09 July 2018
Who says the icons of Italian design should only be furnishing pieces created by famous designers and often only to be found in the rooms of aficionados and collectors? There are objects that have always lain around the homes of every Italian: they are small, silent but irresistibly fascinating, they’ve been part of our everyday lives for ages and, are still being produced in exactly the same way as when they were first conceived. Their role has changed over the years and they have moved on from being simple industrial products to proper icons.
The book FATTOBENE – Italian Everyday Archetypes, edited by Anna Lagorio and Alex Carnevali, contains a significant handful, gathered with great affection and a pinch of nostalgia. They include Coccoina adhesive paste (there is also a tin on exhibit at MoMA), Leone Pastilles, Cella Shaving Cream Soap, Coldinava Lavender, Fabbri Amarena Cherries in the iconic ceramic jar, Amarelli Liquorice in the classic flat tin, Paneangeli Baking Powder, Acca Kappa brushes and Mentolat aftershave. To name but a few. All anonymous design objects of rare beauty. Objects whose strength lies in their authenticity, their recognisability and their superlative quality. So beautifully made that they are perfect just as they are, symbols of the truest Made in Italy that you could possibly imagine.
FATTOBENE is an atlas of Italian material culture, a journey into the country’s industrial history. The editors discuss the actuality of 35 companies that have survived unscathed over two world wars and continue to produce their goods with the same care as long ago. Archive material – often hitherto unpublished – including photographs, post cards, prototypes and advertising posters, reveals anecdotes, stories and curious facts about the products Italians grew up with. But that’s not all. The book also contains totally anonymous objects: their designers anonymous and their makers anonymous. These days we would call them archetypes, articles, that is, that have been on the market from time immemorial, like the timeless broomstick, the sulphur sticks used as topical anti-inflammatories, the rigagnocchi dumpling crimper …
Why do we like the book? For the same reason as Bruno Munari invented the "Compasso d'Oro a Ignoti” award for unknown authors – it is a symbolic way of paying homage to all those makers of objects who didn’t even realise they were designers – and those simple things which the architectural historian and critic Sigfried Giedion, wrote about and praised: “They are things of little importance on the outside […] Things that are not usually taken seriously; or at least not where history is concerned. But as in painting, even in history the importance of the subject matter does not count. The sun is mirrored even in a coffee spoon. In their aggregate, the humble things […] have shaken our way of living to its very roots. These small everyday things accumulate to form energies that cling to everyone who moves within the sphere of our civilisation.”