INTERVIEW: Claudio Luti

Ahead of the most prestigious furniture fair, Salone del Mobile.Milano, we have talked with president and representative of this esteemed event, which is dedicated to design and “Made in Italy” stamp…

Milan furniture fair has been organized since 1961 and it has become a prestigious platform for Italian and international exhibitors, when we talk about furnishing interior and exterior. Numbers show that people are more and more interested for high-quality Italian design and furniture, not only esthetically beautiful and elegant, but functional and innovative, but most of all impressive, which is why this fair has its editions in Moscow and Shanghai. Salone del Mobile.Milano is the best and most important design event in the world, which contains a combination of innovations, creativity, industrial design and quality.

We had the honor to talk to the president of Salone del Mobile.Milano, mister Claudio Luti, who is an exemplar of style, a true representative of the manifestation which he leads, although this information is not surprising at all, since he was a founding partner of Gianni Versace SpA and acted as CEO for the company, working in close collaboration with the famous designer and actively contributing to his huge international success.

On 22 May 2015, Claudio Luti was appointed Cavaliere del Lavoro by the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the La Triennale di Milano Foundation since November 2018 and a member of the Scientific Committee of the Triennale Museum of Design Foundation.

Claudio Luti is also the president and owner of Kartell SpA. Since taking over the business in 1988 from Giulio Castelli, who founded it in 1949, Claudio Luti has turned Kartell into an undisputed leader in the sector, with 75% of production exported, over 140 flagship stores, 250 shop-in-shop departments, and over 2,500 retailers located in 140 different countries. Today Kartell boasts more than 150 product families in its catalogue, created by some of the top designers in the world.

1. Salone del Mobile.Milano is definitely a benchmark for quality and innovations. What sets this fair apart from all the others in the world, in your own opinion?

The Salone del Mobile.Milano is above all a system of connections, creativity and innovation. It has a winning format that has been reached and consolidated throughout all these years with a mixture of factors all important and complementary: companies, design, architects, media, business, the fair, and the city of Milan.

Salone del Mobile.Milano is, in particular, the place where culture and a specific way of working come together. It is the place where entrepreneurs and designers come together.

The Salone started as a commercial fair but very soon started to become a reference point for all those who deals or are interested in furniture and in the last 15 years it become an international point of reference, the place that creates what later will become a trend.

Salone del Mobile is an important reality for the furniture sector, for the city of Milan and for Italy. We have received it from our predecessors as an important heritage and we have to protect it with maximum attention and maintaining its global leadership.

2. Each edition of the fair has more exhibitors – we’re talking about 2.000 of them. How long does it take to organize one such event and how big is the team of people who stand behind the organization?

We start working on the next edition the day after the end of the previous one. It takes a full year to get to the final results. The team is not that big, we are more or less 30 people but we are very well organized in different departments.

3. To which extent are you, yourself, included in the fair organization?

I feel like the conductor of a great orchestra where everyone plays his/her own instrument very well and I supervise the whole work.

4. Innovation is the key factor of each edition, what inspires you year after year?

Innovation is the key of everything. The Salone has the duty to innovate itself, without compromising its very nature. It has to know how to challenge methods and criteria in a bid to raise standards and remain ahead of the game, with regard to both exhibition model and client service. It has the commitment to strive to do always better and achieve more than we already are.

The affirmation of the Salone exhibitors and therefore of the Salone itself rests on this capacity for ongoing innovation. Innovation with regard to lines, shapes, market approach and sales, innovation in communication. This is a duty that the Salone companies are bound to fulfil because competition has got sharper, time scales shorter and the market super-demanding.

5. What made you spread Salone del Mobile towards Moscow and Shanghai?

We responded to two markets that were curious about Italian furniture and ready to buy it and attracted by and Italian way of life.

In 2005 when we started the Saloni WorldWide Moscow – last year renamed Salone del Mobile.Milano Moscow – it was a  quite precise and opportune moment, seizing on their contemporaneousness with the heightened economic growth, the mushrooming urbanisation, the radical changes in housing styles, the improved lifestyles and the emergence of a new middle class attracted to Western products, and to Made in Italy in particular. After 14 edition the exhibition preserves its prime position on such an important market. A capital city such as Moscow, has shown its appreciation for the creativity and manufacturing value encapsulated by the exhibiting companies over the last 14 years. Russian visitors never stop to appreciate- despite the political-economic situation - the innovative content and manufacturing value that have always underlain our Salone brand.

We started Salone del Mobile.Milano Shanghai 3 years ago: it is a strategic international appointment, which has grown exponentially thanks to the quality of the exhibition and the interest of a public increasingly aware of and sensitive to the values of design. We firmly believe that we will be able to further advance what is already a fertile commercial and cultural dialogue between the two countries. We are sure the next edition will fully satisfy the demands of a rapidly-changing market that has great expectations of us, as it has a manufacturing history behind it similar to that of Italy in terms of the constant quest for beauty, originality and elegance

6. How attractive is Italian design to those markets?

It very attractive and as I just said is more than a single piece but the Italian style, the Italian way of life.

In 2018, as in 2017, Italy was again the second highest furniture supplier to Russia while the figures for China demonstrate its growing appreciation for the extraordinarily high quality of Italian design and furnishing products.

7. How important is your close collaboration and support of the city of Milan when it comes to organization?

We have a consolidated relationship with the city of Milano because there is no Salone without Milan and viceversa: the Salone del Mobile.Milano has its roots in Milan.

The Manifesto of the Salone del Mobile.Milano launched during last year and reproposed for this edition  is an affectionate tribute to the city, a declaration of intent geared to channelling the powers that be in Milan to work together to preserve the leadership role of both the trade fair and of the city, and attract ideas, projects and new resources.

The Salone transforms the city into a fluid space, open to a great many experiences and a great many opportunities for meeting and sharing.

8. What is your strategy of success, given the fact that by profession you are an economist?

I do not have a strategy for success but a strategy of work to do always better: only with continual innovation and high quality can the global challenge be won.

The success of the Salone del Mobile.Milano is due entirely to the production system that underpins it, allowing it to showcase innovative products and processes every twelve months.

9. Is it enough for one object of furnishing or decoration to be just functional, high-quality and beautiful or does it have to have some sort of X factor?

An object should also create an emotion. Without emotion you do not go anywhere.

10. Salone del Mobile.Milano supports young talented designers under the age of 35. How do you discover new talents?

The SaloneSatellite is the event of Salone del Mobile.Milano that presents under 35 designers: it the most important launching pad of young creatives, allowing them to get in direct contact with entrepreneurs and exhibiting companies which will eventually produce their pieces and market them. The founder and curator of SaloneSatellite, Marva Griffin travels a lot to discover them while a lot of young people apply directly to participate.

11. What does a talented designer has to have?

A personal touch, and to try express him/herself rather than copy successful designers or projects.

12. Not many people know that you were in the fashion business for a long time, or that you’ve worked with Gianni Versace. In 1988 you left the fashion scene and came to the helm of a family company Kartell, which has over 130 stores all over the world. How did your fashion knowledge and experience influence the world of furniture design, and in which manner are they connected?

You are right! I have worked in fashion for many years and I believe that these 2 worlds are not as much different as they might seem at first sight. For example when I was at Versace I learned how monobrand shops are very important for a company because they publicize the brand in a faster and more effective way. I brought this lesson to Kartell and as soon as I could I opened Kartell shops. From fashion I have also learned the art of seduction and emotion. A piece of furniture, like a dress could be seductive and transmit emotions. When I work on a piece at the same time I think how it can be sold and how it can be a winner piece.

13. Kartell creates innovative and prestigious products, and you’ve turned Salone del Mobile.Milano into an impressive and important cultural, innovative and prestigious event for Milano, Moscow and Shanghai. What is your recipe for success?

As mentioned earlier, quality and innovation are the key of any success in all fields. 

Photo: Salone del Mobile.Milano

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