UK Exclusive: Moooi Hana Armchair Launch & Simone Bonanni Interview

September is an exciting month in our industry. For a few Prosecco-fuelled weeks, London usurps Milan as the design capital of the world and aesthetes flood the streets in pursuit of brilliant new designs. For anyone who’s serious in their search, we recommend a visit to our Hatch End showroom, where you’ll find Moooi’s Hana armchair in full bloom. In its blissful cocoon, designer Simone Bonanni sketches out a new vision of comfort, inspired by Japanese flora and fauna. The centrepiece of Moooi’s hotly-anticipated Originals collection, it is exclusively on display in the UK at Chaplins and will provide a first look for many at Moooi’s brand new Extinct Animals upholstery. To celebrate its launch for the London Design Festival, we sat down with Simone, to talk design, music and making it in Milan.

Tell us a little bit about your design journey. Where did it all begin and how did you end up where you are today?

I’ve always loved drawing ever since I was young and thought my dream was to become a painter. Then of course, once you’ve grown up a bit, you have to start thinking seriously about your profession and what you want to be. So from drawing and dreaming of becoming a painter, I looked into design work. I decided to apply to a design university and I actually tried twice. I applied to Venice and got rejected… then I applied to Milan as well. The third time, I got lucky and I managed to enter the design school in Milan… Afterwards, I did a couple of internships and moved to Amsterdam where I joined Marcel Wanders’ studio, where I worked for three years. I remember when I first arrived I was the one of the youngest – there were around 50 or 60 people at the time  – and one of the few Italians as well. So I started as a junior designer and after two years I became project leader after which I decided to leave and start my own studio in Milan.

Would you say that Milan is the place that inspires you the most?

There’s a sort of vibration there. I moved from a tiny village (which is my hometown) to Milan. And Milan was beautiful. Everything was epic there, all the concerts, exhibitions etc…

It sounds like it was a real explosion of inspiration for you…

Yes… and that really started my love for design. In just a couple of years, [since graduating] I was very happy with what I was doing and where I was living, stuff like that. And of course, Milan is a great place to live as a designer. It’s very competitive. This makes it special in two different ways. On the one hand, it gives you the fuel to always push and try to do the best you possibly can. On the other hand, everyone is suddenly a designer. It’s kind of knowing the importance and the value of what you do as a designer. We always need to find a compromise and try to reimagine our role as a designer in Milan.

That kind of leads me on nicely to my next question. Milan must have more designers per square metre than any other city in the world. Was it difficult establishing yourself in such a competitive environment?

I don’t think are any specific rules. I think it’s just about working hard and trying to figure out different ways to communicate yourself as a designer through the stuff that you design.

I’m also now teaching at the university in Milan and I see my students coming up with great designs. Year on year there is always going to be new people.

What do you find the most rewarding part of moulding the next generation of designers? What do you think your favourite part of teaching is would you say?

I don’t know. It’s tricky connecting to the students but that’s part of the satisfaction too. Of course, you have to be frank and honest. Not all the students will be able to express themselves as a designer, it’s part of the game of course. But it’s nice to see the way they are perceiving design… I’m always telling them that talent is 2% then the other 98% is hard work.

Moooi has clearly played a huge part in your journey to becoming an internationally recognised designer. How did this collaboration first come about and what are they like to work with?

As I mentioned before, I moved to Amsterdam to work in Marcel Wanders’ studio. I always had a very special relationship with both Marcel Wanders studio and the Moooi team. So when I left and went back to Milan, it was quite natural to keep the conversation going. We were friends before being colleagues.

That always helps…

It’s what actually matters nowadays,  you know? You can go somewhere where you can find a lot of very talented designers capable of designing awesome stuff but I think that what really matters in a way is the relationship between people. And if the relationship is healthy and good then the good stuff just comes naturally — it’s a consequence of a good relationship.

All of which brings us to your new Hana Armchair. Were there any parts of the design process that were particularly challenging?

I would say there were two different things. The first was the idea of translating what they had in mind in terms of values, keywords and aspects and translating these into a physical shape, a physical body. I took sizes, shapes and volumes that, to me, were communicating the idea of comfort, tranquillity, of calm and protection. I noted of all these and then I tried to translate and input these into a furniture piece. This took time. A lot of sketches, a lot of trials, prototypes, 3D printing etc. We tried so many shapes and models to try and find the right compromise.

The other part was a bit more of a technical aspect. There are two versions of this armchair. One with a wingback and one without. And it was quite challenging to be able to provide the right comfort for both versions. I remember the original version was just meant to be with the wingback. But if you just take this out it wasn’t comfortable so we spent a year and a half trying different models… finding the right ergonomics.

Speaking of the look of the chair and the ergonomics, where do you see it working best?

I think there are two different main possibilities. One is more about hospitality, so I see it very well in a hotel, perhaps in the main room at the entrance. Also, the fact that we have two different products connected aesthetically, it allows us to create a complete lounge scenario through different heights. And also the fact that it comes with a swivel. Once I leave it, it goes back to the same position. It doesn’t disturb the design language. And then of course in luxury homes. 

Is there a particular fabric or material that you enjoy working with?

I have to be honest, not really. My research never really starts with the idea of a material just because I like it. It’s rather a consequence of my initial goal. Like with the Obon tables, we decided to go with terracotta because we just liked that a lot. Because originally, I wanted to give that sort of style, that sort of mood. And so the material was a consequence of deeper research.

“If anything, my favourite material that I work with is words and mind mapping. The first thing before sketching shapes I get a big piece of A3 paper and I put the title in the middle and I brainstorm around it. It’s always the first step.”  

Has working for Marcel Wanders changed the way you design? Did he provide any words of advice that have stayed with you?

Yes, definitely. Just change a lot. It might sound a little strange but one of the most inspiring things that I got from working with Marcel was that. Sometimes we were sitting in a meeting and he would be like, “Simone. Make it beautiful. Make it wow.” Nowadays, I see a lot of designers and colleagues trying to design things that are very correct — very humble objects that are very content within a very specific subtle shape.

Whereas Marcel would always say let’s make it ‘wow’, let’s make it unexpected. And it’s this unexpectedness that is so unique to Marcel and Moooi as well.

So quintessential to Dutch design is that bold, wow-factor…

Yes of course. And I feel extremely lucky to have on one side this calm Italian design culture and on the other side this Dutch experience I had. So in a way, there is industry on one side, mass-producing furniture and stuff and there is the other side of trying to do something unexpected. Something extremely beautiful.

Which era of design is your favourite?

That’s a very interesting question. Of course, inspiration comes from different things, like design eras, and other artists etc. In terms of design eras, I like Bauhaus, not necessarily because of its culture or approach to design but because of the fine aesthetics which to me are really appealing and interesting. I also like Art Deco, for instance, and the idea of decorating things because they need to look beautiful. Full stop. Or pop art too, the idea of being close to people and communicating with people in their own language, not technical language. However, I think the most exciting one is the upcoming era. If you just look back at the past 10, 20 years, how we were 20 years ago, where we are now, how cool and exciting it is to think about how things will be in 20 years.

Do you have a dream commission? Something you’ve always wanted to make?

It’s funny, a couple of years ago one of my dream commissions was to design football equipment. I played soccer for about 12 years. I used to play as a goalkeeper… Because of this, I used to think wow, I’d love to design football gloves or football shoes — something very high end… Now I think I would like to do two things. Either a fashion collection or to do a show installation with no budget.

Just a blank cheque…

Yes, a huge white room and the freedom to express myself…

Other than Marcel, is there anyone else who’s had an important impact on who you’ve become as a designer?

It’s interesting, of course, I have my own references, very old designers etc but I find very interesting inspiration in music, singers, people which are not necessarily doing chairs and tables.

I had a look, and I think you’ve got some Kandinsky inspired works?

Which is kind of a coincidence… I find that throwing in a little bit of art helps you to relate your designs to a specific mood or style.

And I guess you can just take little bits of inspiration from there…

Exactly. But I think in terms of inspiration, music is huge. The thing that I would like to try to keep in my design process is to keep things very simple and human. Shapes but also the object, it needs to be easily understood. It shouldn’t be something that only technicians or designers can understand. But rather, something that everyone can appreciate. This idea of trying to communicate in a very simple way comes from music. For instance, I love reggae music and it’s one of the most simple structurally… It makes you feel good right? It might be a stupid example but it makes perfect sense in my mind.

No, definitely. Are there any specific musicians or artists you turn to for inspiration?

There are a lot of reggae artists, Bob Marley is the main one of course. Then there is also a little bit of rock music. I love Oasis. Bob Marley makes you feel good and happy when you’re not and then you’ve got Liam Gallagher who makes you feel like you wanna conquer the world.

Earlier on, you mentioned that you’d love to do a fashion collab, is there anyone specific you’d love you to collaborate with?

I think in the design world, especially in Milan, we have this tendency to “stick to our name” and try and get it talked about. But I think we have this great opportunity of taking design [in new directions]. If you say that design is fashion, right, and say this to 99% of other product designers, they will say noooo, design is ergonomics, technicalities, functionality etc. It certainly used to be like that and still is to a certain extent. But I think we need to find an extra band width in a way. If you say that design is fashion I think from being something very delicate as a phrase or concept it could lead to a great opportunity. And again, to create synergies between other designers as well. It doesn’t have to be your name, your chair, but more about collaborating with other people, photographers, artists etc I think this would be a great opportunity to jump into design 2.0. Do something a bit more radical, contemporary.

Like what you see? Be sure to pop down to our 25,000 sq. ft. lifestyle showroom where you’ll find the Hana Armchair and a selection of Moooi furniture and lighting on display. Alternatively, you can shop the look from the comfort of your own home via our handy online store.

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