Patrizia Moroso designing in the border lands

This article was published in Vault magazine, Issue 17, February 2017. Image of Patrizia Moroso by Anna Bussolotto/Vault. 

In an industry ruled by cult objects and dogmatic traditions, Patrizia Moroso – the force behind Italian design house Moroso – shows that there’s magic in mixing disciplines.

Patrizia Moroso tells me it’s her third visit to Australia when we meet in October. She’s here at the invitation of Hub Furniture to lead two ‘design speed dating’ events in Melbourne and Sydney, where Australian designers met and presented ideas to her, and to launch the Moroso/Hub collaboration, where seven Australian fashion designers and brands – Akira Isogawa, Gorman, Steven Khalil, Crumpler, Kuwaii, Nobody Denim and Martin Grant – offered their take on upholstering two iconic Moroso chairs, the ‘Smock’ by Patricia Urquiola and ‘Take a Line for a Walk’ by Alfredo Haberli.

Moroso, the family business established by her parents, Agostino and Diana, in 1952, has always been a part of her life. Patrizia recalls: “I remember, when I was a little child, I was there with my mum. She was sewing and I was playing on the floor and I remember all these young people laughing, talking and dancing at the end of the day. I grew up there. I don’t know if my blood was full of little pieces of fabric, but my brother was beating the hammer and I was collecting the fabric to make the dolls dresses.”

During her teenage years, Patricia says she spent countless hours reading and absorbing the many design and art magazines that filled the Moroso office and family home: “As a teenager I was totally in love with the radical architecture and design that was coming from the United States.”

She joined Moroso at 25 after her parents warned her and her brother Roberto (now the company’s CEO) that the business, which was impacted by the financial crisis rocking Italy in the late-1970s/early-1980s, would close if the second generation didn’t take it over.

Leaving behind art school and unimagined dreams of living in New York, she returned to her home city of Udine in Italy’s northwest. She was given free creative reign by her parents and this uninhibited approach created a new and daring sensibility that saw furniture reinterpreted from an artistic viewpoint. She notes: “It was important to have that freedom in that moment.”

Moroso was revolutionised by the arrival of the second generation. Patrizia’s vision, which built on its artisanal heritage, saw the business transition into the haute couture end of international design. Over the years Patrizia, ever the talent scout, recruited many designers, including Ron Arad, Patricia Urquiola, Ross Lovegrove, Toshiyuki Kita, Marcel Wanders, Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien, to collaborate and work with Moroso.

Creativity, to Patrizia, is a broad concept that she sees as a shared quality. “[Creatives] are the same group of people,” she says. “One will become a musician. One will become an architect, a painter, a sculptor, a designer, an architect, a photographer. [Creatives] usually look after each, share friendships and they work together”.

This understanding of creativity is central to her ability to bring together talents from across disciplines, such as art, architecture, design and fashion – with extraordinary results. In December 2014, Moroso collaborated with artist Marina Abramović on a collection of limited edition design objects for Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) projects, including the ‘Counting the Rice’ table, featured in a workshop where participants sat counting grains of rice and lentils for six hours. And in a September 2006 collaboration that symbolised the meeting of fashion and furniture, Japanese designer Issey Miyake created custom ‘outfits’ for the Moroso ‘Ripple Chair’ by Israeli industrial designer Ron Arad.

Patrizia cites Martino Gamper – known for his ‘100 Chairs in 100 Days’ project where he created a new chair every day for 100 days from disused, salvaged and donated chairs – as an example of a creative talent who successfully works across disciplines. “He is basically a designer that everyone in the world of design says ‘Martino the artist,” she says. “And in the world of art, everyone says ‘Ah Martino, the designer’. So I love that space in-between. I think the majority of companies are doing something very precise, with a certain focus that is very identifiable. I love the space that is on the border – the things that are a little bit confused. To look for something new has to be different from the centre, because the centre repeats itself; it’s always the same. On the borders, two things [meet] to create something in the middle.”