05 May 2020
Born in 1983, and Milanese through and through, Elena Salmistraro is one of the young Italian design talents that has made creative licence and freedom of expression their own warhorse. She trained as an artist and designer – first the arts stream at high school and then the Polytechnic University of Milan – but she has also made her mark in the fashion world. She works with companies like Alessi, Bosa, Seletti, Apple, Disney, Vitra, De Castelli, CC-Tapis, LondonArt and Lithea (to mention just a few) and collaborates with art and design galleries such as Dilmos and Rossana Orlandi. Straddling two disciplines, art and design, she lets herself be guided by instinct and intuition. Nature is her main source of inspiration and imagination is what guides her, culminating in iconic, figurative objects, with a touch of the fairytale, full of precious detail, and ironic and carefree in spirit. Harmony of shape, poetic style and channelling the expressive language of the objects, so that they fascinate people and trigger emotions, are the cornerstones of her work. While her mantra would appear to be art with a purpose, her stated objective is to make every design unique, even when mass produced.
Fashion, design and art: what has been your professional path up till now?
I studied art at high school and took my first (three-year) degree in fashion design and a master’s degree in product design from the Polytechnic University of Milan. When I finished studying, like everyone, I tried working for a number of design studios, but I felt I needed something different, I needed to tell my own story. So I set out on a path, not always easy, that led me to study and work with ceramics as well as papier mâché, I did a lot of work on myself, on identifying and defining a vocabulary that truly expressed my background. My first projects, which were self-produced, were a papier mâché sofa and some terracotta vases. Later, I was lucky enough to work with Bosa Ceramiche, an encounter that certainly changed my professional life. From then on it’s been a crescendo made up of great sacrifice as well as great satisfaction.
Design is form and function to which you add emotion, entertainment and magic, in an extraordinary way.
Yes, absolutely, or at least that’s what I try to do. I love exploring the expressive power of form. Basically, I think that the formal research into function has been amply considered so far, it’s a mandatory constant, while the same isn’t true of the emotional component, which all too often has been and is seen as pointless or secondary, but is actually what drives us to buy and become fond of a product.
Who are the fantastical characters and animals in your projects and how and from where do they come?
Ever since I was little, I’ve tried to narrate my world through drawing, it’s a necessity, a need. Over time I conceived my graphic alter ego, Alla, a woman with an exaggerated hairstyle, who then turned into a limited edition ceramic collection. The animal, on the other hand, come from documentaries I watch and books I read, there’s no precise formula, my subjects come from life, when something strikes me I start drawing it, and only after a lengthy period of subtraction can I manage to pick out forms and textures that will later make up my projects.
Would you describe your work as art design?
Not exactly. Now when we talk about art design, we mean a type of design that only happens inside galleries and involves one-offs or limited editions, instead I try to work with mass production, I try to ensure that art and industrial process go hand-in-hand as far as possible. I like pushing the boundaries, bringing apparently distant worlds together, allowing fashion, design, art and graphics to coexist inside a single project, a hybrid, something innovative, topical, experimental.
Does less is bore apply to you?
No, I don’t like pigeonholing design into any particular definition or style, I’m a firm believer that design has many different aspects and expressions, each of them valid and extremely important. Also, from my point of view, it’s crucially important for a design to be able to convey the idea, culture, soul and passion of the place, the period and the designer that have conceived it and, personally, I think I’m a victim of horror vacui, so quite simply “less” is a concept that doesn’t apply to me, it doesn’t represent who I am.
What’s your home like?
I live in a late Fifties flat, which I’ve completely altered and continue to do so. It’s basically an ongoing worksite. I need spaces to adapt to my needs over time, and these change all the time, so I continue to switch, move and alter things, luckily my husband is an architect so it’s very easy for us. Now, for example, there are four of us and I think we’ll soon need a bigger living space, so we’re thinking about taking down two walls and creating a single room incorporating the kitchen.
What’s the Salone del Mobile. Milano for you …?