A curious observer, fervent mind, and unexpected MotoGP enthusiast. Nanni Strada is an explosion of stories and ideas developed over a long path as fashion designer, which culminated in the Compasso d’Oro special career award.
“The Compasso d’Oro special career award was a bit of a shock”, she tells us. “I was informed months in advance in a very direct and unexpected manner, on the condition that I kept it absolutely secret. But it was the first of April! I thought it was joke for a while. I didn't know how to react, I think I stammered something and promised that I wouldn't tell anyone, but I was caught off guard just a little.”
The award, which she is very fond of, explicitly recognizes the coherence, consistency and courage of her groundbreaking research. Since the sixties, Nanni Strada has created a unique space where fashion and design meet, making her way forcefully through a sometimes overwhelming tradition. But let's start from now.
Milano Design Week has just ended, what was your impression?
I was struck by the mass of visitors: it was impossible to walk on the pavements in the Brera district, where my studio is. I can see the positive aspect for the city and from an economical perspective, but I'm very worried that everything becomes confused in this magnum sea of crowds and propositions. I think that this really penalizes the quality of design in general, and especially that being done in Milan.
Might design thinking be useful to solve the problem, design culture in a broad sense?
I think that everyone should do their job. Professionalism, based on background and culture, is behind it all; having a sense of responsibility and awareness is the only way to make things go well. But the world of communication tends to generalize, to turn everything into a trend, to make the topics empty. Think of the topic of sustainability: it has become mainstream, and there are those who tackle it seriously, but in my field, there are also those who think that sustainability means making clothes with shells attached. Sustainability, however, means seeing that there are luxury companies that make a heap of money at the expense of people working in inhumane conditions. From this point of view, hats off to Gucci: they created a document that sets out a strategy to monitor what happens during production.
Winter 1971 Sportmax Collection, fully lined coats with welded seams
Since the sixties, Nanni Strada has created a unique space where fashion and design meet, making her way forcefully through a sometimes overwhelming tradition.
So, the current major issues – the environment, inequality – are also at the core of design?
Yes. I'm not negative, I have hopes for the future, but right now we're at war: a war of the rich against the poor, European sovereignty against those who want the Europe that our fathers (and we ourselves) dreamed of, and so on. We have to take sides in this war, consciously, participatory, positive. We must be volunteers, each of us, and do everything we can: share our creativity, try to lead those who listen to us towards awareness. This is the mission of today's designers.
While we're on the subject of politics, let's talk about bodies. The way in which we look at male and female bodies has changed throughout your career. Has your point of view on this topic changed?
No, not really. I'm a fairly hybrid person, in the sense that my head has always been in the world of design, and my actions in the world of clothing. When I embarked on this path, initially I was motivated by freeing clothing from fashion traditions, which were very imposing for the female figure. My goal was to think of clothes as the first space to inhabit, in the same way in which we inhabit a house or room.
WFire-proof overalls for racing drivers and motorcycling enthusiasts, Abarth System Collection (1984)
So the body comes before the clothes.
Definitely. Let me give you an example that's very simple yet very significant. I'm a motorcycling enthusiast, and naturally Valentino Rossi is my idol: his overalls are a masterpiece of design, of invention, of everything. However, this model of overalls must have something, because when Valentino climbs onto his motorcycle, he grabs the crotch of the overalls and pulls it down. This means that the measurement from the crotch, on which he is sitting for an hour in extreme conditions, and the neck, where the overalls end, is not perfect. I said to myself that I would really like to make him some overalls to solve that problem! In short, I don't just think about great ideals, but also about the livableness of clothes.
Design often starts with analysing the conscious or unconscious needs of consumers. Valentino Rossi is a very special consumer, and you can see him in television, but how do you study these needs in the wider public?
I can answer with an autobiographical fact. I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood. During the war years, I was evacuated to Bellagio on Lake Como up to when I was six years old. My mother's family had a well-known restaurant there, and so I grew up in a public place, surrounded by people. My family was very hospitable, very open. Then I went to Argentina, where I stayed until I was 14, and Buenos Aires was a multicultural city because all those who fled from Europe were there; this also meant that I needed to communicate with others, to know them. Now I suffer on public transport, which I take a lot since I never use the car, everyone has their mobile in hand, while I would gladly exchange a few words if I could. I have met many people in my travels, and this, to answer your question, has always provided me with a thermometer to measure desires.
The Casula, a chasuble project (photo by Alessandro Viero). “Abito di Luce” (2006) on display at the SKIN & BONES exhibition. Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture at the MOCA in Los Angeles (2006), The National Art Center in Tokyo (2007) and The Somerset House in London (2008)
For you, what role does light play in fashion design?
One of the projects that I loved the most and did with the most passion was a chasuble, “The Casula”, for a liturgical products show in Vicenza. My interlocutor was Monsignor Santi, an extraordinary intellectual, who told me some very interesting stories about liturgy, in which light had incredible importance – in fact, church lighting is very important and sophisticated – and I thought that the first thing to do was a light dress. The medieval chasuble was a felt or cloth ellipse, and I thought I'd design two perfect ellipses: an outer white one, a neutral colour for the whole year, with some laser cuts to reveal the inner ellipse, coloured according to the various liturgical periods, green, purple, gold or red. I applied a metal foil to the fabric at the base of the inner layers, coloured using a calendering process, making a surface that refracted the light strongly, so much so that I attenuated it a little to make it more mysterious, more beautiful, more sophisticated. And effectively, when the priest wore it and moved to raise the chalice, there was this shimmer, this luminosity, and the idea of this light was very symbolic for me.
“Gotanda”,lamp for Sirrah, iGuzzini made of linen fabric with copper woven into it (2002)
But in the end, will you really offer to redesign Valentino Rossi's overalls?
I don't want to disturb him because he's already overburdened with people writing to him, I don't want to persecute him. I am very familiar with motorcycling clothes because I did a collection for Yamaha, in the mid-eighties. They needed a collection of clothing for urban motorcyclists, because many go to the office by motorcycle in Tokyo. Clothing for motorcyclists is a challenge because it must simultaneously tackle very contradictory elements such as extreme speed, danger, weather and visibility. It's quite a conundrum, into which everyone puts their utmost creativity, and it's the challenge that leads to breaking records. My seamless clothing was also a challenge in its time, and I like to compete, especially in a team. In that case you face your interlocutors and have fun, because the project is also great fun.