Today, with the awakening of female consciousness and feminism becoming a heated topic in society, female designers are also raising more awareness. Perhaps many people still have the stereotype of female designers as elegant in demeanor and exquisite in lifestyle, but just like design and creation always break established frames, female designers should not be labeled in any way either.
In this special festival edition, we will explore the endless "she-possibilities" by getting to know five famous European women designers: Gae Aulenti, Liisi Beckmann, Draga Obradovic, Patricia Urquiola and Elisa Ossino, and we will see their multi-faceted souls.
Gae Aulenti, whose full name was Gaetana Aulenti, was born on December 4, 1927, in Palazzolo dello Stella, a small town near Trieste in northeastern Italy. In 1954, she was one of the 20 women who graduated from the architecture department of Politecnico di Milano. Later she joined the design magazine Casabella and together with her peers, they rejected the architecture of such masters as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. They called themselves the "neoliberal" movement.
With her rebellious personality, Gae Aulenti rejects the modernism of the machine age in favor of a revival of personal expression, striving for handcrafted and colorful aesthetic innovation and the powerful interpretation of postmodernism.
Gae Aulenti, known as the "mother of Italian architecture", is most notable for the Musée d'Orsay. In 1981, she transformed the Beaux Arts Gare d'Orsay railway station of 1900, retaining the original vaulted glass ceiling and creating a large and spectacular central hall, highlighting the original cast-iron beams and adding side galleries for artwork.
The building was harshly criticized by the press at the time, but became one of the most popular museums in France, with 20,000 people waiting in line to enter every day when it first opened. Her advocates see the museum as a major step forward for her as an industrial designer and leader of a young generation of Italian theorists who questioned the principles of modernist architecture.
Gae Aulenti's talent is not limited to architecture either, as she has designed in a wide range of fields, including villas for the rich and famous, showrooms for Fiat, stores for Olivetti, pens and watches for Louis Vuitton, among others. To date, Gae Aulenti's collaborations with home deco brands also include Artemide, Bonacina1889, Exteta, Kartell, Knoll, Tecno, Zanotta and many more.
Her Sgarsul rocking chair for Poltronova is an example of neoliberalism, while Pipistrello, a lamp for Martinelli Luce using the latest plastic molding technology of the time, and Tavole con Ruote, a movable four-wheeled coffee table for Fontana Arte, are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Gae Aulenti dressed conservatively, not out of indifference to fashion, she said, but out of contempt for it. She told Women's Wear Daily in 1971, "I stopped wearing red the moment everyone loudly declared it to be fashionable, and I wanted to wear green."
From choosing architecture against her parents' advice, to her controversial work, and even to her everyday clothing choices, Gae Aulenti has engraved the spirit of rebellion into every cell, and into our design history.
Designer and artist Liisi Beckmann was born in 1924 in Karelia, Finland. The name Karelia probably rings a bell if you are familiar with Zanotta's products, as the famous Karelia sofa is named after the designer's hometown.
When World War II broke out, the Russians invaded and occupied the Karelia region of Finland and Liisi's family was forced to leave. Their farm was destroyed, and being unable to return home, the family started a new life elsewhere. Liisi enrolled in military and costume courses at the Helsinki Academy of Art and Design, but unbeknownst to her father, the headstrong and studious girl also enrolled in courses at the Academy of Fine Arts in the same building.
Liisi Beckmann moved to Milan in 1957, where she worked in the research and development studio of La Rinascente. She later designed products for several Italian companies, including the furniture brand Zanotta, the glass brand Vetreria Vistosi, the ceramic brand Gabbianelli and the metalwork brand Valenti. In 1966, she designed her most famous piece for Zanotta: the Karelia sofa. Constructed of undulating polyurethane foam and a glossy vinyl shell, this sofa became one of Zanotta's classic pieces. It was reissued by the brand in 2007 and exhibited at the Triennale Museum in Milan in 2016，while the 2022 version was reinforced and more durable in its material.
In the late 1960s, Beckmann settled in Cassano d'Adda in the suburbs of Milan, and in the mid-1970s she gradually withdrew from design work to devote herself to painting and sculpture. During this period, she held solo exhibitions at the Galleria di Naviglio in Milan and exhibited her sculptures at the Quadrennial in Rome.
Liisi Beckmann's active years in Italy launched her successful design career, but perhaps there is still a part of her that misses the homeland that she could not return to - the Karelia bay in Finland. Finally, Liisi Beckmann returned to Finland to spend the last years of her life and died in Orimattila at the age of 79.
Born in Serbia in 1964, Draga Obradovic began her career in the fashion industry as a textile designer in London and Milan before settling in Italy at Lake Como with her husband, Aurel K. Basedow, where she established Draga & Aurel Studio. Their projects range from furniture, painting, interior design, to installation art. She has collaborated with top home furnishing brands such as Baxter, Opera Contemporary, Visionnaire, Wall&decò and many others.
Because of her diverse background, Draga Obradovic defines herself as an artist and an artisan who encountered design in Italy. With paintings and objects, she tells the story of the past and interprets it in a new way.
It is often the case in the field of art and design that an artist will scoff at a design object because the artist sometimes lacks the depth of understanding of what the object represents. The same is true of designers, some believe that artists inhabit their own worlds and are disconnected from society. Draga Obradovic, on the other hand, finds a balance between art and design, arguing that "Painting is usually separate from design, but in my case, painting is a starting point. There is an inseparable dialogue between art and design, and the work must be seen as a whole, rather than turning the artwork into an ornament."
Draga Obradovic admits that her creative drive is love. She says "I have to fall in love with something and that something can change. Passion and enthusiasm is an integral part of me, and without that I simply cannot do anything. Falling in love can happen when taking a walk, or when visiting an exhibition, for instance, when I find an armchair or an object that attracts me and triggers my imagination. It's kind of like seeing things in things, changing perspective and leaving out the context. In this way, a bathroom overhead light can become a large installation and a pillow can become a painting."
Draga Obradovic came to Italy in 1984 when she was 20 years old, and entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Despite the fact that the Academy did not recognize the two-year college course she had previously completed in Belgrade, which forced her to restart her studies, she fell in love with Italy and chose to stay here almost without thinking.
Draga Obradovic is originally from Yugoslavia, and she is very proud of this historical identity. Then there was the era of Balkanization, wars and atrocities, a historical period with dramatic changes of cultural ideology, so in her mind she rejects the absolute authorities, and she was good at questioning, at looking at the other side of the coin, at trying to understand what reality is and what is happening around us.
Draga Obradovic has changed her citizenship several times, now she is Serbian and Italian, but the Eastern European temperament is still in her DNA. The life attitude of never giving in has influenced her to be always creative in solutions and never to stop in the face of adversity.
Patricia Urquiola was born in 1961 in Oviedo, Spain, and now lives and works in Milan. In 1989 she graduated in architecture from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, then joined the Politecnico di Milano and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Art Industrielle in Paris, where she worked as a teaching assistant for the famous designers Achille Castiglioni and Eugenio Bettinelli.
In 2001, she established her studio in Milan, covering projects in product design, architecture, exhibitions, installation art and experimental creations, some of which are in permanent collections of many top international museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Patricia Urquiola describes herself as a "student of the postmodern school", explaining that "we already enter postmodernism when people start to care about the future of the planet". She is so concerned with what is around her that after the May 2012 earthquake in northern Italy, she collaborated with Italian marble brand Budri to create objects with pieces of marble and onyx left from the earthquake.
Since 2015 she has been the Artistic Director of the Italian home furnishing brand Cassina. During her design career, she has also been in charge of product design for numerous international home furnishing brands such as Alessi, Flos, Cappellini, Cassina, Cimento, Kartell, Kettal, B&B Italia, Moroso, Agape, Co-edition, etc, bringing new energy and vitality to countless classic brands.
Patricia Urquiola is also known as the queen of mixing and matching. In addition to her identity as a highly productive home deco and interior designer, Patricia Urquiola has also started designing clothes and created her first collection for Max Mara in 2022, making her a multi-faceted muse in the design world.
The Blonde Patricia Urquiola is a combination of the Spanish passion and the Italian elegance. Her style is full of youth and colorful fun, with a love for challenges in material and form. We can feel the endless vitality and powerful empathy in her designs. She is not only a design muse, but also a source of inspiration for the post-modern lifestyle.
Elisa Ossino is an architect and interior designer born in Lentini, Sicily. She received her degree in architecture (specializing in industrial and furniture design) from Politecnico di Milano, and in 2006 she founded Studio Elisa Ossino, specializing in interior design, product design, art direction, scenography, etc.
Her work combines geometric abstraction, mono tones, metaphysics and surrealist concepts to form coherent and implicit connections between space, light and objects. there is a particular lightness of suspension in Elisa's style, and she excels at using line and geometry to give a sense of depth to the spaces she designs.
She says "I like spaces that have a certain distance from reality. In this sense, art is an inspiration: when I design a space, I elevate it to a mere abstraction; I like the way it looks suspended and dreamy. I try to recombine the elements and let them decorate the space like a painting. The space must be an interpretation of a moment, conveying a feeling for people." This concept is particularly evident in her designs for the handmade rug brand Amini.
In 2010, she co-founded Officina Temporanea, a project that connects design and artistic expression, in which she pays attention to social issues. 2019, together with Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer, she founded H+O, a brand dedicated to surface design, exhibitions and interdisciplinary installations, exploring a new language for interiors and contemporary lifestyles.
Her work has also been exhibited in internationally renowned art venues. In 2016 her design projects were presented in the 9th edition of "W-Women in Italian Design" for the Triennale Design Museum. Over the years, she has received several national and international awards, including the Balnea for Salvatori, which won the EDIDA 2020 - Elle Deco International Design Award for "Best Bathroom". In 2019 and 2020, she was named one of the "Top 100 Interior Designers of the Year" by AD.
The home decor brands that Elisa Ossino works with include Amini, Boffi, De Padova, Desalto, Foscarini, Glas, Kerakoll, Living Divani, Molteni&C, Porro, Salvatori, Zanotta and many more.
In 1919, the Bauhaus School, known as the "birthplace of modern design education," was founded in Germany and was the first school in the design world to openly allow women to attend. With the talent of female designers, the false impression that "women's designs are too soft" and "women are only suitable for designing fabrics" was soon proved wrong.
After generations of efforts, more female designers have started to step onto the stage of history, changing many inherent aesthetic standards and creative concepts, using their own design language to name and define. They are multi-faceted and unframable, while their works have the unique tenderness and elegance of women, they are also radical and bold, calm and humorous. It is our hope that we can also gain confidence, energy and wisdom from them, and find our own expression in this world.
Organizer: JP Concept China
Image copyright: Websites of various designers and brands