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What turns an object into an icon?

Timeless objects, originated by mixing innovation and originality, remain in the collective memory. How are the design icon pieces conceived and, most of all, how to recognize them? Zanotta asked this question to three specialists in this business.

There are more than thirty design icons browsing a dedicated page of the internet website zanotta.it, embracing 60 years of history and project culture. Some of them have been hosted for years in the major Art and Design museums worldwide, most of them are still in production and the ones out of collection, entered the range of collection furniture. Everlasting, the icons of the Zanotta universe tell about life, ideas, sprints and passions of the community and our Country’s tradition. And they trace a path, highlighting a long tradition of values between industrial design and manufacture innovations of a unique district in the world. About the evidence that some objects of daily-use have become symbols of our lives, icons surviving time and trends, we’ve been talking with three influential persons: historians, critics and journalists who have always felt a real fatal attraction for design. Stefano Casciani, architect and director of Disegno – la nuova cultura industrial – affirms: «Finding new I.O. (iconic objects) is not easy lately. There are few entrepreneurs left, who are able to support an object over time: fundamental feature of what I define I.O. is first of all the duration, like products suitable for both being used and for the market. These “evergreen” objects have lived and still live a glorious time, thanks to the support in terms of investments, sales and communication given by their manufacturers. People who kept on believing and making sure that they would live in homes and in the market. Is there a recipe to make – design, manufacture, sell – an icon? I can imagine an ideal mixing of: cleverness of the object and its function, formal appeal, intrinsic usability, stay in current and future times, originality, and invention». Laura Traldi, journalist and blogger, adds: «What turns an object into an icon? Its aptitude to create an emotional connection with the user. This connection happens when an object (thanks to its shape, function and decoration) becomes the undisputed partner and spokesperson of an era, of our life or of that’s of the community. It often happens when its reason to be has a metaphorical meaning transcending the mere physical presence: the Sacco or the Blow by Zanotta are not only armchairs, but manifestos of a new way of living our daily life». Patrizia Scarzella, architect and journalist, underlines that: «There are no “best practices” to turn an object into an icon… it’s probably a good conjunction of factors that, sometimes with the aid of time, help to generate that “something” immediately perceptible, an “extra-ordinary” image that some products have and others do not. Some designers have this expressive power, this magical touch, this ability to transform their creations into icons: Achille Castiglioni was one of them and the Mezzadro stool (design by Achille and Pier Giacomo, 1957) is with no doubt an icon, as well as the Juicy Salif fruit-squeezer designed by Philippe Starck. Apart from their functionality, objects like these are so strong icons, that are identified with the manufacturer’s brand. It may also happen that a product becomes an icon, because it is able to grasp, with its amazing expressive language and in the right moment, the hidden instances of the public, what’s on, that has not been expressed materially by other products yet. The Sacco armchair, for example, is one of these cases. Or most recently, the Mac by Apple. The coincidence can facilitate the mass spreading of an iconic image: regarding the Sacco story, the fact of acquiring a great visibility through the TV thanks to a transmission with Paolo Villaggio in the late ’60s, certainly contributed to that effect. However nowadays the mass of information and images can play an unfavourable role. What once used to be advantageous now it becomes a boomerang. As Italo Calvino said in the late 80’s “if our brain is bombed with images, it is like a garbage dump where it is more and more difficult that an image gains importance”, consequently it is more harder than a product could become a long-lasting icon».

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