James Irvine: an Englishman in Milan – A tribute to the designer and to the relationship with Milan.
This project is a well deserved homage to the designer James Irvine who died suddenly and unexpectedly, in Milan in Feb, 2013
The exhibition was shown at the Museo Del Novecento, located in Milan’s historical center, overlooking Piazza del Duomo
Curated by Maria Cristina Didero and Marco Sammicheli, the pieces on display were chosen precisely because they are tied to Milan, and able to tell that special relationship made of small habits, meetings and collaborations that Irvine had established with Milan.
The arrangement takes form in a defined space but split into 2 parts.
In the reproduction of the Treasure Box, as in a catalog to view, exposes the objects of James Irvine, which belong in a certain way to the past.
Outside of the Treasure Box, objects that want to say the future of Irvine, now led by his wife Lucy Irvine and Magdalene Rossiello Carlin.
James Irvine’s Treasure Boxes
James Irvine was deeply in love with Italy and especially with the city of Milan: he was touched by the special atmosphere of the town, its joie de vivre and by the several different relationships ( often sealed in front of a cappuccino or a glass of wine ) in the typical local conviviality, a unique mix between personal and professional.
“An Englishman in Milan” is a compact macro-representation of the Irvine’s world ranging from a selected range of products, prototypes, collections, drawings, inspirations and materials.
Thanks to the collaboration with the Studio Irvine, the installation at the Sala Focus presents a compact version of his beloved treasure boxes
It consists of a solid, macro-representation of Irvine’s most intimate world presenting a selection of objects such as products, prototypes, handmade drawings, different raw materials he would use for his projects.
This project aims to be a small-scale tribute to the designer and undraped for the first time, some of his very personal effects
The project at the Museo del Novecento unveils the intimate bond that linked the British designer – to his adoptive city.
According to Irvine, Milan represented the quintessential expression of human relationships, where common and everyday habits became a pleasant routine: a quick cup of coffee during his very busy working schedule alone or shared with his team at the studio.
James Irvine has chosen Milan as the permanent base not only for his professional career but also on a personal level, marrying Maria Laura Rossiello, whom today, along with Maddalena Casadei, are carrying on the work of Studio Irvine
The moment Irvine was entering his own restaurants – as we call them – it was welcome as The English.
He was well known by all the waiters who loved to chat with him: the corkscrew Luigi was born during one of these conversations and named upon one of those people.
Another example is the Open Chair (produced by Alias in 2007) inspired to the outdoors chairs from the notorious bar Gin Rosa.
“James is a great friend, with him I shared since the beginning the Danese’s adventure, he has been a generous and constant presence in the growth of the company. When I decided to relaunch Danese’s brand so as to renew a tradition that has its roots in the Bruno Munari and Enzo Mari’s work, I immediately thought about James whose I appreciated the work so much to be his loyal collector.
In all of his products designed for Danese it is evident both his great talent as designer and his ironical and playful spirit, as well as his humanity and passion which he has always dealed with his work. I think that James made an historical period of industrial design as a protagonist and I feel myself privileged for working with him.”
…….. Carlotta de Bevilacqua, Danese
In a further dialogue with James Irvine, the Treasure Box was placed in front of two futurist works from the permanent collection of the Museum, featured along the wall of the Museo Del Novacento
The installation, created in collaboration with Studio Irvine, reconstructs to scales beloved treasure box and weaves a dialogue between designer’s personal objects and master’s works such as Fortunato Depero ( above ) and Umberto Boccioni, (below ) selected by curator and obtained by the permanent collection of the institution.
Both paintings capture the essence of cafe / bar conviviality- both of which were a big part of James welcoming manner
In the crucial years of Italian Design in the 1980 / 90 ‘s – James “The Chelsea Boy” Irvine’s Milan office represented a secure and jubilant hub, open to the international design community, with constant visits of the designers who will become the most significant players in the worldwide contemporary creative scene.
Marc Newson, Jasper Morrison, Naoto Fukasawa, Konstantin Grcic and Michael Young, just to name a few, not only liked to spend time with Irvine, but they elected his studio as their Italian head-quarter to develop their projects.
They were close friends with whom James Irvine shared the passion for design; together they explored the fruitful territory along with the many opportunities that the Italian manufacturing companies could offer.
About James Irvine
Born 1958 – Died 2013.
James Irvine was born in London.
He attended Kingston Polytechnic
Graduated in 1984 at The Royal College of Art, London.
The same year he moved to Milan Italy.
From 1984 to 1992 he was a design consultant for Olivetti design studio Milan designing industrial products under the direction of Michele De Lucchi and Ettore Sottsass.
In 1987, for a cultural exchange organised by Olivetti, he worked for one year at the Toshiba Design Centre in Tokyo making design research for industrial products.
He returned to Milan in 1988 and opened his private design studio.
His first clients were Cappellini and SCP.
From 1993 to 1997 in parallel to his private studio he was a partner of Sottsass Associati Milan and was responsible for the industrial design group.
In 1999 he completed the design of the new city bus for the Hanover transport system Üstra. 131 buses have been built by Mercedes Benz.
In 2004 he was the guest of honour at the fair Interieur in Kortrijk and was also elected RDI (Royal Designer for Industry) by the Royal Society of Arts in London.
From 2005 to 2007 he was professor for industrial design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe.
In 2006 he founded James Irvine Srl in Milan.
In 2007 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Design from Kingston University.
His design studio in Milan has worked with various internationally renowned companies including Alfi, Alias, Amorim, Arper, Artemide, B&B Italia, Canon, Coro, Duravit, Foscarini, LG, Magis, Marsotto Edizioni, MDF Italia, Muji, Olivari, Olivetti, Phaidon, Ströer, Thonet, Whirlpool, WMF and Zumtobel.
James Irvine : An Englishman in Milan / Project Curators
Maria Cristina Didero.
Independent design curator and journalist, she has worked for Vitra Design Musem for more than 10 years and from 2011 to 2015 served as Director of the Bisazza Foundation in Vicenza.
She collaborates with several Italian and foreign institutions and contributes on a regular base to several magazines, among which Domus, AD, Vogue Casa, Flair.
Marco Sammicheli teaches esthetics at the Politecnico di Milano.
In 2014 he has curated the show titled Munari politecnico at the Museo del Novecento and took part to la Biennale di Architettura in Venice.
He was the author of Il Caso Grassi at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan, in 2013 and Omaggio a Lora Lamm at the m.a.x. in Chiasso (CH).
Currently, he is design curator for Abitare magazine
New Book released April, 2015
Phaidon’s 240-page hardback monograph celebrates the work of furniture and product designer Irvine, who died in 2013 aged 54.
The book, compiled by design journalist Francesca Picchi, features essays and interviews with people who worked with him throughout his life.
British designer Jasper Morrison, London Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic and German designer Konstantin Grcic are among the contributors.
A complete monograph on the work of the influential British-born, Milan-based furniture and product designer James Irvine (1958–2013).
Sketches, photos and unpublished drawings are included to illustrate the thought processes behind Irvine’s projects.
James Irvine is an intimate look into the work and life of a design legend. Previously unpublished drawings, sketches, models and images from Irvine’s archives and personal anecdotes and texts from the designers who worked directly with him, including Jasper Morrison, Marc Newson, Konstantin Grcic and Naoto Fukasawa, reveal Irvine’s passions, interests and idiosyncracies like never before.
“The interviews are thematic, focusing on the central topics of Irvine’s work,” said the publishers.
“This not only helps to uncover Irvine’s engaging personality but also retraces the mood of the discussion and debate that Irvine put at the centre of his design.”
Size: 270 x 205 mm, (10 5/8 x 8 1/8 in)
Pages: 240 pp
Illustrations: 600 colour illustrations
Studio Irvine, Milan
Studio Irvine is a design studio run by Marialaura Rossiello and Maddalena Casadei based in Milan, founded by James Irvine in 1988.
After James Irvine’s premature death in 2013, Studio Irvine found its natural continuity in the figures of Marialaura Rossiello Irvine ( partner at James Irvine Srl since 2009 ) and Maddalena Casadei (right arm of Irvine for nine years).
Marialaura Rossiello ( james Irvine’s wife ) was born in Naples, where she graduated in architecture.
She moved to Milan for a Master’s degree in Strategic Design and Brand Management at the Milan Polytechnic University School of Management in 2000.
As a design consultant and art director, she worked on the development of products from concept to finished product for various design brands.
From 2001 to 2004 she was responsible for new product development at Danese, and from 2004 to 2006, she was head of marketing there.
Since 2012 she has been art director of the brand Matteo Brioni.
Maddalena Casadei was born in Forlì and graduated in Architecture in Ferrara.
She moved to Milan for a Master’s in Industrial Design at Domus Academy in 2002, where she continues to work.
In 2004, she joined Studio Irvine, dealing with different design projects, interior and exhibit design, while also running her own studio from 2010 which has now converged with Studio Irvine.
The clarity of James Irvine’s working method developed over the years, and his belief that the signature is not a priority in design, have fortified Marialaura Rossiello’s and Maddalena Casadei’s determination to secure a future for Studio Irvine.
James’ rigorous yet ironic approach created a school of design but also of life.
Based on the idea of design inspired by attention to ethics, the ‘human factor’ and personal interaction (from clients to technicians, workers and consumers), Studio Irvine is instilled with a vision in constant evolution, rooted in the classics of the Italian design school but with a broader international outlook.
The distinctively cross-disciplinary philosophy pursued by the studio, from the design of a bus to that of a pen, shows the continuing tension and curiosity towards all types and scales of projects.
The studio today is a place whose rich collection of objects, prototypes, pictures, souvenirs, collections and drawings provides a continuing source of inspiration.
Studio Irvine continues to work with Amorim, Muji, Marsotto Edizioni, Kettal and Phaidon.
And it is also open to new design challenges in the fields of the product identity and brand consolidation for industrial companies wishing to approach the world of design
Interview with Marialaura Rossiello
Interview by Chiara Alessi
16th May 2014
Some time ago I organized an exhibition at Via Vigevano 8, in Milan. When I told people the address, hardly anyone associated it with the gallery where the exhibition was being staged, or with David Chipperfield’s loft, which faces onto the same courtyard.
In fact most of them said: “Ah, that’s where the Studio Irvine is.”
On that occasion I met Marialaura Rossiello, Irvine’s wife, who with genuine and stirring courage took over James’s activity after his death, along with Maddalena Casadei.
What did the decision to carry on with his name signify ?
This too was a choice that almost made itself.
Arper had invited me and Maddalena to go to London to give a lecture on James, not long after he died. Talking about James on that occasion was a wonderful experience, very intense and once again quite natural.
In the evening we had dinner at his favorite restaurant, the St. John, we looked each other in the eyes and decided that we wanted to keep the studio going. The first, clear mission was to finish the work James had started, with Amorim and Offecct, for example, and to continue with other projects, like the ones for Muji and Marsotto Edizioni. And then there were the ones that I brought in as consultant and art director, and the clients that Maddalena had found.
Did all the clients stick with the projects under way, or did some pull out ?
They all put their trust in us. It was as if the work of the studio had never been interrupted, and in fact the esteem that people felt for James and the ties he had forged turned into real displays of friendship, especially on the part of his fellow designers.
Immediately after James’s death, all his former assistants came to ask how they could lend a hand, and his closest and oldest friends (Jasper Morrison, Naoto Fukasawa, Marc Newson, Konstantin Grcic) never stopped treating this studio as a point of reference.
For me this is a demonstration of the extent to which, above and beyond the natural rivalry between designers, James had represented a linchpin and a generous support for all of them.
Was this ability to bind people together and make the most of each person’s gifts one of James’s qualities as a designer ?
I’d say that it was a part of James’s essence: painstaking, ironic and generous. Characteristics that I draw on every day in my thinking as a designer and a person. James left me a great creative legacy from which I get the energy to tackle new challenges day after day.
In fact your studio has always had the reputation of a happy microcosm through which all the most important foreign designers passed when they came to Milan. An open studio, a “group,” even if as far as I know you never worked on joint projects.
No, but in the projects that James coordinated as art director he had always been very much at ease in orchestrating his friends and colleagues.
It’s an approach that we are trying to carry forward, and that this year for example has found concrete expression in Working on Marble for Marsotto Edizioni, which we presented at the Accademia di Brera during the Salone del Mobile: six interpretations of the idea of working on marble from Morrison, Grcic, Fukasawa, Nigro, Lovegrove and the Studio Irvine.
It was a way of bringing different minds together, and in the end everyone was very enthusiastic about the project.
And how did you interpret Working on Marble ?
Toio and Isa are our projects. Toio is a writing desk with a bookrest, Isa a dressing table with a mirror, and what they have in common is their slender legs, in search of a formal and technological lightness. The two different models stem from personal needs. We asked ourselves: when was the last time we sat down to put on our makeup? That’s really a job for us women!
Irvine also took care of the craft side of the activity: the hand drawing, the colors, the tactile aspect, the prototypes. And now ?
The things you mention are all means that allow us to arrive at the end result, and that’s still the case today.
We start out from the idea turned into a sketch, then comes the transfer of the sketch onto the computer and after that the passage to the prototype workshop. And from there we go back to the sketch on the technical drawing, then we start all over again, until we are satisfied, obviously in a process of continual exchange with the company.
Among the companies you work with there are major international brands like Muji and small enterprises like the aforementioned Marsotto, but very few names of big Italian companies. How come ?
I’m sure that there are dozens of proposals in all those folders up there that can be sifted through and perhaps presented again at a more propitious time.
Yes, we have a lot of projects. All it needs is to have the patience to take them out, select them and decide what might do well and for whom. At the same time, though, we think that if James chose not to propose them, or if they didn’t get anywhere, there was probably a reason for it.
Among Italian companies, one of the most successful collaborations has been with Arper, a young and dynamic enterprise with a precise vision and great courage in investment.
Apart from Marsotto, can you tell us about the other projects you’re working on ?
Leaving aside the big companies, what catches our imagination is when a young entrepreneur has a good idea, or a good technology, and asks us to give him a hand in developing it, and thus enters the world of design. Maddalena and I vie to see who can bring in the “strangest” client.
Often they are people with considerable knowhow, perhaps leaders in their sector, who want to do something new and hold a conversation with the world of design: combining design culture and business culture, and working in a tailored way to find an identity that can then be turned into a product.
“Everything around us has been designed by someone,” James often used to say, and so why not tackle any kind of object? But the biggest challenge still lies in lighting design. We are on the lookout for entrepreneurs!
Here in the studio there are just three of you to deal with everything: from design to art direction to market analysis to image. What has it been like for you moving from an experience like the one you had at Danese, an enterprise run on family lines, to a studio that functions in the manner of a small company, like that of your husband ?
They are two very similar kinds of activity, even if one is a manufacturer and the other a design studio. Our approach is total, at once humanistic and technical, where what is fundamental is exchange, the energy each one of us has to give, and nothing is neglected.
We don’t do things just to sell them, there’s always a reason both to do a project and not to do it. I learned this “strategic” outlook from Francesco Zurlo, when I moved from Naples to Milan to attend his master’s course in strategic design: I tried it out first at Danese and then I tried to bring it to the Studio Irvine.
Was it at Danese that you met James ?
Yes, we met there. We lived fairly close to one another and one day we ran into each other in the street. From that moment on James courted me relentlessly, until I gave in.
But this all happened relatively recently, in 2004. I had been in Milan for four years, James for more than fifteen.
Why had he come to Milan from London ?
His architect father had sent him there: “Go to Milan and get some experience.” And he never went back. He started with De Lucchi, then Olivetti, Sottsass and others.
What do you miss most about James, I mean in your work ?
Everything. Perhaps most of all his touch.
Maddalena adds his “brief-style chatter,” which I’d call “life chatter.”
James was incredibly generous in sharing his designs, his ideas, even his contacts. He was severe and meticulous, but was able to question his own ideas.
At the center of each project there was always an intellectual exchange that could lead to heated discussions and quite different conclusions.
James undermined your point of view and told you his, trying to persuade you. So by the time we went back to the studio the next day, we had each had our convictions undermined. And we started again.