Home > Australian, Design, Design + Australian, Design + International, Event, Women > ‘Fat fat’ is good and ‘Good good’ is Patricia Urquiola down-under!

‘Fat fat’ is good and ‘Good good’ is Patricia Urquiola down-under!

Patricia Urquiola + Fat fat

The once virtually unknown designer Patricia Urquiola this year stormed the Milan Furniture Fair. Described as ‘like a volcano’ and ‘a hurricane’ perhaps more of a comment on her directness and passion than to devastation and destruction,

Urquiola, 43, is one of the few women to have ascended to the male-dominated furniture design firmament and …. is rapidly catching up with Dutch star Hella Jongerius, hirtherto considered the world’s leading female designer.

Recently Patricia Urquiola visited Australia and in an exclusive was interviewed by Lily Katakouzinos who wrote the following piece on “Fatty Elegance” and Urquiola’s approach to design as well as a sneak preview on future directions and projects.

Read on

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Milan Furniture Fair

Trying to pinpoint designer Patricia Urquiola’s signature style is no easy task. As the designer says “I like to move around. Like all women, sometimes, I want to put on my Adidas tennis outfit and at night I want to put on my high heels”. The sentiment easily translates into a body of work including everything from furniture, lighting and household products to the interior of a new Shanghai nightclub. She is currently working on a complete table collection for Danish porcelain company Rosendahl, taps for German company Hans Groe, an installation for Italian glass mosaic company Bisazza, an architectural competition for a major ice cream manufacturer, a new store for B&B in Spain and a villa for two good friends. Oh, and did I mention she’s only recently had a baby.

Amidst raucous laughter she admits “yes, it’s a disaster, but I want it, I want it!” Fuelled by what she calls an open mind and an infinitely curious eye she finds inspiration in both everyday domestic objects and her other great passion, travel. Whether it’s visiting Australia’s red centre or enjoying the unique and mysterious music of the Gnaouas in the Morocan town of Essaouira, travel is a constant source of inspiration. She says: “one of my collections which has had an incredible life, is still selling well and has always had a very happy history was the Fiord collection for Moroso.” This collection was created after the designer travelled to Scandinavia.

Urquiola grew up in the rainy north of Spain in what she describes as a “kind of bourgeoisie family” of strong women with a healthy appreciation for all forms of material culture. She recalls playing with her brothers in a room decorated with the wallpapers and fabrics of famed British interior designer David Hicks. She credits an overall attitude of open-mindedness as providing the strongest influence in her early years. Urquiola has spent over 20 years in Italy although she returns frequently to Spain for family holidays, alternating between Christmases in her home-town of Oviedo and summers in the countryside of Ibiza. In fact she cites those childhood summers in Ibiza, immersed amongst a flourishing European hippy society, as a part of her own design history. Not surprising that she has a soft spot for all things patchwork and woven not to mention a penchant for a little hanging macramé.

The most significant feature of this designer’s seemingly unrelated body of work is a strong feeling for the elemental, the simple and an avoidance of gratuitous complexity. Take the Bague table lamp for Foscarini, a simple metal net covered with silicon and lit by a standard lamp. It’s straightforward and extremely easy to reproduce. This innate understanding of the design process, honed from years of experience working in a country synonymous with manufacturing and industry, sets Urquiola’s work apart. She has a high regard for the work of designers Achille Castiglioni and Jasper Morrison and says “when I need something that gives me direction, or something that makes me come back home to a more elemental way of thinking about design, I think about these two men. They are like a father and a big brother. I don’t take inspiration from them but I really respect a lot of their work. They are very close to my own sensibility.”

Urquiola began her career with Italian design visionary, Maddalena De Padova. Assisting architect and designer, Vico Magistretti, Urquiola reflects on how the focus was always on how something could be reproduced and acknowledges that this is still fundamental to the way she thinks about design. “In some ways my products are all quite essential. Like Fat Fat, for example or a lot of lamps and things I did for Moroso. Obviously, for me design must be reproducible in an industrial way. You must give something to the company which is in some ways quite clean. You need to keep in mind the industrial process. Not to be overly complex. You need to be essential.”

Each project will have its own particular needs which often necessitates the designer think ‘outside the square’. Not a problem for Urquiola who believes that her “feminine side” can be a distinct advantage. She says that a contemporary woman’s ability to juggle many roles, from professional designer to mother for example, can be an enormous advantage. She explains that while juggling many roles can also be problematic, at the same time it offers women a certain freedom and an ability to embrace a more flexible approach, something which is very useful for a designer. “I get from here to there, from there to here. I keep moving. It’s part of my character. I need to be involved in a few things” she says. Adding, “I’m a little bit obsessive in all of that. My biggest problem is how to switch off at night.”

Urquiola is not troubled by sudden shifts in direction. In fact, she says: “this year I’m doing some projects which are very concrete, very simple, very severe and another one with a lot of complexity and a lot of happiness. My head needs both. I need both. So in design… ‘ sometimes I need some products which are more complex or they need decoration in some way.” She talks about the Caboche lamp designed for Foscarini: “I wanted to create the mood of an old hanging lamp, like a Murano lamp. A very chic, historical or rich lamp because you need it. Because your table is very clean and simple and you need something which is an ‘object of desire’. So how can I do something which is contemporary and give all of this. We began with this idea and the lamp ended up looking like an important crystal and glass lamp. In the end the product sells well but it is essentially made out of plastic and realised in an industrial way. But the meaning of this product, the Caboche, is that it is a very complex luxury product. I like the irony of this.”

Urquiola’s visit to Australia was her second trip to our shores. Her first visit in 2003 included an inspirational three-day trip to Uluru with good friend Patricia Moroso. In addition to being an incredibly bonding experience, she describes this trip as something she will remember her entire life. The two were also impressed with Australian women, who she describes as more up-to-date and positive than their American or European counterparts. Urquiola found the energy of Australian woman to be refreshing and calls to mind the Japanese architect Toyo Ito who advocates that to find the temperature or dimensions of a society one must look at what the women in the street are doing.

Urquiola believes that good design is that delicate balance between creating something practical which works but also something which sits comfortably within its social milieu. She credits her mentor and thesis supervisor, Castiglione with teaching her to look into her own life and background to find a contemporary language, the “personal digestion of your culture” which is essential to good design.

Speaking with Urquiola, it’s easy to see how important humour is to her. In fact her sense of irony and wicked humour shines through many pieces. Take Fat Fat, a voluptuous soft table with a practical interior storage cavity. It’s a part of growing ‘fat family’ which includes tables, a bed and a fatty sofa in the pipeline. “Now I always say Fat Fat was the beginning of my relationship with B&B, a relationship that continues to grow because there is always a gentle dialogue of ideas. This is very, very helpful for a designer. The first thing I proposed to them was that for me perhaps B&B is too elegant. I don’t feel the project with so much a sense of proportion and elegance so perhaps we have to do a fatty product. Something with some kilos more! A problem we can all have, me and other people. Perhaps we can have a fatty elegance. They didn’t say to me, my God, this girl, what is she saying? They were really easy. This means that they are people open to provocation, open to thinking about what is in the back of your head. Having a conversation, a dialogue – this is really helpful for working. I need fatty elegance.”

Words: Lily Katakouzinos

Images: designboom

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  1. November 2, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Great article! Patricia Urquiola is my favourate contemporary designer and this story tells successfully about many sides of her talent.

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