A true-blue Milanese, born in 1946 with a degree in Economics and Business Administration from the Università Cattolica, Claudio Luti is a key player on the global cultural and entrepreneurial scene. In 1975, he began collaborating with fashion houses and designers that would become “Made in Italy” icons around the world. They were years of overall great fervour, when fashion designers from Milan, despite modest means and managerial skills, sensed the potential of prêt-à-porter and business opportunities. In 1977, Luti met Gianni Versace and shortly afterwards became the CEO of Gianni Versace SpA, where he remained for ten years working closely with the famous fashion designer and assimilating his indisputable skills and proverbial determination.
In 1988, he left Versace and acquired Kartell, of which today he is both president and owner. When he arrived, the company was experiencing a moment of temporary and, perhaps, physiological “lethargy”, but in just a few years he imposed technological and stylistic innovations and renewed their catalogue. Respecting the “spirit” of Kartell, its know-how and successful industrial strategy, he saw the need to pursue a different kind of product and material research, helping to free plastic from the shackles of its typically 1980s connotation as a “cheap” material.
The Show is essential for all those who need to find inspiration and, at the same time, present their creativity.
Luti called in prestigious names from the international design scene – Philippe Starck was the first, followed by Vico Magistretti, Ferruccio Laviani, Antonio Citterio, Piero Lissoni, Ron Arad and many others. He also initiated an important retail project, developing over the years a monobrand distribution network that constituted the principal means for Kartell to convey its brand identity. Today, Kartell boasts 140 flagship stores in 140 countries worldwide. At the same time, as president of the Salone del Mobile, Luti is intensely devoted to elevating and fine-tuning the “Salone system and its supply chain”, collaborating with all local and international companies and institutions to come up with a unique concept, which each year attracts hundreds of thousands of people. According to international media, the Salone is indispensible for all those who must find inspiration and at the same time present their creativity.
Walter Mariotti: President Luti, what is the city of the future?Claudio Luti: Perhaps I’m biased, but for me that city is Milan. Maybe it’s because I’m from here, or because I view it from both inside and outside simultaneously. But one thing is certain: I couldn’t live in any other place.
Is it about local pride or something else?
A little, yes, but I don’t think it’s only a question of localism. I believe that Milan is a unique city. Fashion, design and most of top-quality industry and craftsmanship were all born here. Someone who’s born in Milan has lots of opportunities to live and get along well in the world.
Why is this the case?
There are many reasons. Milan is a small city with important cultural and industrial structures. It has always expressed its so called polytechnic knowledge that combines humanism and science. It’s a chain that integrates new materials with new processes in a new culture. It’s the same culture as Da Vinci’s, rooted in the past while looking to the future. That’s why being from Milan is an asset in every part of the world.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m involved in design, both as an entrepreneur and as president of the Salone del Mobile. I actually started out in fashion in the 1980s with Gianni Versace. Those were great years, which allowed me to offer the world Milanese and Italian know-how the same kind of expertise that I’ve found at the Salone del Mobile. There’s a similarity between these two universes, firstly because there are incredible companies, with entrepreneurship that takes risks, strives for innovation, and makes craftsmanship the true meaning of a profession where no national politics hold water. I think this is why everyone loves working with us, since we truly express the sense of the word “creativity”.
Creativity must be tempered by the needs of the market and that the market does not exist without creativity.
What is design?
Lots of things, but design is above all something that takes two, as Magistretti always used to tell me. Because things are discovered, innovated and created in company. It spells trouble if there isn’t a second person, where one is creative and the other is market-oriented. It was the same thing with Versace. A phenomenon like Versace would be unthinkable without silk from Como or wool from Biella, or without the capacity to finance and industrialise art. Milan is the centre of that world, so whoever wants to get into business is lucky if they live in Milan. I’ve been lucky.
How does one create a successful design company?
The recipe is simple. You have to have ideas, long-term resources, and surround yourself with intelligent people. But you must also understand the necessity to work with others, appreciating that creativity must be tempered by market needs, and that the market cannot exist without creativity. A project starts from theory, but then you need to be handson. That’s why you need two people.
What are the discipline’s key themes at present?
“Teaming up” to work in an integrated way. In recent years, I’ve really devoted myself to creating this kind of system. Milan has responded better than any other Italian city, so it has become an example, a benchmark and also a capital. Expo 2015 proved this. It was a cultural and business event that catalysed the attention of City Hall, the mayor, but also of the ICE (Italy’s national institute for foreign trade) and the Ministry of Economic Development.
The success of the Salone del Mobile week is the success of a system where companies participate with cultural projects.
What is being done to create such an integrated system in the city?
Very much, but this is an age-old calling. Milan has always embraced this idea. The Triennale is doing the Design Museum, where the sales aspect has been united with the cultural part. Kartell will hold an exhibition at Palazzo Reale, to show its inspiration with art. After all, the success of the Salone del Mobile week is the success of a team, a system. It’s one of the most important events in the world, where companies take part with cultural projects that engage institutions like the Triennale and La Scala.
What’s the secret of Milan’s system?
Three words: people, companies and institutions. In Milan these three words have always been at home, and they’ve been intercepted by institutions that show how a better world is indeed possible. That’s why other businesses in other sectors also take part in Design Week, investing significant sums to be there.
Is this a global achievement?
This needs to be recognised. It’s the achievement of culture that becomes business, and which finds one of its greatest expressions in the idea of furniture. For example, this has been grasped by the ICE, which has collaborated with the Salone from the start, because Design Week is a driving force of “Made in Italy” that is now based on “Made in Milan” and shows no sign of decline. This is due to the fact that real entrepreneurs know they mustn’t focus on the crisis but on their own ideas, and have the resources necessary to carry those ideas forward. All this happens in Milan.
Can we say that today everything is urbanism, as the Domus 2019 slogan declares?
If we say everything is about urbanism, we must add that not all urbanism is equal. Take Milan. It’s an example of city planning, because it can find living solutions that don’t exist elsewhere and which respect the associated life of its inhabitants in all their expressions, from family to work to individuals. That’s why it has become a brand that’s “sold” quite a lot abroad, but it’s not a concept that can be exported. The proof lies in all those cities that have tried and failed to copy Milan.
Why can’t Milan be copied?
Maybe other cities can’t be copied either, but in Milan’s case it’s certainly true. It’s been this way ever since Ludovico Sforza, who made Da Vinci come here, because he gathered artisans and a series of intellectuals. With Ludovico the city was enlightened, until the French arrived. That was his mistake... So we got the idea for “Created in Milan”, “Created at Design Week”. Because in Milan creating things is easy; people always respond. Just don’t have ulterior motives.
What other cities are reference points for you. And why?
I could mention many, because I travel a lot and I’ve been impressed by many situations. But, especially in these days, I think the opposite phenomenon is interesting. I mean, Milan is so often held up as a model by other cities, which come to study our system.