When it comes down to it, good design is often more a matter of execution as opposed to the idea itself: Speculate as we might, a product must actually be in production in order for the world to appreciate its merits. And while few among us have the luxury of not having to compromise (Apple, for one, if Leander Kahney's biography of Jony Ive is any indication), these are precisely the instances in which the vision must remain coherent if the concept is to be realized in full.
Count Moroso among the vanguard of design-led brands. The Udine-based furniture company celebrated its 60th Anniversary last year, but as Creative Director Patrizia Moroso notes, they took the opportunity not to look back but to look forward. She personally toured their factories, "looking for the prototypes an the pieces that never went into production," for an exhibition in Milan last year. "All the things that go before the 'birth' [of a project]"—samples, prototypes, early experiments (some of which were aborted)—"it was very emotional, because I remember when the designer came and changed this detail, maybe he [or she] changed a lot..."
But she doesn't dwell on that which could have been: When we caught up with her at Moroso's New York showroom in October, Patrizia was in a buoyant mood (thanks, perhaps, to a few espressos following a flight from Italy), as was Marc Thorpe, whose recent collection for the brand is currently on view at the space at 146 Greene St. Indeed, she was in town on the occasion of the opening of "Blurred Limits," featuring the young New York-based designer's "Blur" collection, along with the one-off "Ratio" table and a first look at "Morning Glory," which will officially debut at the Salone in 2014. We had the chance to speak to the two of them about their ongoing collaboration, which dates back to the "Mark" table from 2010.
"I actually met Patrizia and in Italy in 2009, in the Fiera, but it was very brief," relates Marc, when asked about how they first met. "And then a year or so later, we were here [in New York] at an event, so I asked very humbly if I could show some of my work to her, and she said, 'Oh yeah, come have lunch...'" He recalls showing her a handful of renderings and prototypes, but one piece stood out: "That was the 'Mark' table, which was produced for a bar/lounge called the Mark." ("Easy to remember," Moroso notes.) "So she took everything to Italy and that's where it sort of began.
"A year or two later, we had the first conversations about the 'Blur' collection."
"...the only one in the world who has done it."
Unprompted, Moroso launches a discourse on the technical challenges: "It took two years to develop the 'blurring': It's a jacquard wool, but it's not made on a normal loom—it's a circular loom for knitting materials." They called on a Dutch textile manufacturer to step up to the task. Based just outside of Eindhoven, she noted that Innova specializes in "mattress fabric" but was willing to collaborate on what Thorpe describes as a painstaking process.
It's essentially sandwiched, so there's a back layer and a top layer, and the machine fuses them together with the inner fill. They can do all sorts of different patterns and intricate things by putting the two layers together, but to do a pixelation was extremely difficult—they had to rethink how the machines and the computer would operate to be able to produce this type of pattern. Each stitch, here, is a pixel, directly from the computer.
It's very technical—Moroso is the only one in the world who has done it.
Patrizia politely demurs, opting for a more philosophical angle. "The fabric is the skin of the object—the point of communication between the shape and whoever is looking at it." In other words, the material as essential as the form itself—"even though Marc's work is about strong shapes, you don't only see a geometry"—and the technical challenge in actually producing a textile that would properly express the pattern ended up quite a bit R&D. Marc admits that his first attempt at designing a textile proved to be an "exciting experience."
One of the things I learned about the process, when I was there, is that one of the most difficult parts—which almost killed the project, to be honest with you—was the washing process. So once it comes off the machine, they have to wash the fabric and it has to hang and dry, and typically what happens is that the ink inside the fabric itself starts to run; it starts to bleed; it starts to blur the blur. They have to throw it out and start again in order to figure out, how do we do this? It took a solid three years of work to get it right and they did it.
Thorpe revisits the topic of geometry in a different context shortly thereafter. "It's a cool triangle—three different companies, three different people in three different countries, all coming at the exact moment with this thing," he says, giving the Dutch company equal credit in making "Blur" a reality. "There is interest from Innova to experiment with this techinique; there is interest from Moroso to engage in this experimentation, through the technology and the design; and then ourselves, as the design firm, coming up with the concept to bring to the table to discuss as a whole."
"Color is not indifferent."
They produce a ring-bound stack of fabric samples in various colors (solids, of course, are also available)—it's hard to discern the blurring effect in the smaller ones—but Patrizia felt strongly that the collection should only come in three colors at its debut in Milan this year. "Black and white [represents] shadow. Yellow is the color of light. And red, because red is the strongest color you can see."
Whereas "Patricia Urquiola, for instance"—Moroso is close with the Spanish designer both professionally and personally—"is interested not in the color but in the dress of the object," color is paramount to Thorpe's project. In order to focus on the visual effect as that of movement, Moroso insisted on "limited possibilities or versions."
Whenever you start with the concept, it's important to start with a few options to show the strength of the thing [itself]—if you have many, many possibilities, in a way, you lose some potential... It was important for us to show that the blur [reveals the meaning of] light and what happens when you have a shadow or a neon light—it's strong and then disappears.
They overall effect is an expression of light and movement in a single stroke, frozen in time, something like a visualization of Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty or Giacomo Balla's "Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash" in furniture form. "When you describe a movement in a picture," says Moroso, "You see [whoosh]—a blurring of the object, which is moving. In this sense, the project is very peculiar."
So too does "Blur" represent a kind of bridge between craft and digitization: Thorpe notes that "the stitch itself is a pixel, so it's a literal translation from the computer to physical object," and with the looms calibrated to the file, the difficult part is over. He adds that the visual effect also works to the benefit of the architect or interior designer: "The fun part is that the architect spec'ing out the textile—the blur—can actually start to play with the gradient, so the gradients can interact and you get this nice array of color in the space with all the different components."
"It has to be like snow falling down."
Architecture, at another scale, lends itself to another metaphor for describing the relationship between the object and its materials: "Every single project has a different kind of surface," Moroso notes. "As with architecture, you can see immediately—that is Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Toyo Ito—you recognize it immediately. Not from the inside—from the outside, from the skin." If, as she is quick to admit, "the first fabric [that was] prototyped was full of mistakes, because it was stripy and the dots were not perfect, like it is now," the result is all the more impressive. The textile development, then, is a kind of initial investment that ultimately pays off as a hallmark of Moroso's consistently innovative output. (She notes that Urquiola's recent collaboration with Kvadrat was also several years in the making.) "I love when designers [come to me] with a global project," she says. "One that is not only the shape or the form, but something more."
Thorpe is flattered and humbled by the inclusion of the Blur textile in last year's anniversary festivities, at the renowned Lyon Museum of Textiles, where Patrizia organized an exhibition "showing the evolution of textiles, all the way up to this moment." Thorpe's computer-generated blur marked the leading edge of the chronology, which dates back to brocaded silks from the 1700s, which Moroso faithfully reproduced for several contemporary pieces (they've also seen fit to refresh a 20 year-old design by another Marc with the new textile and is now offering a blurred "TV" chair). "The jacquard from the 18th Century—the Marie Antoinette jacquard—and this," Moroso jumps in, proffering the fabric samples in her hand. "The complexity is more or less the same."
Just as a cohesive concept constitutes what Moroso refers to as the soul of the project, their dedication to realizing those ideas is the heart and soul of the company. Thorpe, for his part, is gracious: "In order to be able to do something like ['Blur']—which I always find is one of the most beautiful things about this project—is that you need to have a patron, who is willing and able to say 'Yes, let's continue to do this,'" he says, paraphrasing the beaming woman sitting beside him. "Moroso is a beautiful example of [that kind of] experimentation, constantly pushing the limits and maybe even what people know, what is normal—moving beyond the status quo, and challenging themselves. It's really exciting as a designer to work with a brand or company like that."
"I'm very fortunate."
"Blurred Limits" also includes two other pieces by Thorpe for Moroso: The "Morning Glory" side table was "deeply inspired by Moroso." "As a designer, you have a little bit of a responsibility to [analyze] of what the collection is, and how [your pieces] can work with the other projects," he explains. "Obviously the work of Urquiola is very organic, and very soft and elegant at the same time." If the playful table—"a nod to Urquiola, [to show] respect for them"—marks something of a departure from the strict geometries that characterize his other projects, Thorpe likens it to getting typecast as an actor. "It sucks when you just play one role."
The one-off piece "Ratio," on the other hand, was designed to complement (or comment on) his other work, illustrating "the thinking that went behind formal language of the Blur and how the Blur works."
We can talk a little bit about this idea of relational design. It's engaging. It's participatory. It's something you want to play with, so you can make it your own. And you engage it in that sense—you can take the pieces apart, put it together and reformulate in different configurations, and spread it around the environment, which is kind of fun.
He pauses for a moment to catch his breath when it hits him. "Actually it's a nice metaphor—of all the people, coming together, as one piece." He's ad-libbing, but it works: If Thorpe is the actor, Moroso is the director/producer who will certainly cast him again.