Interview with Luigi Trenti

Under 40 years old, eclectic person, careful to practicality of use and to functional innovation, Luigi Trenti can boast a remarkable series of very good products. Equipped with an unusual creative versatility – from lighting field to furnishings, from writing instruments to kitchen design and to medical devices – the Florentine designer has obtained numerous international acknowledgments thanks to the collaboration with companies like Targetti Sankey – for whom he designed Mondial, the adjustable floodlight, winner of Prize IF at Hannover and inserted in the F1 system, Compasso d'Oro in 1998 – Osram, General Electric, Martini Illuminazione, Pineider, Locman, 1000Miglia, Ycami, Bugatti, Ciatti.

According to you, in these last ten-fifteen years, how did the project-product relationship develop?
During the last few years there was a drastic evolution in our job.
Thanks to the spread of the computerized devices and the easy accessibility to software such as CAD 3D, the project management progressively moved from the professional studios to the productive structure within the factory premises. I have always thought of my job as an "artist" who invents an idea for a company and its market: every product is like a son determined from the encounter with an idea and a company.
It's the same modality of great Italian designers of some decades ago.
They operated in this way, but for them it was easier to propose ideas because the market was voracious of innovations; but, at the same time, there were still strong productive limits.

What happened?
The designer, even if competent in productive techniques and equipped to supply a "complete" service to the company, revealed to be absolutely inadequate in producing executive designs.
It's been like a right failure of the "entrepreneur" designer, of the studio-company that tried to sell the complete project.
This is due to the companies who have confirmed not to accept "intruder projects" and have the necessity to manage the productive phase inside the factory by their technical offices or through external societies specialized in the industrialization directed by engineers specialized in that field.
It has been a slow qualitative evolution and not immediate.
At the beginning it has also determined a paradoxical contrast between designer's project and productive project of the company, with obvious waste of resources in design realization.
As soon as the projects were received by the company they were thrown away to be redone again. Now, from the designer point of view, to accept this evolution means to simplify the organization of the studio.
Personally I propose myself to the companies with simple sketches, then, if these ideas meet the interest of the producer I try to follow as "art-director" all executive steps to avoid uncorrect changes.
In other words "designers of some time ago worked in my studio" have turned out to be the technicians who now work inside some of the companies I usually deal with.

Therefore, also the decision to work on your own becomes easier?
Of course.
The result of all this process is that today the "expert" is being revalued: the designer's creative identity is revalued as twenty or thirty years ago and the professional comparison is finally returning to the level of the idea, and not considering any longer the turnovers or number of employees of the studio.
A young designer can propose a good idea and join the catalogue of an important brand.
This is what happened to me with Targetti at the beginning of the career in 1992.
In my specific case, my first years with Targetti have been a fortunate experience.
I answered to an announcement that Targetti published in La Nazione newspaper: they were looking for mechanical designers and an art-director: I introduced myself with a book in which there was even my graduation thesis. Paolo Targetti had to realize a new collection of lighting fixtures and during the interview he said: "I like this sketch".
And from this lucky episode, I became Design Manager after six months.
It was a very delicate and particular situation, as Targetti was living an internal revolution at the company level and there was the need of valid people who could take many responsibilities.
A particular situation that made me in condition of managing all production, with revolutionary products like Arianne – the first collection in history of technical equipment realized in compact polyurethane – and Mondial – that will subsequently become the illuminant spot inserted in F1 system, winner of the Prize Compasso d'Oro in 1998.
Therefore, returning to your question, my message to young people is here: come on, through yourselves into the world of job heart and soul…

Nevertheless, in 1998 the Compasso d'Oro for F1 was only attributed to Paolo Targetti wasn't it?
Many people collaborated with Targetti Sankey as associate, inner or external designer: Massimo Sacconi, Christian Theill, Catherine Hamon are some of my nearest predecessors; but none of these names appear on catalogues.
Also the author of Structura – he was an external supplier – has never been mentioned.
That Compasso d'Oro had to be assigned by ADI to the Targetti Sankey Spa as producer and to the Targetti Sankey's Technical Office as design: the protagonists of that project that had begun with Mondial project in 1993, were in chronological order: Roberto Nesti, Luigi Trenti, Gino Cipriani and Piero Landini.
However just the fact of not being able to obtain a full acknowledgment, together with the desire to project other kinds of objects – beyond the lamps – has been the reason that made me a freelance.

After Targetti you found yourself in competition with important Studios, and you have been repeatedly awarded. Not only in the young category, but you have been selected, by Jean Nouvel and then by Michele De Lucchi, in the International Design Yearbook. And – particular aspect – for several kinds of products, in different fields. Most valid professional people usually choose a specific field, in order to express at best their own excellence, while instead your working experience is not so simple and predictable...
This is a characteristic I like to underline and that makes me feel me proud of myself.
I worked in the lighting fixtures with Targetti – continuing in this field with products like Lesena for Martini.
Then I designed medical devices for Seac – showed in 2000 at the Biennial of Design of Lubiana. For Pineider I designed Egosphere – the fountain-pen symbol of the brand – and Jolly – a leather pen.
With Metrocubo for Ciatti a Tavola I created a kitchen fully equipped and involving in this project even Whirlpool and Gessi and I was still able to obtain good results even changing completely field and kind of products.

On the professional point of view do you think that your projectual versatility is an advantage?
From a financial point of view it demonstrated to have an opposite effect, because design system calls you when you are identified in a precise role.
I want to tell you a funny recurrent episode: every year in Cologne I meet Mino Bellato, owner of Bellato company and of Pallucco Italia.
Everytime that he meets me he asks smiling: "Hi Architect, what do you do here? This is a furniture fair not a lighting one!".
This is because I am for him the Targetti designer or the designer of Lesena produced by Martini. As many other producers it is difficult for them to understand that in design it is possible to be successful in different fields without necessarily being a specialist in each field.

Is the designer half manager and half artist?
I have in mind an equation, because according to me a product has two factors that make it successful. One is obviously the innovative concept – that can be balanced between aesthetic and function.
The other is the factor "K" that is the cost.
We can be excellent in the first phase, but if we fail in the second factor the product cannot be commercialized and therefore - even if it could be rewarded or published in reviews – there is not a true professional reply. Our generation is no longer the one of Sottsass's or Mendini's.
With all the economic problems of nowadays, with the threat of the Far East competition, etc, our generation must be capable of facing all market and costs requirements.
Thus for us the success is the winner product which is the magical combination of these two coefficients.

Don't you think that factor K is a very complicated matter? Even though it is extremely important We do not speak about the simple production cost...
For a long time I have been convinced that the success of a product arrives when it is guaranteed a winning marketing organization.
At this point this aspect makes the difference. Alessi phenomenon is surely emblematic.
This is a company with an extremely serious and technological feature.
It realized rigorous products of steel, with strong connotations, that we say, evergreen - for instance let's think about some coffee machine that have lasted for decades, showing the fantastic of Richard Sapper's design.
At a certain point we had an unexpected change of strategies: a strong characterization of, strange, very colourful and "trendy" objects; all realized with materials that did not have nothing to do with company tradition that was all oriented in working stainless steel.
Nevertheless in stores we find an invasion of Alessi products and, however, all of them give something of Alessi. How can it be possible?
This operation would be unacceptable for the greatest part of Italian entrepreneurs.
A jump in the dark….
It is unacceptable to change the general feature of a product identified with the brand, but it is even more unacceptable to change the technologies used to realize the products.
Alessi constitutes an emblematic case: this is a company that – thanks to a winning marketing strategy, a good advertising, etc –, has been successful against every traditional rule, obtaining anyway a shocking success: putting Sapper apart and making Stefano Giovannoni a star.
According to me Alessi is an emblematic case and it would have to suggest many entrepreneurs not to copy but to "take notes".
The idea is obviously necessary, but your job can be a success only when you meet a productive reality, who knows how to sell it.
I could mention various objects and products that were really valid but which didn't have the due reply on the market because of the absence of a successful marketing strategy.
Speaking of Tuscany again, Segis company represents another case of success which is to be attributed to Franco Dominici's entrepreneurial skills in occasion of the promotion of Breeze armchair by Carlo Bartoli.
An object that was produced and sold in approximately a million pieces: a phantasmagoric figure for a chair produced in Tuscany, also in consideration of the fact that it arrived after Philippe Starck's chairs produced by Kartell and Driade, and after many examples that – apparently – would have saturated all market needs. Carlo Bartoli has had an important re-advancement of image.
Why this success?
Because there is a well made product, correctly done, but there is also something that often lacks: a strong marketing plan.
If then, we look at the formative level in design schools, it is easy to notice that this is the lack. It is very important to realize courses in order to form designer (there are too many), but it is more important to form entrepreneurs who are aware of the importance of investing in design.
Otherwise it is like if many fantastic cars were produced – the designers – without building adequate roads – companies – in order to make them run.
According to me the most important aspect that is apparently missing is to create specific courses in order to form an entrepreneurial class – especially here, in this more depressed area compared to the Northern Italy, who could be fully aware of the potentialities offered by design investment and who knows how to take advantage of the good ideas making them productive.

You created Lesena for Martini… Did you try to realize, at low costs, an innovative product of great functionality?
It's a product in which I combined all the aspirations I usually aim at whenever I design a project. With the companies - and most of all in such unfavourable economic situation of nowadays – it is never easy to succeed in forcing certain parameters proposing something truly innovative and different. Watching the lighting fixtures field we assisted to a marked formal flattening which determined production of catalogues constituted of metal boxes or little more.
Why this?
Because the necessity to maintain the company's position on the market pushed them to flatten their productive logic according to the demands fof civil architecture.
Years ago Guzzini contacted Bruno Gecchelin – a specialist in the lighting fixtures field – and they commissioned him the Shuttle; a fantastic product.
Shortly it becomes a great success at medium and long term, realized in a truly complete range of products able to cover all lighting requirements.
Now the company who wants to sell, does not apply any more to the lighting designer and expert designer who knows how to control the shape and even to be innovate.
Now the company address themselves directly to the civil architect because the civil architect has at his disposal something extremely important for the company: the yards, and this means thousands of pieces sold before being produced, with a cordial salute to lighting design research.

Returning to the difficult relationship between lighting products and living furnishings, the success of Lesena do you think is due to the right combination between its minimal shape and unusual design...
I tried to make something that was "understandable" for all.
For some people is a minimalist project, while others find obvious the link with new-edge design of some Ford's models.
The characteristic is the extreme flexibility.
A light of emergency can be inserted for a functionality also in case of blackout; it can be equipped with a light regulator and the illuminant body can indifferently be halogen, fluorescent, etc.
Altogether this wall panel – of which Lesena is a founder of family products – is therefore strongly recognizable without being centralizing, with inexhaustible potentialities of uses.
Its characteristics have been so appreciated that in the last few years numerous clones of Lesena appeared on the market and not only in the lighting field but also in the ones of furnishings and mirrors, thermo-furnishings, bathroom furnishings...

After the interesting Egosphere experience, which represented for Pineider the starting project of the new Millennium, you conceived Jolly pen, a very interesting product which combines unusual materials for its field with productive values. Compared to Egosphere, there may be more to tell about this last pen that at first glance can escape...
At first, for Jolly, it has been important the context: Pineider is an historical Florentine brand linked to the world of paper and press, but who also realizes writing instruments as well as different kinds of leather goods.
Jolly is a pen that has a leather covering and therefore, like Egosphere, it has strong representation value as it combines the two core business areas of the Company.
My innovative idea consists in the new way of applying the leather covering, instead of using the same old traditional method that sees the 2 leather ends perfectly and smoothly combined on the external body, in order to hide at best the several tiny imperfections on this junction.
Infact I decided to do it in a completely different way: since however the splice remains visible I tried to give evidence to it.
In such an appealing way that it becomes an ergonomic element that makes the grip more efficient and it also reduces the risk of falling as it does not roll down to the floor.
The covering is replaceable in a very simple way: it is sufficient to unscrew the terminal disc of the bottom that locks the leather cylinder and it can be easily removed and changed.
The limit to the colors adopted in the catalogue simply depends on the matching colour of the agenda. Furthermore the idea can be expanded also to other material coverings, such as fabrics, rubber, etc and finally the cap constitutes the ideal "continuation" of the leather rib, but as it can be rotated it becomes also an useful clip.

In a certain way you have contributed in "updating" the brand...
Con una certa soddisfazione posso dirti che oltre a Egosphere che trovi in vendita sugli aerei della Alitalia al posto delle Montblanc, Jolly viene da qualche mese pubblicata spontaneamente su riviste di settore, ed è stata esposta alla BIO 19 di Lubiana, preselezionata per il Compasso d'Oro, finalista al Grandesign, ecc... Insomma ho veramente lavorato "con il cuore" per questo marchio fiorentino. Purtroppo la situazione attuale di Pineider è simile a quella di molti marchi storici italiani e stranieri. Si tratta di un marchio di grandissimo prestigio e tradizione che è passato più volte di mano in mano e che sta uscendo solo adesso da una delicata fase di liquidazione. Restando in area fiorentina la Gucci ha avuto molta più fortuna. Con una certa strategia, in una decina d'anni, è passata da un prodotto di altissima qualità produttiva - che si vendeva meno -, ad una produzione, forse meno sofisticata, ma di grande successo economico. E' stato rivoluzionato il marchio, con un investimento milionario in comunicazione che ha spinto molto sulla "percezione" del cambiamento ottenendo però risultati notevoli perché oggi il marchio Gucci si è chiaramente rafforzato. Pineider avrebbe bisogno di un intervento simile With little satisfaction I can say that beyond Egosphere, which is sold on Alitalia airplanes instead of Montblanc, Jolly has been spontaneously published in several specialized magazines for some months. Then it was exposed to BIO 19 of Lubiana, pre-selected for Compasso d'Oro, finalist to Grandesign, etc... I have truly worked with a great deal of passion for this Florentine brand.
Unfortunately the present situation of Pineider company is similar to the one of many Italian and foreign famous brands.
In the Florentine area Gucci has been having much more luckier. With a perfect strategy, in the last ten years, it passed from a very high quality product production, to a maybe less sophisticated product, but of great economic success. With a millionaire investment in communication Gucci has obtained remarkable results because changing completely the identity of the brand.
Pineider would need a similar developing process.

In your previous experiences you met people like: Giovanni Klaus Koenig, Roberto Segoni, Remo Buti and his "assistants" Stefano Giovannoni and Guido Venturini. And then Biagio Cisotti who supported you in completing your thesis degree... What kind of influence did these important characters have on you?
I attended the Technical Institute and then the architecture faculty.
At the beginnig with great enthusiasm, but then I realized there was not a real quality of education.
I remained very disappointed about the architectural design, also because, perhaps, I was expecting something too exciting.
I think the names you mentioned transmitted me he necessary enthusiasm that justified the choice of my formative way. For example, in Giovanni Klaus Koenig's lessons, even speaking about a simple nail, was able to make people enthusiastic, passing through different fields: cinema, theatre, music.
He was a person full of charme.
He smoked North Pole!
Roberto Segoni was very funny.
At his lessons we laughed.
He was like attending a Roberto Benigni's show.
I remember that I followed the first Segoni's lesson after five years of university, and even though I experienced working in some professional architectural studios, I immediately understood by his first lesson which was my way, my job and my future... industrial design.
Remo Buti was another extraordinary figure with an absolutely original and innovative way of teaching. He had as his assistants, personages who belonged to Bolidista movement like Massimo Mariani, Stefano Giovannoni, Guido Venturini. It was an incredible experience as I had the possibility to learn the model's development technique, how to glue, to putty, to paint… And at the end of his course the 200 models were almost a work of collective Art.
In other words at the end of a complete educational training of 30 examinations you can perfectly remember who transmitted to you something really exciting.

Luigi Trenti Design

Ci Emme Sistemi
General Electric
Martini Illuminazione
1000 Miglia
Sodi Scientifica
Stern Laser
edited by: 
Umberto Rovelli