Luca Guadagnino and the eroticism of designing interiors

The Italian director and designer tells Domus about his double life, amidst parallels and similarities: that of film artist and that of interior designer.

Foreword by the author: Luca Guadagnino and I are friends.

What is the question people ask you that strikes you the most?
When someone approaches me and asks: can I succeed in doing this in my life?

Have you succeeded?
I think I always had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be and who I was. And so in that sense I was already halfway there. Because then the rest was simply like putting five-year plans into action. 

There’s a slogan from a queer party in Rome that we are using a lot, which has an initial sign that says: “Come and get what you deserve: everything”.
I feel exactly the same way, but only if we recite this kind of slogan in a key that deflects into critical and subversive imagery.  

So do you consider the designer’s work to be political?
Well, this question might lead to a tricky answer, so I won’t answer it.

Just answer it, come on.
I won’t answer because the pursuit for form is something that cannot be measured by the present time.  

You are also referring to political design, especially from the 1970s.
Absolutely, I had the privilege thanks to you of getting to know the very great Enzo Mari and the very great Lea Vergine. Two sublime souls... 

No, I’m talking about Marxist design, design for the radical transformation of society.
I don’t think I work on Marxist design, me, honestly. It would be ridiculous for me to say that. I am perfectly aware of Mari’s extraordinary legacy and the significance of his ‘social’ design, but I would never dare to stand next to a voice as radical and profound as his. 

Accanto al Fuoco /By the fire nello SpazioRT durante il Fuorisalone 2022. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino
By the fire in SpazioRT during Fuorisalone 2022. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino

So do you do a more, shall we say, decorative job?
No, I don’t think so, because we work a lot with space, we shape space. We are not simply asked to decorate a space but really to make that space. More than one project we have done had as its starting point the radical recoding of a place. So no, I don’t think so. I think that by working with fine craftsmanship, with things that have to be unique, with unique pieces, we work with the concept of “handmade”, let’s say, which is something that will never go out of fashion, and is a classic. 

Does this world of fine craftsmanship fascinate you more than industrial production?
I have to say that I am not interested in industrial production at all. In that sense it is a resistance to a certain kind of overproduction that is simply the production of future rubbish.

Don’t give me the ecological talk, please.
No no, I am not talking about sustainability at all. I’m talking about the fact that industrial production is a production that is designed for a minimum duration and in this sense, even on a formal level, has a limited life span.

Do you think there is something erotic about the way you design spaces?
I like the idea that it can be considered an eroticism that is on the one hand of austere and on the other hand made up of pleasures that are not unexpected and voluptuous. Somewhat like the character in that wonderful film by Barbet Schroeder, Maîtresse, with Bulle Ogier. Who did indeed have a beautiful bourgeois flat....

Why do you do it?
The practice of the interior design and architecture studio is a practice that does not produce any wealth at the moment. It produces the wealth of doing things that we love to do. I simply love working with my architects.

Boutique Redemption, New York. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino
Boutique Redemption, New York. Project by Studio Luca Guadagnino. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino

Let’s make a list of the things you are designing right now.
For the studio? We are doing a penthouse in Milan, a villa at the Venice Lido, a hotel in Rome, the offices of a large film agency in Los Angeles. Among other things, we are working on developing some specific objects for some great artisans of glass, porcelain, carpets...

And then there is Fontana Arte.
We carried out our first collaboration with our great friends at Fontana Arte, for whom we designed a wall lamp. The line is called Frenesi. There will be wall lamps, table lamps, floor lamps and a chandelier.

And how do you define the lamp? Is it a wave?
It is a wavy strip that makes you think of the pleasures you have experienced in your own life.

Excuse me?
It must make you think of the pleasures you have experienced in your own life, because this sort of vertical rigorousness that is interrupted by a sensual undulation makes me...

Does it make you think of the past?
It brings to mind the pleasures you may have experienced and then perhaps the pleasures you want to experience. 

You have a film coming out soon about the world of tennis called Challengers.
I wasn’t familiar with tennis, I discovered it by making the film and I must say I am quite passionate about it. I thought I wouldn’t be able to touch the ball even once with a racket and instead I can. I am surprised by that. 

Do you know that cinemas in Italy are empty?
I know. Italy is a strange case, in the US is not like that. 

Progetto dell’appartamento di Federico Marchetti a Milano a cura dello Studio Luca Guadagnino
Project of Federico Marchetti’s apartment in Milan by Studio Luca Guadagnino. Photo Mikael Olsson. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino

Do you still think cinema has a power today?
Cinema has an extraordinary power! 

But that is not true. There are entire generations that can’t even follow 10 minutes.
That is only partly true. Studies say that the most important audience for cinema today is the 20-30 year olds. Because when you make a film like Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film about the metaverse with Michelle Yeoh, and you manage to make $70 million in theatre revenue, it means that the audience, and the age group, is that one, i.e. 18-32...

Are you interested in this audience engineering now? Is this Hollywood precision marketing starting to fascinate you?
It has never fascinated me, but there are certain elements we need to think about. 

Aesop Piccadilly, progetto dello Studio Luca Gudagnino. Foto Giulio Ghirardi. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino
Aesop shop at Piccadilly, London. Project of Studio Luca Gudagnino. Photo Giulio Ghirardi. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino

Because you always did things at random before, didn’t you? I say this with admiration, as a compliment.
I don’t do things at random nor the Hollywood way. I think a film has a much longer life span than its theatrical run. Definitely. But I don’t think that cinema is dead, even though everyone wants to celebrate its funeral. I find that a bit silly and a bit banal. Well, of course, Italy is a very different case. But just think, for example, of the centre of Rome and the way in which the city has been scientifically sold out for the past 30 years to the worst idea of urbanism, in which there is absolutely no understanding of what urban design, public decorum and even the use of shops means. So you end up with an endless series of horrible bars and chains that destroy the very nature of the place... At that point you realise that Italy doesn’t have much hope, because it really has no self-awareness. 

Well, neither does the United States, come on.
The US knows that entertainment is an industry they have to strengthen in every possible and imaginable way.

Suspiria, Luca Gudadgnino, 2018. L’accademia di danza del film, Berlino Ovest. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino
Suspiria, Luca Gudadgnino, 2018. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino

So you join Italia Nostra and the FAI in an old ladies’ struggle?
I don’t think I said that. 

But it’s true! They are the only ones fighting against this dissolution.
Well, I don’t think that’s accurate or true, honestly. The work of FAI is a different work, an admirable work....

Do you think you’ll end up making jam like Mrs Crespi (ed., president of FAI)?
I can’t answer that question. For a simple reason: because I didn’t know Mrs Crespi made jam. But I do know that I like making jam.

Luca Guadagnino. Foto Giulio Ghirardi
Luca Guadagnino. Photo Giulio Ghirardi. Courtesy Studio Luca Guadagnino

Opening image: Luca Guadagnino in the Aesop shop in Rome designed by Studio Luca Guadagnino. Photo Giulio Ghirardi. Courtey Studio Luca Guadagnino

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