In 2010 I was editing a book for which I had asked for a contribution from Richard Sapper - it was a critical essay introducing the exhibition “Industrious design” by Odoardo Fiorvanti at the Triennale. We went to see him at least three times before we plucked up the courage to ask him to do this: Sapper didn’t like talking about design, let alone writing about it, so why would he do it for a young person he had only met three times, and what is more for an exhibition held in a museum that had never dedicated even so much as a room of retrospective. I was very pessimistic. However we managed to extract from him a promise to do it: “come back in two weeks”.
So for this reason, when you find in your hands a book like this one written by Jonathan Olivares, as well as a feeling of nostalgia for a person who is greatly missed and envy at the privilege of having immortalised with such precision, care and timeliness his extraordinary work, more than anything one experiences a sense of gratitude for all the hard-work and patience that lies behind what the author and the interviewee have done, in those fifty hours of conversation, so generously published for our benefit.
Olivares makes no attempt to disguise the effort required to sustain an eight-year long period of research that not only involved journeys across Europe and America but must have required constant patience and a delicate approach. Behind each line however one can sense that in the end, what is stronger than everything is the pleasure and satisfaction of one who knows he is the receiver of an immense privilege, a great honour and a long, invaluable private lesson on design, given by one of the most exceptional masters we have ever had.
Although Sapper was a designer who paid a great deal of attention to people, every object has a fascinating anecdote and more than one special explanation behind it, he has never been very bothered about telling people about this.
There is the biography, many fans overlook or acknowledge only superficially the philosophical background of the German maestro, and instead see a fusion of ancient origins, mythical places, family, play, business and work that is then found skilfully mixed in the iconographic chronology of the second part. There are many intriguing episodes, from his grandfather’s adventures with coffee in Guatemala to his tutor uncle and painter father. Or that of the “matchmaking” secretary at La Rinascente, where Sapper worked for a time and whom according to him was in love with him and providentially mentioned his name to Tullio Bolletta di Lorenz who was looking for a designer who could help him win a Compasso d’Oro… Or his unsuspecting friend Ettore Sottsass, who recommended him to Alberto Alessi who, actually, was in search of a designer for silverware, that Sapper will design in 1995. And then, Gismondi and his close relationships, polite or otherwise with the development offices of manufacturers. It is a kind of design story. And a treaty on design, in which there is all of Sapper: describing a laptop starting with a teddy-bear, theorising in an epigrammatic manner what beauty is, reconstructing an anthropology of human needs while drinking a glass of Punt e Mes vermouth.
As if this were not enough, finally, the book, both in the text and in the chronological reconstruction of the maestro’s work, is a history of industrial design and a promise of immortality for what, never more so as in the case of Richard Sapper, deserves the title of discipline.