Like a hurricane, Patricia Urquiola recently landed in Dubai to make a whirlwind pit stop for the opening of the region’s first Cassina mono-brand showroom, creating a design shamal. Anyone who knows or has met the dynamic architect will tell you: Patricia has an engulfing energy, curiosity and insatiable passion for her life’s vocation. She is a designer who places equal value on the aesthetic and the manufacturing process, and is as comfortable redesigning a centuries-old palace into a modern hotel as she is creating a new chair…
Hard work, tenacity and endless talent have paid off for the Spainborn designer, who launched her career in Italy in the company of some of the world’s most extraordinary design talents, including Achille Castiglioni and Piero Lissoni.
Having learnt from the best, Urquiola’s career path has continued an upward trajectory, with no end in sight. She blazes her way forward in a seemingly unstoppable manner – and with no project too daunting. Urquiola took time to sit down with Harmonies magazine to share her thoughts and insights on her wide-ranging career and projects – ranging from architecture to hotels and from sustainability to fashion – and on the benefits of being a Spanish-Italian ‘hybrid’ designer…
Arriving for the Cassina mono-brand inauguration in Dubai, Urquiola is unflapped: “We took an overnight flight, and I arrived at 5 am – I slept little on the plane. Bueno! It’s Okay Okay! It’s terrific to be back in Dubai and be here in this beautiful, carefully curated, homey 750-square metre Cassina store,” she enthuses.
“Yesterday, we were at the El Pardo Palace in Madrid, Spain, where I received special recognition from King Felipe VI as a new Honorary Ambassador for Marca España at the 10th edition of the Spanish
Leading Brands event. That was an extraordinary moment,” she says. “Coincidentally, recently – during Italian Design Day – I was invited to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, where I was representing Italian design as an adopted daughter of Italy! I am one of the few ‘hybrid’ designers, a person who relates equally to the culture, arts, traditions and ways of the country where I was born and raised, and [to] the one in which I matured and have called home for over two decades. This is really something special and a privilege, and, more and more, people like me are ‘glocal’ in a hybrid situation. Being able to look through different lenses is beneficial to my designs, approach and understanding of creating for an international market. ”
“Today, as we are in this new Cassina store. I feel very Italian… We [Cassina] are really impressed by Vivium Holding, the group that has made this possible. They have respect and [an] appreciation for luxury, quality and authenticity. They are a perfect match for Cassina, which for almost 100 years has been the epitome of high-quality Italian furniture design from northern Italy.”
Vivium Holding is a global entity with interests in art and design, real and technology. Its CEO and founder is Elie Khouri, a respected entrepreneur and highly regarded collector of art and designer furniture, who has a keen eye for quality and aesthetics. “People here have a growing appreciation for designer furniture – for collectible iconic pieces, which form the core of the Cassina range. The development of the luxury residential property market has played a big part in encouraging the investment in designer furniture and the arts.”
He adds: “Dubai is the tenth city in the world to have a Cassina monostore, one where visitors can indulge in a genuine Cassina experience.”
As Art Director of Cassina since 2015, Urquiola has played a significant role in its evolution. She remains focused on her commitment to designing for a better tomorrow and using new technology and software, like AI, to achieve that goal.
“Cassina has always had a foot in the future – always predicting and being ready for the next step. Even before the pandemic, we at Cassina were styling changing living and working habits and our evolving need for privacy within new spaces in terms of both furnishings and layout. So, when the pandemic hit, and we had to rethink and design our home landscape to accommodate a hybrid working space, we were ready.”
“Quality and excellence are paramount to us. This is often hidden, for it can mean using recycled, repurposed materials. Their research arm Cassina LAB which is tasked to identify, study and develop new sustainable materials and methods, works closely with Milan Polytechnic’s innovative POLI.design unit.”
“Even with our iconic ‘iMaestri Collection’, we are constantly searching for a new, sustainable way to manufacture these items, to ensure that they remain relevant and enhance the quality of life in the modern world.”
During Milan Design Week 2023, the brand will launch a unique collection: ‘Echoes, 50 years of ‘iMaestri’, curated by Urquiola and Federica Sala, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the ‘iMaestri Collection’. The exhibit will recount the unique and consolidated method of authentically editing the great classics with a culture-oriented approach, a focus on the future and endless passion. The roaming exhibition will be held at the Palazzo Boggi in Milan on 17-21 April.
“This project enables us to look backwards and to the future simultaneously, for we have engaged prominent visionaries, philosophers and academics so that we can view the future of furniture from their viewpoint. It’s essential to have a dialogue with a variety of people,” says Urquiola.
The designer is respected for her ability to design practically anything. When asked what items she would still most like to design, she is emphatic that her fascination lies in the manufacturing and sustainable qualities of whatever object is at hand.
“For me, the item is almost irrelevant. I remain intrigued and challenged by how we can approach the creation of the new object in the most sustainable way.”
Recently, Urquiola was also commissioned by Italian fashion brand Max Mara to create a capsule collection. “I’m wearing a pair of trousers from the collection,” she quips. “The process was quite like that of working with a furniture brand. We went back to their archives and took inspiration from there. The result was a simple, democratic collection with clean straight lines – I suppose it’s almost unisex. Again, we wanted to create a line that was of high quality.”
Urquiola’s joie de vivre and passion for her work peaks again as she reveals that the luxury Six Senses Hotel in the historical Palazzo Salviati Cesi in the heart of Rome’s UNESCO-protected historic city centre has just opened.
“I wanted to call my office and check if all went to plan – but decided not to, for fear of problems,” she jokes. “This is a magnificent project, which dates to the 15th century and has undergone numerous reincarnations before being transformed into a luxury hotel featuring an exceptional new style of the baths for which the Romans are so famous.”
With no shortage of travertine or classical references, Urquiola has transformed the palace into a minimalistic, contemporary yet welcoming oasis in the Eternal City; one that is destined to be a favourite with the ‘archi-design tourist’ contingent.
“This is the first urban property for Six Senses. It was a kind of experiment, and I was the guinea pig!” jokes the award-winning designer, who has already undertaken numerous luxury five-star hotel projects.
Life is on a roll for this arch-star, who continues to win projects that stimulate her curiosity and challenge her to find new solutions – the type of project she loves.
“We can’t stop now. There is so much to be done… Cassina is launching a new lighting division and we are opening a store in Los Angeles…” she asserts, before jetting back to Italy to prepare for the launch of numerous new products during Milan Design Week.
Among these will be the unique and scenographic ‘Hayama’ sideboard, bar cabinet and console for Cassina, that ooze with her unmistakable style while paying homage to the ancient art of lacquering with a new canneté effect on the door.
“It’s something very different – wait and see,” she teases.