| CASSINA / MILAN INTERNATIONAL FURNITURE FAIR 2008
Cassina works industrially in the contemporary furnishing sector. It produces chairs, tables, armchairs, beds, and furniture in general with a particular flair for upholstered items and work in wood, leather and other top-quality materials.
The "Amedeo Cassina" firm first saw the light of day officially at Meda (Milano) in 1927, on the initiative of the brothers Cesare and Umberto Cassina. The name was modified in 1935 to "Figli di Amedeo Cassina". At the outset practically the entire outputs was made up of small pieces of wooden furniture - small work-tables and living-room tables - being later extended to include armchairs and drawing-room furniture. The first Cassina furniture was eclectic in inspiration, but the melange of styles soon gave way to the generic middle-of-the-road 20th century style. These were years of great crisis and it was thanks to this amplification of activity that the young firm was able to keep its head above water and not succumb to the difficulties that beset the sector and the economy of the entire state. The furniture that Cassina produced was for the most part fitted; it was often made for specific destinations and sometimes resulted in small serial production runs.
Gathered together under the Cassina label are to be found the formal research if Gio Ponti, the provocative irony of the radical design of Paolo Deganello and Archizoom, Gaetano Pesce's original research, the indisputable brilliance of Vico Magistretti in his interpretations of everyday articles of furniture, the theoretical tenacity of Mario Bellini, the formal elegance of Piero Lissoni and the ability of Philippe Starck in redefining different types of furniture. But there we find also Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld and Erik Gunnar.
Over the years, Cassina has defined a new industrial model, with the ability to meld very diverse personalities and imbue them with the same project logic from which derive articles that form part of the same order. This is an order that springs from research into quality, continual checks on materials, techniques and execution, from research into diversity up to the point of inventing new types of furniture that impinge on the behaviour and life-style of the user.
This is the spirit with which Cassina has chosen the designers to create its new pieces, which are debuting at the 2008 Milan Furniture Fair.
Cassina's products are a perfect blend of design and technology, bringing together in each single piece both traditional craftsmanship and engineering techniques: each contributes to the other, creating unique designs that come about by working in close contact with each designer. The results are clear to see at the made in Cassina exhibition at the Triennale di Milano, 16th April-7th September 2008, an exploration of the world of Cassina through 100 models made by some twenty international designers during Cassina's eighty-year history. The exhibition provides an overview of the decisive contribution of these partnerships, and gives a new perspective on its roots while paving the way for its new vision.
The peerless Mario Bellini was asked to take his in-depth investigation of the expressive potential of leather even further. Flanked by Cassina's manufacturing expertise, and with an uncommon mastery of materials, Bellini has gone beyond the Cab chair and has come up with the Bull, a leather chair that is even more contemporary and undulating, now with such unique details as fabrics inspired by leatherworking, and expressing the architect's thinking on material.
Cassina's brief for the project was clear: give the market a chair that offers a more contemporary mood than the Cab chair - an acknowledged icon across all areas of leather manufacture - while retaining the same trump cards, and utilising the manufacturing technologies the company has developed in the meantime.
With sleek, spare lines eliminating useless frills, the basic construction of the chair is simple: a steel frame completely upholstered in polished leather, as is the padded seat in expanded polyurethane. It, clear and simple geometry in space, gradually reveals the complexity of its design and the cutting-edge manufacturing process involved in its making. Despite the padding, the upholstery aheres so perfectly to the form of the chair that the frame practically disappears, accentuating the suppleness of the seat. The sinuous line of the seat and back offers total comfort. At the same time the separation between the two elements not only gives the chair the imperceptible movement that adds to the comfortable sensation, it also leaves meticulously planned narrow openings to create a perfect balance of filled and empty spaces, aimed at achieving a design that is light and discreet in its intended context.
And yet Bull has a very strong formal identity, made up of details like the exposed stitching over the full contour of the chair, synthesising the most advanced industrialisation and hand tailoring, applied where the legs and the seat meet so as to keep them separate and distinct, an effect once again underlining the extremely dynamic nature of this chair.
Light and yet solid and reassuring Eloro, the new sofa by Rodolfo Dordoni, reappropriates the extraordinary legacy of experience, knowledge and skills in manufacturing with timber begun by Cassina with the master Giò Ponti, and gives it a contemporary slant.
The Milanese designer gives the tradition form by working on an elegant ash frame made up of details, paired with a large leather support structure that contains the seat. Big fabric cushions fixed to the back, arms and seat ensure comfort and soften the overall outline of the piece.
Thanks to the special design of the timber frame, a triumph featuring a triangle and diagonals reminiscent of the warmest, most domestic version of the classic late 18th-century English bench, plays of light and see-through effects percolate through flowing volumes and narrow openings to give this sofa a wonderful lightness. Dordoni, a magician with proportions, combines angles and rounded surfaces, oblique and straight lines, minimal and more substantial thicknesses, in a subtle play of balances which keeps the supporting framework light and ethereal and puts to the test the most advanced joinery techniques developed by Cassina.
Designers were chosen for their ability to capture the spirit of Cassina, which has always focused on in-depth research into materials, almost as though challenging their inherent qualities. This is clear to see in the work of Konstantin Grcic, which has culminated in his leather Teepee, and his wooden armchair, Kanu.
This, their first collaboration, tests the affinity between the German designer's approach, concentrating on the distinctive characteristics of a given material or the winning components of a particular form to address all the functional aspects of an object, and Cassina's traditional research into materials, revisiting traditional ones or experimenting with the most innovative new ones.
In fact the company got Grcic involved with the specific intention of using showcase items to restore its spirit - not only its "savoir faire", but also its ability to react constructively to challenging projects that severely test traditional beliefs, studying different manufacturing solutions each time and adjusting technology and manual input accordingly.
The strict architectural structure of Teepee gives little hint of the enormous design effort that went into its development. At first glance it resembles a very thin leather shell, moulded into slants and curves and containing a seat made from equally thin leather. A super-minimal interpretation of the material which, by removing heaviness, superfluous detail and unnecessary volume takes us back to the complexity of its manufacture.
Starting from the assumption that leather is not in itself a load-bearing material, thermoforming covered on both sides has been inserted to make it stiffer but at the same time more flexible, and thus more comfortable; it has been used on the seat and on the main structure, the base of which is in turn strengthened with a metal frame in the form of a half-cone, again covered in leather. The final effect is of a chair in which a very fine layer of leather follows the basic linear geometry without interruption and is able to provide maximum comfort thanks to the sloping nature of the seat and the back, both meticulously designed according to the response of the material to the special treatments it has undergone. The complete absence of stitching all along the outer edge is the result of a special "scraping up" technique used to gradually reduce the thickness between the two layers until it is reduced to nothing and they become integrated.
Kanu on the other hand, a basin-shaped seat in curved plywood, is concerned with timber and its flexibility. The simplicity of its semi-circular outline and the fineness of the timber sheets used for the frame barely hint at the innovation involved. Revolutionary and intricate in its manufacture, it requires the use of not just one mould but two: one for the main frame and the other for the seat, as the two curve and shape the plywood differently, reflecting the special slants needed in each case to achieve maximum comfort.
Two wooden frames, one a half-cylinder into which the seat frame appears to be inserted, offer levels of comfort and flexibility differentiated according to their function: what is required of a chair-back is not the same as what is required of a seat.
Philippe Starck was brought in with the specific goal of adding to Cassina's core-business collection of upholstered furniture. He both expanded the Privè collection with pieces acclaimed by the public and the media alike, with a new, shallower seat, and introduced the new Volage line, consisting of sofas, an armchair and a pouf.
This year the Privè collection, on the international design scene since last year, is enriched with new variations for the Caprice and Passion chairs, available with legs in black enamelled steel as well as the chrome steel version. These two chairs are technology concentrated, and distinguished by their cutting-edge construction.
With a clear presence in space and a clean line, Volage is distinguished by its marvellously light contours and the proportions of the armrests, back and seat.
The result of the first meeting between Tokujin Yoshioka's "impalpable signs" and the concrete savoir faire of Cassina is the amazing Heaven armchair.
With it, Yoshioka's poetics are for the first time concentrated on padding in the classic sense of the term, though endowing it with an allure that is hardly traditional. The irregular contour of the padding and the seemingly accidental folds of the upholstery conceal a manic attention to form that enhances comfort to the maximum. As if the chair had retained the impression of the figure just now curled up in it, registering all the elements that allowed it to be comfortable. An asymmetry that also suggests positions other than the traditional one, such as lying across it or stretching out as on a chaise-longue. A false "shabby" look, calibrated by the elegance of the proportions, the lightness of the overall substance that makes it fly, without gravity, like a cloud in some unearthly dimension, in spite of the steel frame that supports the padding.
The choice of upholstery, linen or leather, is not accidental. The creator was looking for the fibres that would best suit this game of imitation creases, those best able to impress the memory of the armchair in their folds.
With Heaven, Cassina once again demonstrates its ability to innovate, through an intimate and ongoing dialogue with visionary designers, who start with the reinterpretation of a form and turn it upside down until it becomes a different form with a new meaning, ready to set the standard in the theatres of modern living.
Further info about older products are available in MIFF 2007
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