ARTHUR MAMOU-MANI & KARIN GUSTAFSSON
Nature and technology combine in Conifera, COS’s installation at this year’s Salone del Mobile Milano, designed by architect Arthur Mamou-Mani.
COS is more than just a fashion brand. When it comes to Milan’s design week the label shows its design prowess year after year. For its 8th consecutive year at Salone del Mobile, COS again sought inspiration and innovation from the design world.
It was love at first sight when the team at COS discovered Galaxia, the collosal, yet delicate 2018 Burning Man Temple, from the mind of architect Arthur Mamou-Mani. Intrinsic in Mamou-Mani’s design language is repairing the connection between man and nature. Fluidly combining technology and craft, Conifera is the incredible result of the union between the architect and brand. It blossoms out of the 16th-century Palazzo Isimbardi, writing a new chapter in architecture.
We spoke to Mamou-Mani and Karin Gustafsson, Creative Director of COS, about what inspired this collaboration and what to expect from the future of design.
INTERVIEW What is the essence of COS as a brand, both aesthetically and in terms of identity?
KARIN GUSTAFSSON Rooted in our DNA is that form follows function. Functionality is very important but we also have a very understated aesthetic and we focus on materials and how they feel, tactility, is very important.
I This is the 8th time that you’re presenting at Salone del Mobile, can you tell us why COS has such a strong relation to design and art?
KG It’s what inspires us. We are always looking towards art, design and architecture when we do our research for the season. And Salone del Mobile is so much more than a design fair, it’s such a multidisciplinary creative happening. This interest is always our starting point, but it is also the interest of our customer, that’s why it feels so natural to participate at Salone.
I So Arthur and Karin, how did this collaboration come about?
ARTHUR MAMOU-MANI We were contacted by COS this summer, when we were still doing this project, “Galaxia”. I think they called the office but couldn’t reach me because we were out in the desert with this project. When I came back I saw the brief, which included this beautiful venue and then going into the first meeting at COS we immediately started talking about topics like bioplastic and technology – I just went all in, bringing in everything I find important in today’s design world. I guess I didn’t want to go from a very meaningful project to a slightly less meaningful one, for me it was very important that this project represents everything that I care about, and I told them that and instead of saying “Ah, no, that’s too much, get out”, they said “That’s great, that’s exactly what we’re about too”.
KARIN GUSTAFSSON From our end, we came across this work Arthur just spoke about, “Galaxia”, and we put it on one of our moodboards. We saw the structure and how beautiful it was, but then we also started to read into the background of it and it was his approach, his work process and how he tackled the design and architecture that really impressed us, that’s why we reached out.
I Can you tell us a little bit about the “Galaxia” project?
AM Galaxia is the temple of Burning Man. So Burning Man is a city that only happens for a week in the desert, it was founded by Larry Harvey, who died last year. The temple is where the Burners – that’s the community – go and mourn either a deceased family member or something that they want to let go off. So we had all kinds of artefacts and offerings inside the structure – we even saw a wedding dress. It was extremely emotional and at the end we set it on fire. It was such a deep release. I really love that idea of a non-religious spiritual space, I think it’s very important for people to have spirituality and know that there is something deeper than just our rigorous scientific world. I find that idea beautiful, so I fully embraced it, all the work was voluntary work from everyone, we raised all the funds, it was a pure gift from us, from the community, from everyone.
I That’s beautiful. So in this collaboration with COS, you basically had a carte blanche again.
KG What we tend to do when we do collaborations is that it’s almost a blank canvas, the only thing that is important to us is a signature and an understanding towards our values, that was what we shared with Arthur. And then of course we had the venue, but that was kind of everything.
AM It’s funny, I actually don’t like carte blanche, haha. I want it to be a collaboration, I don’t want to just come up with some random things that don’t match the values, because then it’s not a dialogue it’s an imposing of your ego. I want it to be something that really represents our common beliefs, so we talked constantly, it was a constant interaction and that’s crucial.
KG It was very natural. I don’t think I ever felt as if we were trying to change you. What was very nice is that with Arthur’s approach very much happens in the process and he always wanted us to be part of the conversation.
I Were there any challenges you had making the installation in this location?
AM The location is extremely historical and it’s a very beautiful, huge venue. For a structure that needs to be 3D printed – because that was an ambition from the start – this was the challenge.
I How was the production process, you were quite limited on time with a huge space, and I understand that 3D printing is quite time-consuming…
AM It can be time-consuming, but it can also be very quick. One just has to understand the machine. We’ve been involved in 3D printing since the very start, so we played around a lot – I mean at one point COS started getting worried because I was playing too much with the machine, haha. But it’s necessary during production, because we continuously interact with the design, and that’s the beauty of having the machine in your studio and not in a factory far away, or having a contractor that doesn’t necessarily understand your vision. I think that’s a wonderful thing because it brings us closer to physical reality.
I So is something going to evolve from this installation?
KG We plan to take this piece to London and show it in our store in King’s Cross, where we tell the story behind our projects, the space shows a mix of art, design and our collection. And this summer we’re gonna give Arthur the platform to recreate the piece.
AM The design bricks are stackable so you can transport them easily. What was really important was this idea of the building block that can be recomposed in different ways, however in this case the setting is quite different so we’re rethinking ways to use the bricks. For me this is really exciting, that perhaps they can have different life.
I Can you tell us a little bit about the materials?
AM We used polylactic acid, PLA, it’s very common in 3D printing, but people are not necessarily aware of the fact that it’s extremely good for the environment. It’s very similar to plastic but nontoxic and made from renewable resources, it can be composted. A lot of the bricks here will go to a composting facility after this.
I I see that there is also this movement in architecture and design which we have in fashion, turning to organic, sustainable products. Is communicating this something that is very important to COS?
KG Yes, we always want to support work like this because it’s gonna make a difference for the future. As a brand we focus a lot on craft and innovation, and long-lasting design. We have a facility where we do prototypes and really experiment and explore before we start a collection. It saves time and it’s also a hands-on process of exploring while you’re creating and that makes a difference in the value of the product. We’re also exploring different types of materials, by repurposing some of our leftover materials and upcycling. For example, we’ve done denimite in the past where we turn leftover denim into a hard material and we use 3D printing in our prototype stage for jewellery – so we look at a lot of different angles when it comes to production and our goal is to create great collection pieces that last in the future.
I And, Arthur, you have the same values when it comes to your designs?
AM Yeah, we’re always looking for materials that will be the least impactful. It’s often hard to match your ambition with reality. With this case we explored flexibility, most of architecture is made from very hard links and structures and this is a very loose structure. It’s very important to think in terms of lightness and flexibility, because most organic materials have soft links, but architecture is not really used to that. It’s really nice to try to push innovation in one direction and see how reality can catch up or how you can influence reality in a way. So I’m really happy that COS gave me the carte blanche, it was a mutual trust that we’re gonna try and innovate, do something that hasn’t been done before. I hope this can inspire others, because we have a massive role in the carbon footprint and everyone can do something about it, so I hope designers realise their responsibility.
I Could you see yourself working more beyond architectural design, and doing more collaborations with fashion brands?
AM I really don’t like boundaries and categorisation. I’m very inspired by Da Vinci, who was neither an artist nor an engineer nor a scientist – he was all those things! He wanted to understand the human body, so he would draw the internal organs, he wouldn’t just draw a face, he would draw a skull, he wanted to understand it otherwise the art is superficial. That curiosity I think is crucial and often categorisation prevents you from having that curiosity.
I What are your expectations for the coming days?
AM I just really enjoy seeing people’s reactions. To me the project only has a life through people. There are so many layers to this structure that people can interpret differently and I love seeing people’s perspectives on the piece, so I’ll be keeping an eye out and I’m looking forward to having conversations with people, I’ll try to explain the project as much as I can.
KG I’m also really looking forward to seeing people enjoying and engaging with Arthur’s work – it’s all very exciting.
Conifera is open until 14th April at the Palazzo Isimbardi
Read our hightlights of this year’s Salone del Mobile here.
Words SARAH OSEI