Enchanting the world with playful objects, furniture, lighting and installations that unite fantasy, wonder and imagination, Milan-based Italian designer Andrea Mancuso turns daily experiences into an experience worth savouring. Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle takes a deep dive into the designer’s oeuvre, his creative processes, and his beautiful childhood in Rome to find out what makes him tick, and how he has cultivated a knack to craft narratives with objects that evoke emotional responses from his audience.
“BEHIND EACH BRAND, THERE ARE STORIES THAT HAVE NOT YET BEEN TOLD. I TRANSLATE THOSE STORIES WITH MY OWN STYLE.”
Andrea Mancuso inhabits a whimsical and dreamy universe, transporting audiences through time and space with his designs that offer surprises and convey feelings. Take, for example, the Rhyton series of five surreal, hybrid ceremonial drinking vessels made by master glassblowers in Murano. Half goblet and half mythological creature, they metamorphose into characters to populate the rituals taking place in the dining room.
Then there is The First Supper table in concrete and steel that pays tribute to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper, by transforming the “last” into the “first”. Carving out traces of familiar objects like plates, forks and nutcrackers on the surface of a table, Mancuso leaves behind signs of a banquet that are visible depending on the way light strikes it, thereby allowing the user to imagine the story.
With the Glacoja vases and centrepieces hand-carved out of blocks of plexiglass, he reveals their hidden raw side, treating them with pigments that give them a strange, primitive appearance resembling geological formations.
Lord of small things
Andrea is recognised for his playful objects, furniture, lighting and installations that alter reality, marry the past with the present, evoke emotional responses from users and arouse curiosity. He describes his creative process, “The first approach to a new project is research. I look for books related to the subject I want to study. Every project is an opportunity to learn. The materials or manufacturing I favour are those I have never explored before. When I acknowledge the manufacturing limits of certain materials, I somehow start limiting my imagination. Production is certainly a complex part of the process. Even though I work with very skilled artisans, there are often problems to be resolved in the passage from paper to life.”
Born in Rome in 1982, Andrea grew up in the narrow, serpentine streets and small lively squares of Trastevere, a picturesque and charming neighbourhood where history coexists with the quotidian.
His mother was a psychologist and his father worked in advertising, and when his grandfather retired and transformed his garage into a workshop to make wood models, the young Andrea spent time with him learning how to use tools and to bring ideas to life.
In his early 20s, harbouring a passion for cinema, he worked as a film editor for short movies and documentaries while studying design.
Obsessed by the possibility of changing the perception of reality by inverting sequences and associating them with sound, he thereafter discovered that he could use design to craft a narrative.
“I describe myself as an observer,” he states, “I like to investigate the relationship between the familiar and the unexpected. Everyday spaces and objects represent ourselves, our past, memory, history and culture. Through objects, installations and interiors, design can be a medium to tell stories and create emotions.”
Forging a career
After meeting Emilia Serra at the Royal College of Art in 2008, they cofounded a design studio, Analogia Project, in Milan three years later. Their big break came in 2012 at Milan Design Week, where they presented Analogia #003, a temporary, site-specific installation that challenged conventional spatial relationships and the frontier between reality and unreality, where visitors saw life-size charcoal sketches of common household objects brought to life through the meticulous placement of black wool wrapped around a maze of transparent fishing lines fixed to walls and ceilings, as if one were living inside a drawing.
A few weeks afterwards, Hermes commissioned them for the window displays of its Ginza store in Tokyo, and Bulgari came knocking the following year.
Andrea explains how he interprets the identity of each brand he works with, “Behind each brand, there are stories that have not yet been told. I translate those stories with my own style.”
In 2016, when Fendi asked them to design a permanent installation for its headquarters in the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, they recreated the palace’s iconic repeating arch facade, which protrudes from the interior walls in multiple spots, emerging and disappearing as if they belonged to a lost memory.
Today, Andrea’s studio is located in Milan’s Navigli district, characterised by the presence of numerous artisan workshops and artist studios now converted into bars and restaurants. Having inherited one of these spaces that was about to shut down eight years ago – a small atelier with a window looking out onto the street – he uses half as a studio and the other half as a workshop to construct maquettes and prototypes, tackling up to 10 projects at a time with the help of two assistants and a few external collaborators that join the studio when required.
“Nature and sustainability are indeed important considerations, as well as tradition and culture,” he says about his creations, “Most of my projects are developed with local artisans in limited editions and are objects made to last over time. People are becoming more sensitive to climate change problems, and I hope that the design world will respond accordingly. We are urged to change our attitudes, and I believe that design has the ability to do so.”
1. Andrea Mancuso sculpting one of the champagne glasses in the Metamorphosis collection.
2. Rebus sideboard designed for Fratelli Boffi in 2016.
3. A 2014 collaboration with ceramicist Alessio Sarri, the Booming Vases were created by detonating gunpowder-filled wet-clay forms before firing.
4. The Metamorphosis installation for Perrier-Jouet presented at the Design Miami 2019 features 11,000 mounted ceramic pieces that recall bottles maturing in the cellars.
5. The Dome light designed for Italian luxury lighting brand Slamp in 2017 features scales inspired by Medusa.
6. The Metamorphosis champagne glasses designed for Perrier-Jouet.
7. The First Supper Table designed in 2013 was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic paintingThe Last Supper.
8. The Glacoja Vases designed in 2019 are carved from blocks of plexiglass.
ANALOGIA WOOL INSTALLATION
Questioning the relationship between objects and spaces by transforming rooms into a three-dimensional sketchbook, Mancuso brought drawings to life by using 3D software and suspending merino wool – treated to obtain different thicknesses and lengths so it resembles charcoal strokes – on a net of fishing lines stretched from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall.
Produced in collaboration with Italian master ceramist Alessio Sarri, they examine two essential elements that comprise our existence: air and matter. Pure geometrical shapes in ceramic have been exploded while still fresh, fixing the moment of explosion in the material, following experimentations testing new cause-and-effect relationships.
Playing with varying shades of marble and the age-old technique of inlay, Mancuso transforms the tabletop into a pond crossed by slow-moving goldfish, matched with a base composed of overlapping brass plates that echo their movements.
The white ceramic tiles accurately reproduce archaeological fragments and ruins stemming from Italian museums, which were created by using virtual digital models of the artefacts, thereby exploring the presence of history in our everyday lives.
Taking its name from an ancient drinking horn made of pottery or metal with a base typically in the shape of an animal head, these five Murano glass goblets taking on the guise of a snail, a chicken foot, a dolphin tail, a hedgehog and a ram with long horns are a study of the ritual of antique drinking vessels.