unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza

Interview: Italian Radical Design Group acquires meritalia

 

1980s furniture brand Meritalia returns to the spotlight following its acquisition by the Italian Radical Design Group in March 2023. To celebrate its comeback, the company is launching a new photographic campaign (Meritalia is Back) that invites a peek behind the curtains of its new production phase. From Gaetano Pesce‘s modular La Michetta sofa to Carlo Contin’s SNAKE table, the campaign documents the act of ‘unpacking’ and ‘moving’ some of Meritalia’s most iconic pieces to the present, where they will be done and undone and done again. ‘We all shared the idea of visualizing the new beginning of a company which takes back its place in the world,’ Charley Vezza, CEO of Italian Radical Design, tells designboom in a recent interview.

 

Vezza founded the Group in 2022 after a decade of heading up the manufacturing brand Gufram, recovering its cultural legacy and pop art aesthetic through innovative experimentations, material research, and international collaborations. The company successfully welcomed Memphis Milano under its umbrella last year before completing the picture with Meritalia’s recent acquisition. Having joined all three under one entity, Charley Vezza is expanding his mission to preserve and reignite the radical philosophy set forth by these unconventional brands.

 

Meritalia has consistently rejected any dull respectability in favor of a consciously incoherent approach to design, lounging on the discipline to remold it repeatedly. Intending to bring this experimental energy back to the center of the design world, Sandra and Charley Vezza have acquired the brand to develop new radical ideas that would turn into desirable objects, demanding to be touched, handled, grasped, enjoyed, and lived. Read on as Charley Vezza unpacks the essence of the Meritalia photographic campaign, the Group’s vision, and more. 

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
Charley Vezza unpacks Meritalia is Back | all images © Leonardo Scotti (unless stated otherwise)

 

 

charley vezza on meritalia is back – the relaunch campaign

 

The Italian Radical Design Group (see more here) conceptualized the photographic campaign as a fresh start for Meritalia (and more here). Moving trucks, boxes, upholstery foam roll, and nylon covers set the scene for an ‘unpacking’ atmosphere. Shots of people carrying the furniture and taking the covers off of them symbolize a kind of rebirth. Throughout most shots, the ‘manufacturing’ backdrop is tinged with the vivid color palette of Meritalia products — blending shades of red, blue, yellow, and green.

 

Shot by Leonardo Scotti and produced by Cabinet Studio, Meritalia is Back visualizes ‘the new beginning of a company which takes back it place in the world. In the end, a design brand is made by the pieces that form its catalogue. In the case of Meritalia, they were all stored in a warehouse in Brianza, and we had to actually move this archive to our facility in the Langhe, where we are based. So we decided to focus on this moving as a sign of a restart for the brand, and we photographed the pieces being actually unloaded from the truck in our headquarters. This is basically what precedes the production. It’s the first moment for us to say Meritalia is Back!’ Charley Vezza explains to designboom.

 

Following the campaign, the Group anticipates the upcoming relaunch of some of Meritalia’s most iconic pieces: Gaetano Pesce’s modular La Michetta sofa, Shadow armchair, and Nubola sofa. ‘Next year will be dedicated to pieces by Giulio Iacchetti, Mario Bellini, and some maybe lesser known – but equally beautiful – pieces by Pesce, plus a few additions by contemporary designers that can understand the philosophy behind the brand,’ the CEO adds. 

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
Meritalia is Back celebrates the comeback of the 1980s Italian radical brand

 

 

a brand marked by design visionaries, like gaetano pesce 

 

Meritalia circles back to the value of what is made by hand but with the head always wandering through the clouds. Over the years, the brand has collaborated with prominent Italian architects and designers, namely Gaetano Pesce, Pipa Bradbury, Marc Newson, Carlo Contin, Mario Bellini, and more. Together, these visionaries have contributed to Meritalia’s most iconic, avant-garde pieces.

 

For this year’s Milan Design Week, the acquisition was celebrated with an eye-popping exhibition at Triennale Milano, featuring Gaetano Pesce-designed furniture for Meritalia. Dubbed Everything is Gonna Be Alright, the collection honored Pesce’s whimsy paired with childlike naturalism, welcoming visitors into a dreamy atmosphere, as Vezza puts it. ‘I felt it was dreamy, if I had to pick an adjective, but I see why it might look childlike: perhaps because only children can have such big and wonderful dreams, or, better yet, kids and great people like Gaetano Pesce who, although not a child anymore, has still the strength to dream in such a fresh way. It surely is a non-conventional approach, and it is the basis of Radical Design, to think and dream with no boundaries,’ he shares with designboom.

 

The exhibition showcases nine of Gaetano Pesce’s most iconic and symbolic works for Meritalia, each expressing the designer’s indomitable energy. The installation naturally features the iconic La Michetta, Nubola, and Shadow pieces alongside La Pagnotta chair and the playful upholstered collection Gli Amici. These designs abandon their functionality and express themselves with freedom, growing atop each other like ferns in a magical forest. As described by the curatorial team, Everything is Gonna Be Alright is an unusual and unstable choreography that pays tribute to an attitude of optimistic exuberance towards our surroundings, reaching towards the sky above Triennale.

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
La Michetta (2012) modular sofa by Gaetano Pesce

 

 

charley vezza unites memphis milano, gufram & meritalia

 

Memphis Milano, Gufram, and Meritalia emblematize the Italian Radical Design movement of the 60s and 70s. Initially pioneered by a young group of architects, the movement quickly made its way to the realm of furniture design, encouraging like-minded creatives to reject standardized beauty and modernism and opt instead for quirky, unconventional, incoherent, and often childlike aesthetics that defy the status quo. Many criticized the unusual aesthetics, but others praised the movement for what it represented: going beyond the norm. 

 

While bound by a common pursuit of the unconventional, each brand brings a distinct quality to the table. ‘Gufram has always been, and still is, a laboratory for any kind of creatives to experiment bearing in mind the idea of the soft domestic sculpture’, which has been the main characteristic since the very beginning, with that post-1968 spirit. Memphis is a closed catalogue, so to speak, created by the genius of Ettore Sottsass, and his talented friends and crew, as a way to oppose functionalism and became, through its incredible furniture, accessories, and graphics, a worldwide movement. Meritalia is a way, for us, to take over the center of the living room with sofas and upholstered pieces, highlighting the heritage built by the great masters who worked for the brand, and above all Gaetano Pesce, to create comfortable and radical pieces,’ elaborates Charley Vezza.

 

This distinction finds its way into the brands’ production processes, each endowed with its own technical characteristics, which Vezza is gradually revisiting through new technologies and more sustainable practices: ‘Our main focus is to bring back ‘in house’ the majority of the production process so as to control the quality as much as we can, which is not a mere detail when you speak about such complex projects. I think there is a tendency to outsource, but I believe in our sector this needs to be reversed.’

 

gaetano-pesce-meritalia-everthings-gonna-be-alright-triennale-milano-designboom-1800

Everything is Gonna Be Alright exhibition at Triennale Milano | image courtesy Meritalia

 

Concluding our talk, we asked Vezza about his next steps for the Italian Radical Design Group. The CEO is currently focused on building the right team to manage all three brands’ production, communication, marketing, and overall development for the coming years. ‘My goal is to create a hub in the Langhe to develop our project totally in-house, and to do that, I think there is the need for younger people with a younger vision. I am now 36, and I have to accept the fact, hard as it is, that my vision is not as fresh as the one of somebody from the new generation.’

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
CEO Charley Vezza | image courtesy Italian Radical Design

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
moving the furniture back into the real world

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
Poltrona La sfogliata (2005) chair by Gaetano Pesce

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
SNAKE coffee table (2006)  by Carlo Contin

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
creating an ‘unpacking’ atmosphere | Us & Them (2006) by Gaetano Pesce

unpacking meritalia's comeback with italian radical design group CEO charley vezza
Via Lattea (2008) by Mario Bellini Architects | image courtesy Meritalia

meritalia-is-back-charley-vezza-interview-designboom-17

500 Design Collection | SOFA’ PANORAMA (2011) by Lapo Elkan | image courtesy Meritalia

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