Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Italian Design House Kartell's Creations are Poetry in Plastic

Fifteen years ago, Italian design house Kartell fashioned a chair that was as transparent as glass. Made entirely of polycarbonate, it changed the way the world looked at plastic

Published: Nov 11, 2014 06:42:44 AM IST
Updated: Mar 2, 2015 05:09:29 PM IST
Italian Design House Kartell's Creations are Poetry in Plastic
Louis Ghost: In 2001, designer Philippe Starck revisited the baroque forms of the Louis XV chairs. The result was a little transparent armchair fashioned out of polycarbonate. More than a million copies of the Louis Ghost have been sold world over

In India, plastic is a dirty word, one that usually dredges up images of polythene bags strewn on roads and pavements, and swathes of blue tarpaulin over urban sprawls. But plastic can be beautiful. It can be ethereal. It can lift your home from the banal to the extraordinary. The range of products from the 65-year-old Italian design company Kartell is a testament to the evocative power of plastic. Over the years, the company has collaborated with some of the most prestigious international designers who work with chemical engineers to fashion pieces of usable art—tables, chairs, lamps and other household items—which are also at the cutting edge of technology. In 1999, after years of research, Kartell was the first company in the world to use polycarbonate, a type of plastic, to fashion a chair. The result was La Marie, a completely transparent chair designed by Philippe Starck. Since then, Kartell and its team of designers  which include Antonio Citterio, Ferruccio Laviani, Piero Lissoni, Tokujin Yoshioka and Mario Bellini, have explored the theme of transparency and iridescence in their products.

ForbesLife India showcases some of the company’s classic bestsellers that are featured in The Kartell Museum in Milan. The museum, which reflects the evolution of plastic at the hands of Kartell, won the Guggenheim Impresa e Cultura Award “for the best corporate museum” in 2000.

Seated and Stacked

La Marie is the world’s first polycarbonate chair. Philippe Starck decided to “sacrifice” form in favour of the revolutionary material, creating a minimalistic, basic and modern chair. The transparent chaise lounge, LCP, also exudes an ethereal quality, but it is made from a single transparent methacrylate mould, which folds back upon itself. Another intricate seat from Kartell is the stool designed by Marcel Wanders, christened, Stone. Reminiscent of an hourglass, the focal point is its irregular surface—myriad geometrical facets that reminds one of a finely cut diamond. The Sound-Rack is a cabinet that can be stacked to take on different forms and colour compositions

Beauty and Transparency

In 2012, Kartell launched the world’s first single-piece transparent table with a square top measuring 100x100 cm. The Invisible Table designed by Tokujin Yoshioka combines lightness and solidity. It is also made of polycarbonate. The massive Uncle Jack Sofa is the largest piece of transparent polycarbonate ever injected in a single mould. The whimsically titled Mr Impossible chair uses the same technology except, here, two oval shells are welded together with laser instead of an adhesive

Ode to Opaque Design

Kartell teamed up with Italian fashion house Emilio Pucci to upholster Starck’s newest design, the Madame Chair. The chairs—they have a polycarbonate base and a padded seat—use prints from Pucci’s scarf collection, which depict the design house’s presence in Paris, New York and Rome. The Spoon Chair has a more formal design where two different thermoplastics are moulded at the same time, one for the other exterior, and the other, to give it a high mechanical resistance. Piero Lissoni’s Form can be used in both an informal and office setting. The seat is created from a sheet of semi-structural polyurethane that lies on a chromed steel structure. The Form series can be expanded by placing the armchairs side by side to form long benches

Play of Light

Since its inception in 1958, Kartell’s lighting division has featured lamps from some of the masters of design, including Marco Zanuso, Joe Colombo and Giotto Stoppino. In 2002, it introduced new suspension lamps, Easy and FL/Y, by designer Ferruccio Laviani. They are fashioned out of transparent methacrylate. Laviani also designed the popular Bourgie, a richly ornate and baroque take on the table lamp. The base of the lamp is composed of three interconnecting decorated layers, while the lampshade is made with a pleated effect to create a myriad play of reflections when the lamp is turned on. In Take, Laviani worked with transparent or colour-injected polycarbonate. Kartell by LAUFEN brings together the material essence and technological innovations of two firms. Kartell’s Battery table lamp is an equally popular bedside accessory

-Curated by Madhu Kapparath; co-ordinated by Anjali Thomas

(This story appears in the Sept-Oct 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)