Kartell’s story can really be considered a piece of the Italian history because it has accompanied our Country through a long journey begun in 1949 and that keeps going on in our days. Giulio Castelli, chemical engineer who lives in Noviglio, a town located in the metropolitan suburbs of Milan, was the founder of the brand Kartell, for which he began producing plastic household and car accessories.
The resistance of the plastic used - innovative element for those years, when all kitchen accessories were made exclusively of aluminum, ceramic or tin - and the innovation of designs and colours, decreed since the very first times the success of the brand that, within a few years, started to become the object of desire of every Italian housewife. The first product made in the laboratories of the company that attracted the interest of the general public was definitely the Made in Kartell, put on the market in 1950.
It was a ski rack originated by the collaboration between Roberto Menghi and Carlo Marassi and developed together with Don Pirelli, a leading company in the Italian production in those years. Already from this first product it was clear what the hallmark of the entire company’s history would have been: innovation, the desire to create new and innovative products or, even better, uncommon perspectives for daily life products. But it is also shown the desire to create synergies with other brands of the Made in Italy, in the belief that only supporting and developing projects with Italian companies could have won the competitive challenge required by the the global market. In the late fifties the company began to specialize into different sectors and its founder decided to create real detachments, each dedicated to a particular market area.
The first to emerge was the field of household that, from 1955 onwards, under the direction of Gino Colombini, a true legend in the industry, began producing household and daily use products made of colourful plastic with unusual and fun shapes and colours. It was exactly in those years - and with the undeniable and important contribution made precisely by Kartell – that a new concept of wellness and products for the home started spreading in Italy, successful not only because functional but also because beautiful, cheerful, funny, able to differentiate a home style from another one.
In 1958, however, it was the lighting industry the one that went through the greatest development, giving satisfaction to the entire company. Among the most characteristic pieces in this industry – which have helped to define Kartell as an innovative and trendy brand – there are the light creations of design artists such as Marco Zanuso, Giotto Stoppino and Joe Colombo, but also unique and unrepeatable items such as the so called 4006 lamp designed by Pier Giacomo Castiglioni and his brother Achille, his creative partner. Anyway, the consolidation of the brand took place only in the early sixties, when Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Giulio's wife, entered the company. The woman, graduated in architecture and deeply influenced by the Bauhaus avant-garde, greatly contributed with her idea of design to give new forms and unusual styles to everyday objects. o create, in brief, the unique style of Kartell, the real secret of its success.
It is in these years that items such as the 4999 chair were produced, a product for children made of colourful hard plastic, suitable not only to be used as a seat but also as a toy to develop creativity. The design of the chair is to be linked to Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso and was strongly desired by Anna Castelli Ferrieri who, as mother of two children with Kartell’s founder, was well aware of how children, too, needed to have pieces of furniture capable to suit them and created according to their specific needs, safe and quality products to ensure the best outcome.
Precisely with this product - the first chair in the world to be built in plastic - it was launched one of the furnishing items that would have turn into Kartell’s hallmark: exactly those plastic chairs that untill that moment had been a taboo for the companies in the industry, according to which only wood or iron were appropriate materials to make comfortable and together resistant seats. The real consecration for this brand made in Italy, however, came in 1972 thanks to the work of a large international institution. After years of turmoil in the panorama of architecture and Italian design, in fact, finally the cultural world realized it and gave it due recognition. It dated back to that year, in fact, an exhibition organized in the cathedral of culture at a world level, that is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which had previously witnessed in its rooms the best of international art about design and furniture made in Italy.
Among the pieces included in the exhibition there were some of the leading products signed by Kartell that, in this way, got unprecedented visibility, starting to be purchased across the Alps. The pieces shown in the exhibition were the result of the collaboration of Kartell with names such as Marco Zanuso, Gae Aulenti, Richard Sapper and Ettore Sottsass, young architects and designers whose enormous potential was already evident. Many of these products are still part of the permanent collection of the brand and keep being shown in the museum that Kartell strongly wanted to prevent an architectural heritage and a part of Italian design history from getting lost.
Another milestone of the Italian furniture brand is definitely represented by the nineties, when Kartell began working with other names not very known at those times, but that already ensured unique and innovative style which over time has really become the trademark of the company. Gradually names such as Piero Lissoni, Antonio Citterio, Philippe Starck, Ron Arad and Vico Magistretti have inextricably linked their name to this company from Milan and, in a few years, they have also become renowned artists and designers.
In 1999, to celebrate the history developed up to that point, Kartell's leadership decided to engage in a big project: creating a designer museum that, in addition to telling the history of evolution of what was done by local creativity, gathered even the best of Kartell’s production, to prevent so much genius and creativity from getting lost and with it a piece of Italian history.
It is in this way that the namesake foundation Kartell was born, with its museum that currently includes over 1000 products signed Kartell, always innovative for the time in which they were created. Many of the products on display, then, won in the course of time prestigious awards such as the Compasso d'Oro, annual award by the ADI - Association for Industrial Design - that is expression of taste and industry innovation. This award is considered, among the industry insiders, the highest authority in the field of architecture, design and furnishing. If until the end of the eighties it had developed Kartell’s first creative phase, its second one began in 1988, when the company was purchased by Claudio Luti, its current owner that strongly wanted to leave his mark not only from an economic and strategic point of view but also from the perspective of design.
Claudio Luti, in fact, took over the company when it was not experiencing a lucky moment. The end of the eighties, in fact, accounted for a time of adjustment in the economy, also due to a period of unbridled consumerism and of innovation in taste and spending at a global level. Luti, then, came at a time when the company had to decide which imprint to give to its future to be able to survive those turbulent years.
The professional wanted above all - but it might be better to say once again – to insist on design and creativity, producing more innovative lines and starting what would have become another hallmark of the company till the present days: the revision of styles and trends that were extremely popular in the past, even in a very faraway past that dated back to the time of Louis XVI, reinterpreting the fashions with an increasingly and extremely modern and innovative look.
It is from this blending that originates Kartell as it is known today, with the creation of some products that, with the right interpretations, have survived till the present day. Why have Kartell’s products been considered the perfect symbols of taste, innovation and design over time? The secret of the success of this brand surely lies in several factors, however, all closely related to one another. First and foremost, the main secret lies in plastic. A material that may be considered trivial and of common use gets new life in Kartell’s laboratories, turning into a valuable raw material, forged in an unusual way and with techniques and equipment hitherto unthinkable for a poor material such as plastic has always been considered.
Thanks to Kartell, however, clear plastic takes on lightness and grace of crystal, is molded as valuable porcelain and takes the elegant forms of the Murano glass. This raw material, however, without the involvement of a solid design and the creativity of designers who collaborate with the brand, definitely would have not been able to bring out its full potential. The brand Kartell today is definitely one of the leaders on the market, not only in terms of product quality, but also from the point of view of refinement of form, innovation of uses and peculiarity of style. Designers at Kartell, in fact, have been able to capture influences coming from different styles that, year after year, have inhabited homes all over the world, but reinterpreting them according to modern taste, according to Kartell’s style. What comes out is unique products that today are extremely popular on the international markets, not just on Italian ones, but also on the US and, from a few years, even on the Japanese one, always very attentive to the most innovative trends.
There have been many Kartell’s produts that, over time, have won the heart and the mind not only of the critics in the industry but also of the customers. Among the most typical products of the brand that have experienced a broad international consensus, there is definitely the Maui chair by Vico Magistretti, but also La Marie by Philippe Stark – which won the Compasso d'Oro - or the Eros small armchairs, again by Philippe Starck and the series Ghost and Bubbl, once again by the prolific Starck. But it can not be missed the series of bookcases named Bookwarm and born from the mind of Ron Arad or Clap. Each of these products has its own history and own production origins that are not just the simple stories of ordinary products, but rather a mirror of the evolution of the Italian taste, of the way to understand the home and the hospitality, to enjoy time and space.
Many of the products by Kartell are now part of history and architecture books and of the Italian design and teach the younger generations, those who will dictate the future taste and style, not only what does it mean elegance, but also what does it mean that the Italian elegance dictates style all over the world. Undoubtedly today Kartell has evolved and has gone from being a small avant-guard company, even if family-run, to being a truly international company, with shops and production facilities located around the world. Currently the company can count on a network that includes over 130 flagship stores that are exclusively single brand, 250 corner shops within other stores and a network of over 2500 dealers equally distributed in over 130 countries.
The undisputed quality of its products, the design innovation, the collaboration with prestigious names of many other nations and cultures, has allowed the brand Kartell to transcend with satisfaction, energy and success national boundaries, presenting itself as one of the most innovative brands in the industry, with unquestionable taste. It was precisely this success, however, that allowed the brand and its far-sighted leadership not to stop and to continue the work of research and innovation that has always distinguished it. The company's cornerstones are always the same, that is plastic, which still keeps being the queen of the production, in all its forms and manifestations, as well as the collaborations with big names in architecture and culture, in the belief that art and design should be first and foremost contamination of styles, languages, forms and colours to create peculiar products unique of their kind, those classic pieces that alone can create styles and trends.
Anyway, today the company focuses on the contribution coming from new designers and young people who, with their enthusiasm, can give the designs new energy and life, things that elsewhere, unfortunately, are likely to be consumed in the self-aggrandizement which inevitably can be activated when high levels are reached. Kartell, however, believes in the power and strength of young people, who should be given an opportunity to ensure a continuous creative ferment.
For this reason, the foundation Kartell - strongly supported over the years by corporate executives and company property - annually donates part of its profits to the development of research in the industrial materials and design industry. In addition, it provides for the possibility to avail of scholarships and internships and apprenticeships for all those who decide to pursue a professional career within the design and creativity, to be developed in furnishing or in the production of accessories.