10 on 10 with Claudio Luti, President, Salone Del Mobile

Innovation is research, research is an investment not only of money but also of time, energy, ideas, and thoughts, says Claudio Luti, President, Salone del Mobile
Photo Credit: Francesco Brigida
Claudio Luti, President, Salone del Mobile

Claudio Luti is the President of Salone del Mobile. He is not only responsible for managing the brand of the Salone del Mobile and its exhibition activities with operational responsibilities, but he has been instrumental in committing towards Salone to keep evolving and consolidating its link with Milan. He is also the CEO of Kartell and has led Kartell since 1988. Through the collaboration with some of the most prestigious international designers, such as Philippe Starck, Ferruccio Laviani, Piero Lissoni, Patricia Urquiola, Antonio Citterio, Tokujin Yoshioka, Mario Bellini and Rodolfo Dordoni, he has made the brand become known all over the world, not only as greatest expression of made-in -Italy design but especially as a lifestyle brand strongly devoted to research, design, innovation, and functionality as well as to creating glamorous products. SURFACES REPORTER spoke to Claudio Luti on his idea of design, his future plans for Salone del Mobile and more in this exclusive chat.

Francesco Brigida

1. Tell us a bit about your personal journey from being a student of economics, working closely with Gianni Versace and then delving into industrial design and heading Salone del Mobile currently.

My studies in economics certainly helped me for my future career. I have worked in fashion for many years and afterward, I bought my father-in-law’s company which produced plastic furniture: I believe that these 2 worlds are not as much different as they might seem at first sight. For example, when I was at Versace I learned how monobrand shops are very important for a company because they publicize the brand in a faster and more effective way. I brought this lesson to Kartell and as soon as I could, I opened Kartell shops. From fashion, I have also learned the art of seduction and emotion. A piece of furniture, like a dress, could be seductive and transmit emotions. When I work on a piece at the same time I think how it can be sold and how it can be a winner piece.

2. You transformed Kartell completely with innovation in design. How does Claudio Luti define innovation?

Innovation is research, research is an investment not only of money but also of time, energy, ideas, and thoughts.

The Salone, for example, rests on this capacity for ongoing innovation. Innovation with regard to lines, to shapes, to market approach and sales, innovation in communication, even questioning some of the brand’s anchor points without denying its history. This is a duty that the Salone companies are bound to fulfill to an even greater extent than in the past because competition has got sharper, timescales shorter and the market super-demanding. Only with continual innovation and high quality can the global challenge be won.

The Salone has a duty to innovate itself, without compromising its very nature. It has to challenge methods and criteria in a bid to raise standards and remain ahead of the game, with regard to both exhibition model and client service. The phrase we’ve always done it like this has ceased to exist, replaced by a commitment to strive to do even better and achieve more than we already are.

10 on 10 with Claudio Luti, President, Salone Del Mobile

3. As the President of Salone del Mobile, tell us about the initial challenges that you faced with regards to the various initiative you took up to improve the experience of the people and how did you overcome those challenges. What were the key learnings.

I always want to do better in life, and as President of Salone del Mobile. Milano I have wanted, I want and I will always want to create a better environment for exhibitors, visitors and the thousands of journalists who come here from all over the world. My goal was to make this edition the best Salone del Mobile in the world and the results have far exceeded our expectations.

Buyers, journalists, and designers have seen at first hand just how superlative and creative our production chain is, recognizing the value of Made in Italy manufacturing and the global importance of the Salone which has become an international brand.

Claudio Luti, President, Salone del Mobile

4.  You have also successfully launched Salone del Mobile. Milano, Shanghai, what led to it and what kind of growth potential do you foresee.

China represents a major development area for the Salone del Mobile. Every year, many Chinese operators visit the show in Milan but having a presence in Shanghai unquestionably offers new possibilities of partnership and business

development between Italian companies and the Chinese market. This is why we started the Salone del Mobile. Milano Shanghai and this year we reply with the 3rd edition.

We believed it could be a real opportunity for the selected top Italian companies to meet Chinese architects, designers, and industry operators. In the past editions, we developed a rich program which featured also the presence of Italian renowned designers who, together with the brands participating in the show, introduced the charm, history, and value of the Italian products to the visitors and made them experience the wonderful world of Made in Italy.

In a few words, the goal of Shanghai show is to bring to China part of the emotions and innovations that represent the essence of Salone del Mobile. Milano.

 This event is also intended to act as a commercial and cultural bridge between the two countries, Italy and China, facilitating fruitful dialogue on the themes of the excellence and manufacturing quality of Made in Italy goods. It, therefore, gives us great pleasure to be able to export a small part of our value and excellence to China, allowing Chinese professionals an opportunity to appreciate our products and giving our companies a chance to make contact with potential new clients.

Potentials of this market are enormous because the Chinese market is one of the most interesting markets in the world in terms of sensitiveness towards design and interior decoration.

5. Salone del Mobile is considered the most important design exhibition in the world. What were the milestones it has covered?

Salone del Mobile was born in 1961 and year after year it has defined its own history and success trying to do always better and reflecting the needs first of all of the exhibitors and as a consequence of visitors and press.

We have basically consolidated the Salone’s unique position of leadership as the benchmark for all the Italian and foreign manufacturers and for all the operators, be they architects, designers, collectors, contractors or journalists.

6.  What kind of positive changes have you seen over the years in terms of design consciousness?

In these past 10-15 years, there is a lot of attention to the final consumer, his/her real needs, and expectations. The design has become more ergonomic and now there is a great attention
to sustainability.

 Quality these days means sustainable quality, which involves keeping a close eye on all the parts of the production process – from design to industrial development, financial planning and the marketing and communication process, right up to after-sales service. Sustainable quality does not consist of the green outcome in itself, i.e. the cardboard chair or bamboo mug. Sustainable design is a new way of doing business that takes the end life of products into account, products that, by their very nature, are eternal because they are iconic objects still need to be potentially recycled.

Creating design these days means thinking about the future, its sustainability, not just in terms of the use of the materials but also of the productive processes, upholding certified and universally acknowledged quality standards first of all, but also thinking about design that will endure over time.

7.  Europe, which place would you say is the next Top design destination (especially in South East Asia)?

We see a lot of attention from countries like North Korea and Vietnam, despite India itself.

8.  How do you see the exhibition evolve 10 years from now? Where do you see it in terms of growth in the number of exhibitors, delegates, participation etc?

As mentioned earlier we always want to do better. We do not have a specific plan nor a specific goal to achieve except that of being always the international reference point of the sector.

The success of the Salone del Mobile. Milano is due entirely to the production system that underpins it, allowing it to showcase innovative products and processes every twelve months. It is the industrial network, the manufacturing system, made up of small, very small artisan enterprises alongside the big manufacturers, that creates a solid basis for a successful fair, featuring foreign exhibitors amongst the top producers, enabling it to present the very best of a sector and its creative and productive fabric to the rest of the world.

The space of the fairground in Rho remains always the same therefore it would not be really possible to have more exhibitors, also because exhibitors require always more and more space to exhibit.

 9. Italy has always been design conscious while the world has been growing in design only lately. Which are the other areas in the world where you foresee growth and culture of Design?

Traditionally Scandinavian countries and USA have their own specific history. Nowadays, everybody is interested in design as demonstrated by all the Design Weeks that take place all around the world. There are some interesting fairs scattered in the world as well as a larger design consciousness.

 10. What is your message for Indian designers and architects? I love India, its history, its culture, its landscapes, its colors.

I invite all Indian designers and architects to come to the Salone del Mobile and discover it with their own eyes.

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