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The Cassina Perspective: Pioneers of Design

Synonymous with Italian quality and innovation, Cassina has been designing the future of interiors for almost 100 years. Discover the story of the company that has made the combination between technology and craftsmanship its trademark, from its iconic reissues from the modern movement to today’s collaborations with renowned international designers.

Discover Cassina

Brothers Cesare and Umberto Cassina founded Cassina in 1927, in the Brianza district of Meda, north of Milan. They became known for their new design approach and a striking inclination for research and innovation, combining technological skill with traditional craftsmanship. After introducing industrial design to Italy in the 1950s, the company has evolved over almost 100 years to collaborate with masters of Italian and international design and become a heritage Italian brand.

Cassina's focus on innovation and experimentation is seen in its high-profile architect and designer collaborations, encouraging them to push the boundaries of traditional design to envision new, functional products. Their collections include contemporary pieces mixed with signature design objects by the great masters, including Mario Bellini, Vico Magistretti, ​Gio Ponti, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jenneret, Charlotte Perriand, ​Gaetano Pesce and ​Patricia Urquiola.

Meet Cassina CEO Luca Fuso to discover the history and milestones of a classic Italian brand.

A wise combination of technological innovation and traditional craftsmanship is at the heart of Cassina’s production. What were the company’s design milestones from its foundation in 1927 to the present?

Cassina has always been a first mover, making an important mark on the evolution of design in Italy and abroad. It was particularly pioneering in the 1950s when it launched industrial design, combining skilled craftsmanship with technological know-how to produce and diffuse its collection on a wider, international scale.

In 1964 the company acquired the rights to produce the first four models designed by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand. This was a very astute move that initiated a complex philological process to reissue modern classics, creating what is today called the Cassina I Maestri Collection, officially launched in 1973. These icons are authentically developed in close collaboration with the official foundations and heirs of the authors. Today this may seem like a trend but for Cassina it is a long-standing process that has a precise cultural and industrial approach, making it an integral part of our DNA.

Research and development have always been at the foundation of the design process for Cassina. Over the years many milestones have been reached thanks to the innovative ideas and courageous experimentation that have led to the production of ground-breaking designs. The list is long, but to name just a few, the Ciprea by Afra and ​Tobia Scarpa (1968) was the first example of a singular piece made from expanded polyurethane foam, shattering the stereotype of the upholstered armchair. The AEO armchair by Paolo Deganello / Archizoom (1973) innovatively combined different materials in a piece that, for the first time, could be disassembled and washed. The Maralunga sofa by Vico Magistretti (1973) profoundly reinterpreted the style of the traditional sofa.

Pieces such as theI Feltri armchair by ​Gaetano Pesce (1987) were at the forefront of experimentation with new materials and, in 2007, the Privé sofa system by Philippe Starck presented a unique industrialized solution for its capitonné workmanship. I believe that today’s important milestone is Cassina LAB, the collaboration between the Cassina Research and Development Centre and Poli.design at the Milan Polytechnic to implement sustainable materials and to develop well-being features to improve the quality of life in the home.

​The Superleggera by Gio Ponti

Manufactured since 1957, the ​Superleggera wood chair is the rare combination of the architect’s innovative quest and the cutting-edge experimentation by the Meda-based company, becoming the indisputable icon and masterpiece of modernity and extreme artisanal elegance.

A chair that took ​Gio Ponti years to perfect, paring down the triangular section of the legs to only 18 millimeters to reach the actual minimum weight of just 1,700 grams.

The Superleggera chair, designed by the creative genius of Gio Ponti, is a mark of Italian design in the world. Tell us the story behind this successful collaboration.

Cassina and ​Gio Ponti had a shared interest in experimentation and research that founded an innovative production model based on the important bond between the designer and the company. Designed in 1957, the 699 Superleggera is the result of Ponti’s research and the experimental and creative expertise of Cassina’s talented craftsmen. The chair has been continuously produced for more than 60 years in our carpentry workshop in Meda, Italy, and represents a symbol of perfection. A balance between solidity and lightness, it has a triangular section of just 18 millimetres and a minimum weight of 1700 grams. Two types of wood are used in its production, ash-wood to give lightness to the frame and beechwood to give stability to the seat. The wood is worked with the most modern and sophisticated machinery combined with the consolidated manual skills of the carpenters who particularly concentrate on gluing the ingenious and unique joints (no nails are used in our workshop), sanding and assembly. It’s not surprising that Gio Ponti considered the Superleggera one of his three masterpieces (together with the Pirelli Tower in Milan and the Concattedrale in Taranto). 

Speaking of designer collaborations, tell us about the I Maestri Collection: how did the project start and what are the first iconic products featured?

The Cassina I Maestri Collection is constantly in development and brings together a selection of the most significant pieces of furniture reissued in collaboration with the official foundations and heirs of the great authors from the Modern Movement. It began in 1964 with the furniture designed by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand and has since brought together names such as Franco Albini, Giacomo Balla, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Thanks to the painstaking research that we constantly carry out, these authentic reconstructions make it possible to recover the original values of design, while developing the pieces for today’s use - always in respect of the original project. This work is part of a programme that we have developed to diffuse the culture of design and make the work of these great masters known to a wider public. In fact, many pieces were never serially produced, they were one-off productions for commissioned projects that would never have been known if they had not been reissued by Cassina. One example are the works by Ico Parisi introduced for the first time last year: the Olimpino table was made for a privately commissioned villa in Como and the PA’ 1947 console table was used in various projects, including Parisi’s own home.

Today, as in the past 90 years, Cassina represents a real hotbed of talents and brilliant design masters. Tell us how your approach with designers has changed and how you combine the great value of your master pieces with the avant garde of the new generation of designers.

Cassina has always worked alongside renowned Italian and international designers and architects to transfer their ideas into reality thanks to a very proficient research and development process, something that we still pride ourselves on today. This approach hasn’t radically changed over the years. What we have worked on however, is how each piece dialogues with the rest of the collection. We have a very eclectic catalogue of designs that span more than 100 years of history, all defined by the same Cassina DNA based on quality, excellence and avant-gardism.

The result is that the great design icons from the Cassina I Maestri Collection combine with elegant naturalness alongside Cassina’s newer products offering a wide selection of choices to furnish all types of homes. This is ‘The Cassina Perspective’, our manifesto that expresses this unique approach that is an integral part of our heritage. Our objective is to continue to enrich this approach, not only with the great names from 20th and 21st Century design but also by incorporating new talents who can bring a different perspective to the brand. 

In 2015 the Spanish architect and designer ​Patricia Urquiola was nominated art director of Cassina. Tell us about her contribution to Cassina’s vision and the most iconic products she designed for the brand.

I believe that ​Patricia Urquiola has great sensibility for design, colour and fabrics, as well as a dynamic approach to the company that, combined with our strategy, has given us the energy to evolve the brand over the last few years. She accepts the challenge for experimentation, a characteristic that has always been part of Cassina’s DNA, while maintaining respect for the company’s history. Thanks to this combination, together we have worked intensely to find the right balance between the classics and the newer products to create complete and eclectic atmospheres. Over these past years she has designed some great products, including the architectural Beam Sofa System to the newly launched Sengu Sofa characterised by extreme comfort and a natural style.

In the thoughtfully crafted and futuristic Cassina Outdoor concept, the most innovative products are combined with the icons of modern design. What vision lies behind the choice of connect the names of Tobia and Afra Scarpa with that of Rodolfo Dordoni?

We have literally taken the concept of ‘The Cassina Perspective’ outdoors. The idea was to work with some of our great contemporary designers, Rodolfo Dordoni, Philippe Starck, Patricia Urquiola and, introduced to the collection this year, Tobia Scarpa. Each designer interprets the outdoors in their own specific way to create welcoming atmospheres for different types of homes, from an elegant city terrace to a relaxed tropical garden. These pieces are complemented with outdoor models of the icons by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand and completed with accessories, lighting and rugs to create a harmonic extension of the home with all of the necessary technical requirements.

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