For Alberto Biagetti, creating a lamp or a chair is about more than just finding new shapes. 'The important thing is the psychology of people living with them,' he says. 'A house is similar to a theatre, so these objects should be actors.'
At his atelier in Milan, Biagetti mixes design, architecture, art and fashion, both real and virtual, for clients such as Memphis, Venini and Yoox.com. Currently, the Galerie Italienne in eastern Paris is the backdrop for his first important exhibition outside Italy. Divided into three sections, the show is titled 'Dans le jardin, dans le ciel, dans la cave'.
First, the cave, or the underground, which Biagetti sees as a metaphor for our memories and buried obsessions - as well as a place to dig up diamonds. 'I Diamanti,' a series of treasure chests and wardrobes with faceted surfaces, is inspired by the Palazzo dei Diamanti in the designer's native Emilia Romagna. He imagines them as sculptural boxes for hiding secrets. The doors lock invisibly and can only be opened by using a chunky wooden key with a microchip inside - slide it along the right crease and the doors release like magic. One cupboard opens to reveal a hidden swing, or what the designer calls 'a little paradise'.
The next section is the sky, a symbol of our fantasies. There are copper tables with adjustable music stand legs that resemble little space aliens. A black 'Meteorite' sofa hand-carved of high-density styrofoam. And a brand new trio of cupboards called 'Triptych', proof that quality craftsmanship can ennoble the cheapest materials. One, made of pine, has different-shaped strips cut out and replaced with antiqued mirrors to mimic the grain. 'It was like microsurgery,' Biagetti says. Another is of varnished particle board, embedded with an explosion of brass studs.
For the final space - the garden - Biagetti reproduced a Google Earth satellite image of an African landscape in a large wool carpet (part of a series of twelve for Memphis). In this piece, digital meets ancestral: weavers in Kathmandu knotted the carpet using an ancient technique called Senneh. Nearby, the 'Vincent' chairs are just like the hand-caned wood chairs Italian grandmothers used to keep in their kitchens-except that the unravelled fibres are as unruly as Helena Bonham Carter's coiffure in Les Misérables. Biagetti laughs: 'The man who made them for me kept saying, "Are you sure?"'
Every one of these pieces is unique and handcrafted, a point of pride for the designer. 'I love my country for its people,' he says. 'We have wonderful artisans, and we have to use them. It is better to work with a 75-year-old man who is telling you his stories than a machine that just goes bzz bzz bzz.'