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What The Fashion Industry Can Learn From Their Furniture Neighbours

By Guan Tan

Felicia Yap

In the northeast coast of Italy sits Udine, a city flanked by mountains. The headquarters of Italian furniture company, Moroso is nestled in this picturesque, flat landscape. It's quite unlikely, but there's something that the fashion industry can learn from this quiet family furniture business.

CEO Roberto Moroso took over the reins of the 65-year-old business from his father. The 61-year-old has observed the furniture design industry ebb and flow over the decades. He will tell you that change comes from without the industry. To him, an eye trapped within the industry doesn't work. It will not usher in change or novel ideas. Furniture design has to borrow from its neighbours, art, architecture, and the mattress trade even. 

MorosoMoroso's production facility in Udine, Italy.
Moroso's production facility in Udine, Italy.

"In the 60s and 70s, [my father] started collaborating with designers mainly known in Italy such as Citterio," Moroso proudly recalls. Antonio Citterio was known for his industrial and architectural works, and Moroso engaged him for furniture collaborations. 

Later in 1996, Moroso looked outwards for new collaborators once again. Israeli architect and artist Ron Arad teamed up with Moroso, releasing a series of sculpturally liquid chairs – The Big Easy, Misfits, Victoria and Albert amongst others. "Him coming from the sculpting world, he presented the project in iron... The [idea] was to make it soft. So they presented it as fabrics." What was novel, was not merely the physical shape and silhouette of the chair, but how the upholstery was finished in vivid colours. 

"[This was] 30 to 40 years ago – you have a look at the colours... For now, it is normal to see such vibrant colours. But 30 years ago it [was] something nobody would have done. You kind of have to have an intuition or some sort to know – to be a trend setter." 

Felicia YapMoroso's draws from an arsenal of international designer – renowned or young irregardless.
Moroso's draws from an arsenal of international designer – renowned or young irregardless.

Back in the 80s and 90s, furniture conventionally pirouetted around wood and leather – neutral colours like browns. One wouldn't find brilliant colours in big furniture pieces. "In plastic furniture, yes. But in the soft furniture, it was not so." 

"It was more about how you made a product. Like the quality of the leather, quality of the fabrics. But it wasn't about the colour mainly." Moroso stresses that colour is accepted in sofas, tables, wardrobes these days. It's a far cry from the merely three decades ago. Ron Arad's collaboration ushered in a rainbow of colours to the furniture industry. "Something like that broke the equilibrium, the trend."

Moroso's pursuit for new designers continued into the millennium. There are now 44 ongoing collaborations with designers. To Moroso, there is no divide in the design realm. It's an industry impartial to ideas. His team welcomes "young talents – people coming from universities and the art world, people who are not necessarily connected to the design world." 

Felicia YapRoberto Moros (second from left), with his wife and two daughters.
Roberto Moros (second from left), with his wife and two daughters.

"You're almost betting on new talents – undiscovered talents". The future lies on the tense equation of creative collaborations. But this is not a new dialogue. A look at other houses in the likes of Danish houses HAY, Republic of Fritz Hansen, American company Knoll, Czech business TON, all of them tap into an arsenal of collaborative, cross-disciplinary designers. 

What new designers and collaborators can offer Moroso and the trade at large is not simply a new look, dramatic colour, or shape of a chair or table. It's about a new system of living – the way users move around furniture pieces in the house or office. "Things are constantly changing, even something as simple as sitting on a chair. Like a chair is always going to be a chair. But you can develop on the ways of sitting – creating day beds, creating sofas, which kind of accommodates different lengths." 

With every brilliant idea, the designers receive in return due recognition. Every design – chair, table, footstool, or flower pot comes with the designer's byline. 

The industry is surprisingly inclusive when compared to other industries like fashion, where behind the scenes design team members are shadowed by the creative directors.

Roberto Moroso notes, "[Moroso] takes on these projects with young people, and they end up being famous designers, or designers of the year."