Black hoodie, white pants, sneakers, her hair tied up under a tennis cap and her huge, inquisitive blue eyes behind gigantic white-rimmed glasses, always the same model since she discovered them in 2015. Rossana Orlandi (Cassano Magnago , 1943) is a petite woman, but exudes charisma and determination. And something more invisible to her eyes: her prodigious intuition for detecting the most talented designers.
They have described her as the Anna Wintour of design, it is possible, although the Italian abhors the fashion industry. They also compare her with the also iconic interior designer and businesswoman Iris Apfel, but Rossana Orlandi is unique in her style and has created a universe as unique as she is.
His gallery in Milan has been a pilgrimage center for design lovers for two decades. Up to there he also made a pilgrimage Magazine. After crossing its charming patio with century-old arbors where devotees of good design have breakfast, he enters a wonderland, full of disparate surprises in every corner. It is the old Prochnovnich tie factory, which Orlandi converted into Ali Baba's cave, filled with an eclectic mix of avant-garde furniture and objects.
Born northwest of Milan, Orlandi had a good childhood in a family dedicated to the textile industry "but also super boring." The youngest of four children, along with two brothers and a sister, she soon discovered that her destiny was in Milan: “I always lived in my own world, I followed my own ideas. It was very fanciful,” she says.
At the age of 17, he enrolled at the Istituto Marangoni, where he studied textiles and had the famous fashion designer Franco Moschino as a classmate. He saw the birth of ready-to-wear and greatly enjoyed working for 30 years with the best couturiers. But...
He decided to jump into art and design. And the great phenomenon was unleashed, a kind of magic seemed to arise around Orlandi and the artists and designers that he exhibited and exhibits. He worked with rising stars like Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders and Studio Job.
Formafantasma, Álvaro Catalán de Ocón, Nacho Carbonell, Enrico Marone Cinzano, Damiano Spelta, Emanuela Crotti, Maarten Baas, Piet Hein Eek and Nika Zupanc are also part of the great cast selected by Orlandi. They are almost like a family, explains Orlandi, and they, who come up, greet her and joke with her during our chat, corroborate it.
The way Orlandi collects his designers is very unusual. She does not bet on a single name or a style, her nose can be very minimalist, but also baroque, even reaching the grotesque. And she is not wrong. Now her crusade also involves claiming the benefits of plastic and she has joined her daughter Nicoletta in the RoGuiltlessPlastic project, which since 2009 has awarded the Ro Plastic Prize for the best solution to reuse this reviled material.
What have you learned from your daughter Nicoletta?
RoGuiltlessPlastic is pure Nicoletta, she lives it with passion, attention, with incredible delicacy. She talks to all the designers, follows the evolution of the designs, visits the exhibitors...
And what have you taught your daughter?
Passion and enthusiasm for design. The love for creativity.
What does design have that fashion does not?
It is a completely different world. I was in fashion when prêt-à-porter was being born and it was great. Today it has become an unexciting business... there are no longer two collections a year but four or six. It is a totally ephemeral world. I hate the concept of something going out of style.
Design is durability...
The concept of using and throwing away should be eradicated from our vocabulary. We buy a sofa, maybe two in our entire lives. In addition, the people who frequent the world of design are totally different from those who are dedicated to fashion. They are more consistent, enthusiastic thinkers and reflective. The fashion world revolves around astronomical numbers, but it's a world I don't want to touch.
Some piece of fetish design.
I adore many. I have no prejudices and I am very eclectic. I like what causes me emotion, positivity.
How do you manage to keep criteria fresh?
I'm like that, I'm curious. I get as excited by a little flower as by a piece of furniture. I am passionate about new, beautiful things, there is a lot that excites me. I am very curious and I always go all over the world, traveling or digitally. I love listening to people with new ideas, creative minds that allow me to explore new worlds, and I love risk taking!
Have you tried designing?
I've never been good at designing.
Last year he received the Compasso d'Oro, the most prestigious award for Italian design.
I did not expect. When they told me, I couldn't believe it. Having the Compasso d'Oro like Giacomo Castiglioni, Renzo Piano, Julio Cappellini, Antonio Citterio... the great masters is indescribable.
Is the grande mamma of design also the grande mamma of your family?
Design is easier than family. I have two children and it is as if I had 200, because they are complicated. But I love them, they are fantastic. Both Nicoletta and Andrea have a great personality.
Has being a mother taken away your freedom?
Yes, being a mother and being a wife, because I have not been able to dedicate myself only to work, which is a pleasure.
Yes, because I do the things I like. I choose designers who "talk to me", I don't do too many calculations in promoting this or that. They call me a trendsetter, whatever that means… but the only way to find a trend is to listen, to people, to life.
How is your husband, Guido Brugnoni?
He's a fantastic doctor, a genius for spinal pain! Although he's a disaster at everything other than work, ha ha ha. After the covid he retired.
What has changed before and after the pandemic?
For me it has been a very hard life experience. The covid took my brother; it was an immense pain. Then Giovanni Gastel [fashion photographer] died, with whom I had a deep friendship. I suffered loneliness, mine and that of the people I love. I was home alone. My husband and the dog were in the field. I had to live 24 hours with a stranger, which was me. But it was an experience that has given me a lot.
What did he learn?
It was interesting to see how life went by. I am a free spirit and you couldn't travel, I was cooped up at home all day. I worked a lot on a project for a mansion in Qatar, and I made the selection of a capsule collection for Esselunga Fidaty, with which I was able to explain the drama of Italian artisans who were practically sinking with confinement.
What is good design?
I can tell what bad design is: it's all throwaway. That is lousy design, which we should eradicate.
How many glasses does he have?
You are only. When I discovered them, I threw the others away. Do you know why they are big? Because I move very quickly and I am constantly looking at everything that is happening around me, ha ha ha.
Defend me plastic.
What do you have in your hand, a pen. What do you record with, with a mobile. What are your glasses? Plastic is wonderful and allows you to live. Electrical energy passes through plastic tubes. But I complain about the inappropriate use and abuse of using and throwing away. Plastic bottles are a thousand times better than thermoses, which are not recyclable.
But not enough is recycled...
The important thing is to educate that plastic is the new gold. In 2018 the bottles were not recyclable, three years later they all were. Technology is wonderful. But I think it's crazy to develop projects without thinking about everything that has to do with the environment and recycling. When the first plastics appeared, there was no thought of their end of life and now we are not thinking about what will happen to the batteries of electric cars.
We stumbled upon the same stone...
If we made the mistake of not thinking about what we would do with huge amounts of plastic, we should learn this great lesson and plan what we will do with batteries. We have to solve the problems first, and then launch the products. I am very concerned about this issue.