French designer Ora Ito’s new chair for Italian high-end furniture brand Cassina has been a long time coming. As the first furniture brand that Ito was ever aware of, his design, developed over nearly four years, marks the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Inspired by the work of Ico Parisi, a long standing collaborator with the brand, and Cassina’s history of carpentry workmanship, ‘Ico’ pushes the boundaries of what can be produced in wood.
Here, in conversation with PORT, Ito reflects on what it means to be working with a brand he has always respected, the importance of acknowledging where you draw inspiration from and his hopes to have created a new icon of design.
How did you come to work with Cassina?
When I was a younger, we only had Cassina furniture, as did my friends, so I thought it was the only furniture brand in the world! Given its importance to me, since I became a designer it has always been my dream to work with Cassina.
I’ve been waiting 20 years to be asked to work with them, and it is still a huge challenge to be involved with such an important brand – your work has to be iconic, or else it’s not made.
How long was the design process?
It took me more than three years to develop the chair, almost four, because the product we’ve produced together is very complex, even though it appears to be very simple. It’s part of my philosophy of ‘simplexity’.
It took so long because the execution of the wood is really amazing – I wanted to showcase the potential and knowledge of Cassina and it was important for me that the chair represented all the aspects of the brand. At points, because it was taking so long, I got scared that someone else would have a similar idea and Gianluca [Armento, Cassina’s brand director] had to say to me, “don’t worry Ito, nobody can see your drawings, it’s too complex”.
I read that you were influenced by Ico Parisi…
When you work with a brand like Cassina, a brand with such an established history, you need to have a solid starting point. I went into Cassina’s archive and I found that Ico Parisi was one of their designers. He was a very good friend of Gio Ponti and I really love this period of Italian design – so for me it was a good starting point.
The chair is called ‘Ico’ and I think it’s important to pay homage to your inspirations. Too many designers these days copy or get inspired, but they never acknowledge it. I wanted to recognise the influence and importance of Parisi and Cassina in my work.
What do you hope to achieve with the chair?
I wanted to make a very versatile chair. It comes in four different colours [natural ash-wood, black ash-wood, walnut and red] and the seat is very soft and comfortable. This was important – we have been working on comfort a lot because a nice chair can be beautiful, but if you sit on it and it doesn’t feel good, it becomes ugly.
I hope to have made a new classic, but I can’t say that. Only time will tell if that’s the case. Let’s see in 20 years.