fabio novembre portrait © designboom

— designboom met fabio novembre in his milan studio on september 21st, 2011. —

what is the best moment of the day? I try to avoid routine as much as possible so that things are not connected to a particular moment. I like moments when we all eat together. conviviality. it’s I believe, a very important moment in italian culture. where there is food there is well-being. it’s not so important for me to eat at home or in a restaurant, it’s the moment itself that I really like. I am not able to cook anything, I can’t even make a coffee or fried eggs. these moments are not related to the making, but to the consumption of food.

what kind of music do you listen to at the moment? like with most of the creative disciplines, there’s a big problem today. in a way, we are in a moment in which research has stopped. we consume revivals all the time. there are a few, like james blake, that are still exploring meanwhile taking from the past. he is the new golden boy. in his music he puts together a strong soul root with electronics, uhm… marvin gay and brian eno.  I’m in love with jack white from the white stripes. kings of leon is quite interesting to me. I am also intrigued by italian music like jovanotti who is a good friend of mine. yes, I am very eclectic. there’s a fantastic definition for south italians by curzio malaparte. he said ‘italians are good at nothing but able to do everything’ … and that’s probably me (laughs).  

do you listen to the radio? I like to choose what I want to listen to. the radio is just too ‘accidental’. in the office there is the possibility for everybody to plug his own iPod or iPhone in to listen to. sometimes we decide together what music to listen to.

fabio novembre interview ‘il fiore di novembre’ at milan triennale photo by pasquale formisano see more about this exhibition here

fabio novembre interview ‘il fiore di novembre’ at milan triennale photo by pasquale formisano

what books do you have on your bedside table? when you’re a father of three and six year old girls, reading a book is a very hard commitment. I always have something like 15 books started and never finished, going from one to the other, trying to get through the pages… it’s amazing, I bought a whole bag of books this summer and couldn’t finish one. if I start reading I feel as if I am stealing time from my daughters, especially since they are so young. it’s a strange sensation. I think only parents understand it. I haven’t finished books for years now. I’m embarrassed, because friends of mine who are writers give me books and ask, ‘fabio, what did you think of it?’ and I say, ‘very good start. it was a very strong start!’ (starts laughing and throws hands up in the air) but I don’t finish them. but really, I love books. I am always surrounded by books.

do you read design / architecture / fashion magazines? it’s like with music, I read everything. I’m curious, but I don’t read gossip magazines.  I like publications that mix things together, because if you have a magazine that sticks to one topic, it becomes a little bit boring. for example with architecture magazines, they only talk about architecture, the same with only fashion. I get bored.

fabio novembre interview ‘robox’ for casamania, 2011

where do you get news from? do you watch news? I don’t watch TV. it’s a very simple way of getting rid of someone, like berlusconi (italy’s prime minister). I mean, if we all turn off our televisions, we can get rid of berlusconi! I love the internet and all the possibilities that our time is offering us. I am in love with these objects (picks up iPhone). when I was studying it was all about pencil and paper. now I am aware that it’s a big fortune to have such a simple access to information, but still I don’t give it for granted. I remember myself as a student going to the library, asking for a book and the librarian would tell me to come back the next day. now, at any moment you can have access to any news or information. of course there are pros and cons – like for everything. I mean if you think about (sergey) brin and (larry) page – founders of google – these two guys are genius. you can google anything.

fabio novembre interview ‘per fare un albero’, milan, 2009 see more about this project here

I assume you notice how women dress. do you have any preferences? it’s not that 12 cm heels are good on all women. some are perfect with ballerinas or sandals. it’s like skirts or pants for women. everybody has got their own way of expressing themselves and I appreciate it when I find it making sense. that’s something I really feel when a woman is balanced. when her look is perfectly correspondent to her personality – that’s beautiful. that’s actually when you find somebody very sexy, very attractive. when there is a perfect correspondence between her look and her personality (moving hand to gesture a lot).

what kind of clothes do you avoid to wear? nothing really, but I’m quite boring with clothes. I am always dressing in the same basic way. of course, I’m very observant of the cut of things. a pant is not a pant. a jacket is not a jacket. there are many kinds of jackets and many kinds of pants. the silhouette is very important to me. for example, I only wear diesel jeans. for other clothes I almost always only use costume national. let’s say I have my reference brands, but within these I am very simple in the clothes I choose to wear.

fabio novembre interview ‘his and her’ for casamania, 2008

do you have any pets? two cats. I’m much more of a cat guy than a dog guy. my wife often asks for a dog, but then I know I would be taking care of it so I say, ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ (laughs)

when you were a child, did you want to become a designer? when I was a kid, designer as a job was not really existing. I mean it was, but it wasn’t well known and people ignored it so that you had to choose a very classical job. but life evolves you know? I believe that professions change so drastically, that really we don’t know what jobs or careers are going to be available in the next 30 years. I was lucky because I had no pressures from my family. I was free to choose what I wanted to do.

fabio novembre interview ‘strip’ for casamania, 2011 see more about this project here

do you discuss your work with other designers? where do you work on your designs and projects? I’m friends with all the designers. really it’s a matter of appreciation. I get enthusiastic when I see a good work around me. ross lovegrove was in milan a few days ago, we went for dinner, … everybody. I am a very positive person, using your personal eyes to look at things comes also with the names of my daughters for example. my first daughter is called verde. okay – ‘verde’ in italian means green. and novembre is my full name as probably you know. so, ehm, novembre is usually intended as something rainy, gray and cold. I mean if you just turn your eyes on the other side of the planet… for example, my wife comes from argentina and november for them is spring, so it’s completely green. so that calling my daughter ‘green november’, was really apparently a contradiction in terms. but actually it was my big teaching for my daughter. always try to use different eyes to look at things.

describe your style, like a good friend of yours would  describe it. I don’t know what they would say because it depends on which friend you ask. for sure I try to be, if I have to use one adjective, I would say contemporary.  the present for me is something that you really have to live intensely because it’s a gift. I cannot live so much in the past neither be transported in the future – you know what I mean? being a contemporary man of my time. I am now. now. that’s the key word. mapping things you know? trying to collocate things in the right position into a bigger map. the thing that we call ‘culture’ is something that you cultivate, like a small plant. the seed, you water, and it grows and becomes a big tree eventually.

please describe an evolution in your work, from your first projects to the present day. in the first projects compared to the last projects, you can see some naïve approach from which I started. you can see that when you were younger you spread energy sometimes without any control, but that’s absolutely normal. it’s like in martial arts. when you started as a kid, you are strong and have a lot of energy to spread, but you are a white belt. you are not so much aware of your actions. the more you row up, if you grow-up in a good way, the more you control your actions and become more accurate – the more you become sharp as a razor. that’s what I appreciate a lot getting older. it’s that I have this vision that getting older does mean getting wiser.

fabio novembre interview ‘bang’ for lasvit, 2011 see more about the project here

what project has given you the most satisfaction? they’re all my children and represent different periods of my life. it’s like connecting the dots in order to understand the big picture. they’re all part of a trajectory that you cannot imagine in advance, but it makes sense when you stop for a moment and watch with attention. I guess you can’t imagine the sense of your work in advance, otherwise you would die tomorrow if you knew. you know what I mean?  it’s like you find it on the way. I’m trying to find the perfect location for my work, also for my architectural work. for me it’s all about communication — making communication clearer, that is my goal.

who would you like to design something for? I don’t have hidden desires. I’m very open, and actually feel that anything can become super interesting. for example, wallpaper and reebok came together and offered me a little project that started from a particular shoe from reebok. they gave me a shoe and to other four or five designers, and said, ‘does this shoe stimulate your fantasy? what is behind this shoe for you?’ I was very proud of it, I used the classical approach of us fucking italians. I imagined a horse. the sculpture of a horse — out of a shoe. see there is the classicity of italian sculpture, when the equestrian sculptures are always part of our landscape. they are on all of the italian piazzas. there is the emperor on the horse… therefore, that horse has always been in our imagination. but the interesting fact is that I would have never touched that theme without that accidental invitation from wallpaper and reebok. this is to say, that you can turn anything into an opportunity. there’s not the desire to work with anyone in particular. anything can turn into a fantastic thing.

fabio novembre interview ‘cento piazze’ for driade, 2007 counter clockwise left to right from above: lucca, vigevano, venaria reale, palmanova see more about this project here

is there any designer and/or architect from the past, you appreciate a lot? I adore people like, (ettore) sottsass and (alessandro) mendini (he turned 80 last august ). again, it’s more people of my time that I would like to cite here. you are, you become a maestro for some people without wanting it you know? when I do a lecture in an university, I can see enthusiasm in the eyes of the students. the way they look at me and I understand that I became a role model for them eventually.

and those still working / contemporary? euuuuuu, there are so many, so many. from marc newson, tom dixon, jaime hayon, ora ito, the bouroullecs, jasper morrison, marti guixe, konstantin grcic, mmmm… yves behar, thomas heatherwick, puh, let me think… there’s so many people and they’re all friends and I adore them. marcel (wanders), there’s eh maarten baas, there is uh, hella jongerius, there is jurgen bey, … everybody plays his own instrument, but all together we’re a fantastic orchestra.

fabio novembre interview milano creative city at shanghai expo 2010 photo courtesy of charlie xia

fabio novembre interview milano creative city at shanghai expo 2010 photo courtesy of charlie xia

tell us about the people you are actually working with. I never force anyone to do anything. and if you want to know something very weird about me is that, I never do interviews for work. I mean, the interviews are made by the guys themselves, and when there is the need to hire someone the other collaborators decide. they just introduce me to the new people the day before. I believe there is a sense of democracy in the studio. I’m not the boss. everything must be very easy, very natural. they know what needs to be done. I believe in the capacity of each person of being very aware, very full of consciousness actually. you don’t need somebody to tell you. there is uh zygmunt bauman who wrote ‘live with life’, that’s a fantastic metaphor to describe our time. things need to flow, things cannot be hard otherwise they just stop. we have to be like communication. for example, when you talk about surfing the internet it’s very interesting because it has to do with fluidity. you have to have this sense of going through things like a fish. you can be a salmon or you can go in the other direction of the flux.

do you during your design process find you sketch a lot … on paper? I’m not able to sketch. I use words. I use to write.

fabio novembre interview stuart weitzman shop, rome, 2006 photo by alberto ferrero

fabio novembre interview stuart weitzman shop, rome, 2006 photo by alberto ferrero

what advice would you give to the young? you know that historically this is a very tough moment, we live on a planet where the way we live is unacceptable. there is a generation that stole the future of the younger generations. when you talk about new energies, alternative energies whatever, often, people don’t consider that it’s not a matter of uh, passing from oil to solar energy to nuclear energy, whatever. fact is we cannot live with the same amount of consumed energy. that’s impossible. our children cannot live the way we lived or our parents have been living. first of all we have to do less and consume less. even as a designer, I mean, think about the computer in front of us. this beautiful symbol of a bitten apple was made by one of the messiah’s of our time. steve jobs has really been a strong reference for my generation. the evolution of apple is ‘cloud’ okay? ( basically, the memories of all our things are going to be completely dematerialized and that’s very interesting for a designer). we talk about matter, things with a body, with a substance. but more and more, the future will be completely dematerialized. we have to do much less, and we we have to make it much better. eventually sometimes deciding not to do is more important than doing. we can’t design for every furniture fair, thirteen new chairs, each of us. my friend colleagues, let’s try to establish a number of things that we can design in our lives. let’s say 50 projects? that’s it. try to do the best 50 projects ever. but there are people that design 5000 projects, 50,000 projects! that’s crazy.  if there is something that really characterize me, that is, I’ve done very few. that’s something I’m proud of. I only do things if, there’s an absolute need for me or for my client.  I always try to understand if they really are dying for having something, you know?

fabio novembre interview ‘nemo’ for driade, 2010 see more about this project here

fabio novembre interview ‘nemo’ for driade, 2010

what are you afraid of regarding the future? on the way from being a kid to being an adult, I lost all my fears. I have awareness which is not fear. well, the horizon doesn’t have a big smile on his face and this awareness makes me think about what I can do. it makes me believe in the things I believe. I know it’s not going to be easy for my daughters, and day by day I try to fix things. with fear sometimes you lose control, sometimes things look strange in the sequence of your decisions. just to give you a very simple example: on the plane, when it’s time for the safety instructions, they say ‘in case of need of oxygen masks… first apply your oxygen mask, and only then dress it on your kids. apparently this looks like something absolutely not normal because the first thing you would like to do is to care for your kids, but you cannot help them if you cannot help yourself. even the sequence of all the actions become clearer when you are an adult. keep calm. don’t be afraid and go forward. that’s actually the attitude of a person dealing with projects. I know how to arrive from here to there. I make them real. I take dreams and I make them reality. it’s a process that needs to be in control.

fabio novembre interview ‘insegna anche a me la liberta delle rondini’ solo exhibition, 2008 photo by pasquale formisano

fabio novembre interview ‘luciola’ for driade, 2010