Rossana Orlandi meets all the requirements to be an icon. She’s petite, cute, demanding, and confident, but old enough not to piss anyone off. And did I mention, she throws a mean party?
Photo above by James Mollison
To understand her, first you have to understand what she does. You may need to visit her emporium in person for it to become clear. She’s something of a vintage design shop-keeper.
Her gallery-slash-shop is situated in a former tie factory. Rather than arranging things as a factory or even a traditional design display space would, she has anarchy on display. Unlike other hoarders at least, one can find space to walk among the debris.
She has a keen eye for original work that looks like decrepit trash. And she has the enthusiasm and charm to make it seem worth every penny. And because someone else thinks it’s worth something, it just may be. The secret has been to cross the boundary between art and design, much like the fashion shows we have all seen footage of, where the designer sells outlandish, unwearable clothes, but sells more public-friendly versions in the stores.
There are truly some fun, colorful and unusual pieces spread around the gallery. I can’t say I’d call all the sofas comfortable. I can’t say I wouldn’t prefer my table to look like it hasn’t gotten into a bar fight. I can’t say the wood chair would be less interesting without the termites. But, these all make you question what it means to be rich. Seriously, what would a poor person with a table made of loose wooden boards stolen from a construction site think of paying for one?
It’s a bit of a shame we had to leave the gallery to get some food, because it’s courtyard reminded me of a taco stand in east LA, or Williamsburg, or Mexico City. We took a break and headed to Ms. Orlandi’s restaurant, Pane e Acqua (Bread and Water) up the street.
Here, she told us her story. She described how she used to collect things, trash mostly. Then, at the age of 18, she escaped the small suburban town she was raised in to go to university in Milan. There she had a much larger source of junk to work with. After studying textile design, then working for famous fashion designers, she left the world of fashion and started selling furniture. Then, she had an inspiration. She found talented designers and artists to turn her crap into works of art.
Then, the past she had seeked to escape came roaring back into the picture. As her family had been manufacturing upholstery fiber content for years, famous Italian furniture designers and manufacturers came out of the woodwork to support her. They could afford to do so without risk, as what she sells doesn’t look like anything they produce.
Her lastest collection by Spaniard Nacho Carbonell’s fibrous metal chairs that look like rusted chia pets, or the British Pavilion from Shanghai’s World’s Fair. Seeing the slight Orlandi sit in this chair is hilarious. It’s akin to witnessing a chihuahua in a bird’s nest. What can be better than furniture that makes you laugh?
Mr. Carbonell’s other chairs are an unusual take on a school desk. The ‘table’ is a 4-sided box that looks like an emptied out tv, and is connected to the chair, acting as the latter’s fourth leg.
But back to what makes Ms. Orlandi successful. She’s an excellent host. In fact, she bought us lunch. Too bad there were no tacos. The bread and water were both very good, however. And, like all the special guests that come to her Salone every year, she got us rip-roaring drunk.