An Exploration in Plastic: The History of Kartell
Founded nearly 70 years ago in 1949, Milan based design brand Kartell was created by Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Giulio Castelli and has been a symbol of progressive Italian design ever since. A true story of success, their journey is mapped through a series of incredible products across furniture, furnishings and lighting categories which have not only become a key part of the domestic landscape, but also true icons of contemporary design. We explore the history of the iconic and innovative brand…
Anna Castelli Ferrieri & Giulio Castelli
Anna Castelli Ferrieri was a pioneering architect and one of the first women to graduate from the Milan Polytechnic Institute with a degree in architecture in 1943. Her husband Guilio Castelli was a chemical engineer in the 1940s and was a student to Nobel laureate Giulio Natta. They had a dream of ‘producing objects with innovative characteristics that could apply new manufacturing technologies, make economical use of materials and employ efficient processes’. With this goal in mind they founded the Kartell brand in Milan in 1949 initially developing car accessories and domestic products. Lighting and laboratory equipment were added to the brand in 1958 and the Habitat collection of furniture and furnishings were introduced in 1963.
Under New Management: Claudio Luti
In 1988, Anna & Giulio were reaching their 70s and decided to pass the Kartell baton to their son in law Claudio Luti. Claudio, whilst remaining faithful to the brand’s original vision worked at revising the Kartell catalogue. His new strategy focused on the product by pioneering quality-based design research, prioritising the tactile and auditory perception of the material and collaborating with renowned international designers. This continued pursuit of new technologies, forms and styles demonstrates Claudio’s fervour and enthusiasm matching his predecessor’s and has kept Kartell at the forefront of Italian design for decades. The addition of collaborations with some of the most prominent names in contemporary design has secured the brand’s legacy as industry leaders. With partnerships such as those with Philippe Starck, Patricia Urquiola, Antonio Citterio and Ron Arad adding to Kartell’s extensive product catalogue over the years.
Changing Perceptions of Plastic
From the very beginning of the brand, Kartell have taken an innovative approach toward product development. Their renowned ‘plastics project’ was heavily focused on technological research and design to deal with the material which unlike natural materials lacks a visual identity before production. This lead to the brand being known for their industrial manufacture of designer items crafted from top quality, high-tech plastics. Through utilising cutting edge technologies, innovative thermoplastics and managers themselves involved in the making of each product, Kartell are able to guarantee their DNA is found in the technology, quality, resistance and durability of every piece.
A key turning point for Kartell came in 1999, when after years of research a revolutionary innovation led to then becoming the first company in the world to use polycarbonate to produce furniture. The result of this innovation was the La Marie chair, which was an entirely transparent chair with a sleek minimal look. This invention paved the way for more transparent designs from the brand, a look which has now become a signature design element leading to more popular designs like the Louis Ghost chair which went on to become the most widely sold chair in the world.
The Kartell Museum
The Kartell Museum was also launched in 1999 to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary and to tell the extraordinary story of the marriage between plastic and design. Designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Ignazio Gardella, the museum is a key part of the brand’s heritage and contains over 1000 objects from Kartell’s history. As award winning as Kartell’s products, the museum was the recipient of the Best Business Museum award from the Guggenheim Foundation and over the years collections have been loaned to the MoMA in New York, the Triennale di Milano, the Pompidou Centre and the Bundesunsthalle in Bonn.
Nearing their 70th year Kartell continue to push the boundaries of contemporary design with their explorations into plastic manufacture and are respected the world over for their instantly recognisable style. Still partnering with the top contemporary designers of the moment, Kartell bring fresh new designs to the industry each year each infused with the brand’s DNA of technology, quality, resistance and durability.