
Until the mid-60s women did not feel much at home in the bar. But then ladies started to come to Bar Basso. Women were more sophisticated than the men, so Bar Basso’s owner – Mirko Stochetto, developed different cocktails using sparkling wine.
Being Venetian, the Bellini was already popular. So Mirko developed a version of the Bellini using vodka. He made a Rossini with strawberries. He started to make quite a few cocktails that were less alcoholic but very tasteful. But that was long before the word sparkling was invented in the bar business and so he made lots of styles of cocktails at the bar, and amongst them was the traditional Negroni.
Mirko’s most famous cocktail is the Negroni Sbagliato ( ” Mistaken Negroni” ), a drink mistakenly created when one of the bartenders grabbed the Spumante bottle instead of the Gin bottle while making the original Negroni.
And that’s now the legend !!
A life-long admirer of Venetian glass, Mirko started using gigantic glasses, chilled by large ice cubes, dressed with colourful flowers and served with pomp and circumstance.
He created a very poppy style by decorating the cocktails, than making posters of his numerous creations with hip young girls. Milan’s nightshift responded and Bar Basso suddenly became the place to be.
While experimenting with the visual aspects of cocktails by using different glasses and garniture, Mirko also invented a huge array of new recipes.
Other cocktails recognised as his creations include the Perseghetto, Fragolino. Mangiaebeve and Cardinale.
After 40 years the place is an institution, deservedly renowned for its craftsmanship, originality of the cocktail making and old school bartender etiquette.
From the mid 1980’s a group of British, Australian and German designers who were living in Milan used to go to Bar Basso regularly and so it started to become a reference point for designers from all over the world.
Bar Basso’s traditional Milanese interior, rude but efficient waiters, signature Negroni cocktails, led the designers to spread the word amongst their friends.
From an aesthetic point of view Bar Basso stands out for its variety of style, like a patchwork of different themes and colors, and for its sparkling and welcoming atmosphere.
Behind the horseshoe bar counter, the towering bottle shelving holds the best liquors from all over the world are stored perfectly in line, so strictly and precisely organized as they were the volumes in the National Library.
The retro vibe of the 19th century style room, with velvet curtains, crystal chandeliers and wide mirrors counter works with the country room with light wood furniture and lively wallpapers, a perfect environment for younger and hip customers.
The Milan “Ex-pats Design Pack” of the time ( James Irvine, Jasper Morrison, Marc Newson, Stefano Giovannoni, Thomas Sandell, Thomas Ericsson, Peter Hallen et al ) were at the Salone and looking for a place to have a drink after hours and Irvine, who lived nearby, persuaded Maurizio ( Bar Basso’s owner ) to allow him to invite some close friends there during design week and to stay open for longer than usual.
He unified British humor and Italian flair in a manner that always placed himself the center of his critical yet affectionate peers.
In 1999 Irvine, Newson, Morrison etc decided to throw a huge party at Bar Basso and immediately the news spread wide via word of mouth and around 1,000 people gathered. That was the turning point in the relationship between the Bar Basso and the Salone Del Mobile Furniture Fair, because from that evening on more and more people keep coming back each year.
As the popularity of the Salone del Mobile escalated from 1999, Bar Basso became the place to throw your invitation-only party
These days Bar Basso is less a place to have a drink and more a place for designers, exhibitors, students and journalists to network during Salone week when, from midnight onwards, it’s packed with a thousand or more people every day
This bursting at the seams atmosphere has made it a tradition ever since – and it is what James Irvine will be probably best remembered for in Milan, for many years to come..
Known for his simple and functional designs, Irvine focused on creating work that consumers would connect with emotionally and not buy simply because they desire the cultural status often associated with high-design
His work has always been characterised by a great balance between elegance and functionality, cleanness of lines and above all a deep caring for the final consumer’s needs.
His design goal always remained to create things that anyone might want to own because they really want it, and not because someone told them to.
In today’s frantic world, such approach remains an example and an inspiration for the generations of designers to follow
He was born in London in 1959
Educated at Frensham Heights, Farnham, Surrey,
He studied design at Kingston Polytechnic in London until 1981, before completing his master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in 1984
He moved quickly to Milan in 1984 to work for Olivetti Group – collaborating with for the venerable Italian designers Ettore Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi
In 1987 he took part in a cultural exchange program that took him to Tokyo, for 12 months, to direct the Design research division at the Toshiba Design Centre
He returned to Milan in 1988 to start a design practice of his own and in parallel to become partner of Sottsass Associati.
In 1992, he collaborated with close friend Jasper Morrison to organize Progetto Oggetto for Cappellini
His studio has created products, furniture and transport for many Italian companies including Artemide, Foscarini and Cappellini, Alias, B&B Italia, Magis, Coro, CBI, BRF and SCP, art publisher Phaidon and camera-maker Canon.
In 2000 he designed a fleet of Mercedes-Benz buses for the German city of Hannover.
In 2004, James was elected Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in London (as his father had been in 1964).
In 2004, Irvine was guest of honor at INTERIEUR in Kortrijk, Belgium.
From 2005 to 2007, he was professor for industrial design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, Germany.
In 2007, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Design from Kingston University, London
Asked about his design ethos, Irvine once remarked …….. “Always question why you’re doing something, unless you are being paid a ridiculous amount of money, then really question it.”
We hope that Maurizio Stochetto & the Bar Basso create a cocktail in James Irvines’ memory to honour the legendary friendship that was formed – in the wee hours of the morning, over a Negroni or 2 !! .