Interview: Studio Formafantasma

Studio Formafantasma

My interview with Studio Formafantasma for Salle Privée.

Cow-bladder, lava and fish-skin are maybe not common materials for product design but design bastards, as they call themselves, Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Ferrasin from Studio Formafantasma challenge themselves with unusual substantials to bring more consciousness into the peoples mind. Currently they have their first successful retrospective, entitled Prima Materia, in s ‘Hertogenbosch. Salle Privée visited the duo in their studio in Eindhoven to discuss the future of design and their personal adventures.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself: where did you grow up and what was it like?
Simone: I grew up in the North of Italy in a little village where my father had a farm. My childhood was nice and relax, same for Andrea who grew up in Sicily. We both love the nature in Italy, the good food and its historical culture. We met at ISIA (University of Industrial and Communication Design) in Florence, the first education in Italy that was born after the economic boom during the ‘60s. After graduation we decided to leave Italy and to apply for the Design Academy in Eindhoven to do the IM Masters, we graduated in 2009.

How did you become interested in the world of design? Did your mother or father share the same thoughts towards this industry?
No, and that counts for both of us. I come from a working class family. No design or anything at all though the local culture offers a lot variety that made me interested in the design industry.  We applied with a shared portfolio for Eindhoven because we wanted to be accepted as a team and not as singular students. Since the ’90s with the merge of Droog, the design scene in the Netherlands was more exciting than in Italy. Here we felt that our generation of designers could have a voice without the dogmas left by years of glorious design like in Italy. This was the best choice of our lives.

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Formafantasma literally means ‘ghost-shape’. Can you explain us your design philosophy?
It points out how our design is not formal but concept-driven. It suggests research design driven by an element that goes beyond the formal aspects, as in our projects ’Moulding Tradition’ or ’Botanica’.  The form is a consequence of a process and it can change according to different concepts. We look to the past as a source of inspiration, while delivering a body of work with a contemporary twist. When you play with a material, you have to really intervene in the production process. That way you have a much deeper impact on the way people perceive it. With ‘Botanica’ for instance we offer a new perspective on plasticity, reinterpreting centuries old technology lost beneath the impeccable surface of mass production. 

Your designs contain unusual materials like lava fish skin and animal bladders: where do these selection of materials come from?
We offer an alternative vision to today’s consumer society and the role that design plays in it. Our handmade products are statements about material and function. In for instance our project “Botanica” we noticed how plastic – which has more than 2000 years of history – is still considered a modern material. Not only, it’s also curious to discover that in the first phase of research on synthetic polymers some scientists were already working with natural polymers, a quite current subject. We are therefore re-exploring a path that has already been treaded but with new knowledge and urgency.

You did a successful collaboration with Fendi in 2012. How did this happen?
Fendi approached us to explore leatherwork and other materials as part of their “Design Performance Program”. This Italian fashion house has a long tradition of leather craftsmanship starting out in 1918 as a leather and fur shop in central Rome, Italy. We were asked to make a collection from their leather off cuts and we looked into alternative “leathers”, too: vegetal-dried fish skins, pig skins and even cow bladders because we liked this idea of the exotic. Often with high fashion there is this search for the exotic or the extraordinary. And we wanted to get the same result, but instead use the really common.”

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How does it work with two creators on board?
Usually one of us gives first input and then we immediately start working together—in discussion for hours. We are not the type of designers that spend most of their time sketching forms. That is the last step. We start from a concept and we later create an archive of images and texts that help us to communicate our point of view on the subject. Most of the time we collect similar images—that means we are going in the right direction and have understood each other. We find objects in our house or studio that we can use, stacked or attached to check the first proportions. The first maquette is always a magical moment.


During the period of Droog, Holland got an established name in the field of design and was also one of the main reasons you decided to study at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. How do you look at the development of Dutch design nowadays? You think it’s still leading?
Historically what Droog did is very important. I think Dutch design is still as important, especially if you look at designers like Hella Jongerius, Jurgen Bey and Iris van Herpen. What is really of value in Dutch design is the link with the industry, though we don’t look at it as a national thing anymore.

If you we’re given the opportunity to write the English dictionary. What would you write behind the word: beauty?
We always need something ugly or disturbing next to it to know somehow what real beauty is. 

What are your biggest challenges?
To keep our relationship in balance! (laughs) Well, actually it is a challenge since we are working and living together 24/7, but since we have a studio it works better. Though running a business is also not easy and one other big challenge is to work with the industry. Sometimes it’s hard to ‘survive’ but it really keeps us motivated to keep developing our design philosophy and constantly trying to challenge ourselves in new methods.


What do you want to achieve with your designs?

We use our products to communicate with people. We want to establish in peoples mind more consciousness of the complexity of design and that people think about the product and production.

Read the whole interview on Salle Privée
Images by Leonoor Verplanken

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