In tribute: new monograph remembers the late and great James Irvine

In tribute: new monograph remembers the late and great James Irvine

A new monograph published by Phaidon pays tribute to the late James Irvine, who captivated the world of design with both immense talent and vivid personality.

It includes contributions by fellow masters such as Jasper Morrison, Naoto Fukasawa, Michele de Lucchi, and is edited by Francesca Picchi with Marialaura Rossiello Irvine, his wife and long-time collaborator.

Designed by Sarah Boris, who is best known for reinventing the Institute for Contemporary Arts’ graphic identity, the book echoes Irvine’s spirited but unostentatious aesthetic. A palette of bright yellow, lime green and pastel orange throughout allude to his celebrated works. Generous spreads of sketches and product photography punctuate the monochrome text pages. And there is the occasional personal letter, casual doodle or candid shot of Irvine himself, to further shed light on the man behind the scenes.

Irvine bridged the worlds of British and Italian design. He was born in London and educated at the Royal College of Art, but soon moved to Milan where he worked under de Lucchi and eventually with Ettore Sottsass, while running his own studio. His dual allegiance is evident throughout his work, which wove together British effectiveness and humility with Italian playfulness and flair.

Irvine’s design process is revealed through the juxtaposition of preliminary drawings with final creations. Many of these are accompanied by captions that had been written by the designer himself. We learn, for instance that he created the Daisy coat stand for Danese in the belief that functional objects should be beautiful while they are waiting around to be used.

Studio Irvine was sought after by many top manufacturers, among them Artemide, B&B Italia, Cappellini and Magis. Irvine’s popularity, however owed not just to his design talent, but also his legendary hospitality. He became fast friends with designers of all generations – prompting Konstantin Grcic to call him ’the turnstile of design traffic’ in Milan. Stefano Giovannoni fondly recalls Irvine’s first late night party at Milan’s Bar Basso, which began a tradition now observed by thousands at every Salone del Mobile.

The book concludes, fittingly with a tribute by Marialaura Rossiello Irvine. Within her affectionate reminiscences of their work and personal lives, Irvine’s curiosity, wit and exuberance shine through most brilliantly. 

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