architect: Gaetano Pesce
Marco Casamonti: You are a designer who has given proof of great versatility over the years, working in every field, as an architect planning both buildings and interiors, as a designer of furniture and accessories for the home, and now you have, with surprising naturalness, dedicated yourself to designing clothes and shoes. It is certainly a matter of an unusual trajectory, and I therefore believe it would be interesting for the readers to understand how you have immersed yourself in this new kind of project.
Gaetano Pesce: I would say without any difficulty. It may be interesting to suggest the idea that every designer or architect who exercises a creative profession may design or cut or alter shoes, without any great effort, turning them into industrial design items or one-offs, as long as he feels like it and wants to do so.
M.C.: Melissa is a company inclined to involve designers who are not necessarily operating within the specialized fashion sector; in fact, it is known that this has worked well with other architects who had designed objects for the home. Has the relationship with the company, and in particular the work on the product, been more difficult and complex than your previous experiences?
G.P.: No, no! It has been very easy. Fortunately they are people who want to find innovative solutions. Melissa is a company that interprets research in a way I feel very much at home with, if anything I have had the feeling that other colleagues that the company has worked with in the past, as for instance the Campana brothers, have used a number of codes inspired by my approach, creating a shoe model enveloped in spaghetti; others, on the contrary, have ideated very traditional, I would even say banal, products, because some of them are not so much authentic innovators in the field of design as decorators. It is important to define and recognize the role of the designer, he is a researcher who designs by working in-depth on the whole process, while there are many who often only skim the surface, decorators who work on the forms, that may also be elegant, but they are only the outer layer of what we understand as design. Melissa has understood this concept well, because I see my shoes in the shops of New York and in the whole world, and this is a good sign.
M.C.: The interesting and innovative aspect of your design is that also those who buy a pair of shoes may intervene, take off pieces, change them; it seems to be an aspect that is live and not imposed, we may say it is a matter of a democratic shoe, in the sense that everyone can design and modify it in his own way.
G.P.: True. I went to a presentation in a gallery in Rome last November, and the moment I entered I noticed that someone there had already bought my shoes, a young lady who had arranged them the way she preferred. I was very pleased, because it meant, in the first place, that the message had been received, and furthermore that creativity is not a privilege but an opportunity that belongs to everyone, it is not a limited and limiting condition, because if you provoke creativity, people can express themselves. These results are very important and gratifying for me and for my work.
M.C.: This seems to be the truly innovative aspect of the Melissa project: the fact that you have conceived the design of a shoe as an open, developing project…
G.P.: It is an open project capable of industrializing objects that refuse to adapt to a standard, it is a matter of the future of industrial production, also in the sense of adaptation and alteration. A product that, in the final analysis, refuses the marketing of items that are all identical to one another, as if there did not exist an original, but only an infinite series of copies;by adopting this strategy, on the contrary, every piece is different, unique, individual.
M.C.: It is a matter of a strategy that somehow creates an interaction and relationship between the world of art and the world of industrial design...
G.P.: Precisely. And, with regard to art, I would like to underscore, as aim and goal, that art has never been what we think about or discuss today; art has always been a “useful” art that has served to meet precise and determined requirements; the necessity of a portrait, of a representation within the walls of the home, of a landscape, of still lives. In the final analysis, in the past the market did not so much require art for art’s own sake as it required products created by means of painting, sculpture or other forms and disciplines of entertainment, as music and dance. This is why I believe one must pay attention when speaking about art because, as I see it, it only has a future if it is useful for society, for the lives of people. Now it seems to me that art is sometimes only useful for those who visit museums of contemporary art, who as Baudrillard put it do not understand anything; everyone say that what they see, or witness, is extremely interesting without knowing why, a condition that probably often also applies to the authors.
M.C.: Returning to Melissa, I would like to understand the relationship between those who think and design and those who produce; in the final analysis the company has really produced a product in the style of Gaetano Pesce, in the sense that it has tried, also in terms of the material used, to get closer to a whole way of thinking and working, to your resins, to your experience with plastics, in short, it has identified itself completely with your approach.
G.P.: What we usually do when we work experimentally, especially when Melissa has come to see the product, is to present a shoe that is already finished (a perfect model, not a drawing). They have therefore been able to take it back with them, show it to the managers and understand that there was really something innovative in our proposal. After which they have cooperated with great skill and attention, and a very high quality workmanship. Perhaps someone still thinks of Brazil as a developing country, a kind of third world, but in the case of Melissa I would say we are speaking of a company on the very highest level and of proven capability.
M.C.: We will change subject, from objects to cities, I would like you to briefly tell me what you think about La Spezia and New York. You know the former because it is the city where you were born and for which you have designed a fish-shaped dam, a visionary, marvellous and amusing project which, however, nobody in Italy has had the courage to build. Then I would like a definition for New York, which is the city where you have chosen to live and work.
G.P.: First of all I would like to say that the place where I enjoy most to live is New York, precisely because you find the greatest offer of services. New York is still a city where people need to work, not like Venice or probably also Florence, it is a city where people want to keep shops open and offices available 24 hours a day. In New York it is not the citizens who serve the city, something which happens in the old metropolises, but it is the city, with its wealth of opportunities, that is at the service of those who live there. In a certain sense, it is a domestic city. It is not a great capital, as everyone thinks, because New York is like a village where people communicate easily, where problems are shared. As far as La Spezia is concerned, as I have already underscored with my installation at the Triennale, the considerations I have stigmatized with my crucified Italy apply; our nation suffers because the government has not only ceased to create the services necessary to live decently; it also has a class of managers incapable of suggesting innovative ideas and projects, a generation unable to elaborate great ideas. We have inherited a country from the past that has been able to produce strong and original models, ideas and thoughts that the world has celebrated for centuries, and that it still comes to see. Today Italy no longer proposes any great ideas; the fish you were speaking about was a project that, if realized, would have attracted visitors to La Spezia which is, vice versa, an unvisitable city, without any attractions if we exclude the fact that it is close to Portovenere.
M.C.: I personally found it an extraordinary project and I have perceived the embarrassment of the mayor, who thought it was beautiful and interesting but impossible to realize. Vice versa, I think we should try to build and propose extraordinary works to stem banality, attain the unattainable, have visions and try to realize them as our ancestors have done in the past...
G.P.: Precisely. We must make a step towards the extraordinary if we want to once more become the prestigious country we have been for centuries. We have ceased to be so, and we are no longer even invited to participate in political decisions taken between Germany, France, England, United States and Japan; what we are lacking is the originality we used to have, and that we are no longer able to make germinate and recreate, and this is why life has become gray and people older, sadder and more indifferent.
M.C.: Since we have spoken for such a long time about Melissa, what do you think about a city as San Paolo, or rather, what ideas does present-day Brazil suggest?
G.P.: San Paolo is the equivalent of Milan for Italy. It is a live, very large and densely populated city. It is a city that will probably become a world leader within 50 years, because Brazil is one of the countries with the greatest natural resources and San Paolo will become the capital of this immense “capital”.
M.C.: Having seen your wonderful and fascinating installation at the Triennale, where you have represented a crucified Italy, one is overtaken by a feeling of distress. In our country there are plenty of persons and companies capable of thinking, proposing, designing, but in the public opinion and in the consideration of those who observe us we only seem to live on memory, on past laurels as if we were no longer able to express strong and contemporary values.
G.P.: I think Italy has as many intellectual resources as every other developed country, but we do not have oil, uranium, iron; however we do have, and this is universally recognized, a great quality that is worth as much as a natural resource, namely creativity, but unfortunately, and also this has been ascertained, we are unable to put it into use. We are capable of elaborating great projects, as for instance the bridge on the strait of Messina: but to build a straight bridge that goes from one side to the other would be the greatest idiocy we could do, because there are thousands of such bridges, the most beautiful of which is the Golden Gate in San Francisco. The challenge is to build a bridge that has no equal in the world, and I have thought that it would be “exceptional” to think of a development in plan that follows an “S” shape (S as in Sicily), for instance to reduce speed. If the bridge, as I have imagined it, were supported by 20 pillars, representing the 20 regions of Italy, and if these supports were to be of such a dimension as to house exhibition spaces within for the touristic promotion of the places one ideally passed through, then the bridge would really be something unique in the world. The funding, finally, could come from contributions from every region in Italy, in some way restoring to Sicily what it has not received in the past.
M.C.: Returning to your project for Melissa, do you consider the fact that these plastic shoes are recyclable, environmentally friendly, is an important and essential part of the project, or is it a matter of an accessory condition, because everything must be politically correct today? And how important a role has this idea of eco-strategy played with respect to the project in general and your relationship with the corporate structure, its philosophy and way to work?
G.P.: If I can answer your first question with a percentage, I would say 30%. As to the considerations on how the company works, I can tell you that Melissa has two owners, who are called Grendene and are from Verona. The Italianness therefore has deep roots, and emerges everywhere. Grendene has given a Brazilian of Japanese origin called “Matzuo”, who is the art director, carte blanche in terms of creativity; he travels all over the world to find interesting inspirations which are then used to give the collections their form and identity.
M.C.: If you can do so without revealing anything, I would like you to tell me about your last projects, the things you have on your drawing table just now.
G.P.: I am working on immense armchairs; the large size means that the structure of the objects comes to play an important role in our lives. Their dimension becomes macroscopic. I realize these objects for art galleries and I am very interested in them because it is a completely new procedure. The material is the same as in syringes used for transfusions, which makes it possible to create something very interesting when worked at different temperatures.
area/ Paulo Antonio Pedó Filho Melissa Manager
area: Who is/what is Melissa?
Melissa: Melissa is the celebration and democratization of design. The Brazilian brand celebrates 32 years in 2011, recognized throughout the world for its innovative work with plastic, searching, launching and recreating trends.
area: Every year Melissa produces millions of shoes and exports them from Brazil to all around the world. When did this success began?
Melissa: In these 32 years, Melissa invested in innovation to become a world reference in fashion and not only a flash in the pan. Melissa utilizes the raw material of the future, plastic. The secret for such success? Some values that guide “Melissa DNA”: high spirits, design, innovation, pop, luxury, diversity, content and emotional experiences. The result: curator of art and dreams made of plastic and customer-fans, which grew up with the brand, full of stories to tell.
area: “Melissa is green”: your company produces plastic shoes completely recyclables. Which materials do you use? How is important the concept of sostenibility in your work?
Melissa: At Melissa, we believe that sustainability is a position in keeping with our way of doing business. In this text we will communicate, inform and clarify our position on sustainability, and provide more information about our main raw material – a PVC compound. The PVC produced by Grendene is proven safe since it does not use stabilizers containing heavy metals, strictly adhering to technical standards and specifications. It is also important to point out that Grendene is always dedicated to developing new thermoplastic compounds, including ones from renewable sources. Grendene’s special PVC, with the additives that give it greater elasticity and such a pleasant feel, is called Melflex®. This is also the name we have given our entire Sustainable Design strategy and to all the unique materials used in Melissa products. All together, this gives our models an advantage over other similar products on the market. This is Melissa’s special formula.
area: Your factory could be defined “eco-industry”. Why this strong attention to environment? How do you think to get “zero impact”?
Melissa: Besides the matter of raw materials, from their very beginning, all products designed by Grendene are conceived according to the best standards of sustainable design. In other words, Grendene products are designed to use the least amount of energy to manufacture, assure the longest possible life, allow for reuse and, when the time comes to discard them, ease of disassembly and recycling of their parts. The fact that most of our models are produced in a single material is evidence of this strategy.
area: By a fine attention to creativity your company creates “plastic dreams“. When Melissa’s interest in art and in architecture was born?
Melissa: Since the 80’s, Melissa invites great names, national and international, to develop its products. In the beginning, names such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Patrick Cox and Thierry Mugler made creations that attracted attention for its innovation and boldness. In the last few years Melissa has been partner with Egyptian designer Karim Rashid, Campana brothers and British stylists J. Maskrey and Judy Blame. On 2008, two extraordinary women joined the list: British stylist Vivienne Westwood and Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
area: Which distinctive features the designers who work with your company must have? They need to be happy in their lifes. Optimistic. Funny. Girly. Inovative. Disruptive. How the collaboration with Gaetano Pesce was born?
Melissa: Edson Matsuo, Grendene’s product director, have made the first approach. Melissa is always looking for the best artists and Gaetano’s work is completely aligned with the brand’s values. According to Pesce, the main motivation for his creation as Melissa’s collaboration partner was “the desire to develop innovative, unique shoes, or, in other words, to seek the possibility of ‘post-customization‘ of the shoe”. Architect, artist and designer, Gaetano Pesce is internationally known for his versatility – working in different fields and with different materials. His creativity and desire to create original work is revealed by the use of colors, multi functionality of objects and spaces, and also by his appreciation of the femininity within shapes.
area: The sculpture Melissa+Gaetano Pesce, is more than a shoe, it is an artwork. Do you give your designers free reins, or give them special instructions to follow faithfully?
Melissa: This needs to be answered by Edson Matsuo. Please follow his e-mail, maybe we are lucky to have his return.