Piero Gandini talks shop, Salone and how Flos still lights the way in international design
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The Flos stand at Milan's Salone del Mobile is always packed with cutting edge lighting by the design world's hottest talent. At the centre of the swirl is Piero Gandini - a creative minded businessman who hand-plucks every designer he works with (including this season's Philippe Starck, Jasper Morrison, Michael Anastassiades and the Bouroullec brothers) with meticulous care. Gandini sold the majority of his family's lighting company to a private equity firm in January, but he has maintained his role as CEO and has just launched Flos' first outdoor lighting range. Gandini insists that the creativity is as sizzling as ever and he tapped Ron Gilad to design an art gallery for Flos, complete with a special piece of video art and a sculpture garden inside Milan's Fiera, to prove it.
Wallpaper*: Why did you pick Ron Gilad to design your booth?
Piero Gandini: We were very behind in January, so I thought: 'Who is the man who can help?' Ron sent us the art gallery project in just 10 days. It was beautiful, poetic really. Then he came to the company and worked like crazy, day and night! He was sending me text messages at 2am, leaving the studio at 3am and he was back the next morning at 6am.
W*: Wow! He's as crazy as you.
PG: It's a good challenge, yes! But everybody loved the project from the beginning - it was like an incredible tsunami of energy that submerged us all.
W*: Was the short timeframe the most complicated aspect of the project?
PG: The construction itself was very challenging because we have ceilings everywhere. We basically built a house, and then Ron created this unbelievable artificial garden to show our outdoor lights.
W*: What were the trees made out of?
PG: The poles were made of wood and the branches were made of either aluminum or flexible fibre-reinforced plastic.
W*: Tell us about your special art project - the video of the ladies and lamps getting dressed together - created for the gallery. It was pretty racy, Piero!
PG: Really? You think it's provocative?
W*: Well, it's just fun to see naked ladies at a light show - it's a first.
PG: I didn't find them very sexy [laughing]! Maybe I have to check my testosterone levels. Seriously though, the idea was to show what the products do and how they are built. We kept referring to Philippe [Starck's] lamps as naked and dressed, so Ron said 'I know what we're going to do! We are going to do a video where we have a naked lady and a floor lamp naked and somebody dressing them both up!' So he called Francesca Molteni and they shot the whole video in one night. The guy that's dressing the girl and the lamp is my driver. He drove them to the studio.
W*: One of the most impressive things about you is the way you inspire such creativity with the designers you work with. What's the secret with working with them?
PG: The only secret is that I'm a ballbreaker.
W*: You're a ballbreaker? And that works?
PG: Look, if you are working with talent like Philippe Starck, Michael Anastassiades, Ron Gilad, you really need to go deep into their souls and see what we can all get together from our qualities. Once you have a sense that you've got the right person with real talent - it doesn't happen that often - you share with them the idea of challenging each other. This is what gives you a real reason to be out there in life, to share and to improve.
W*: What changes do you see for Flos now that you have a new investor?
PG: Nothing. We sold the majority of the company to Investindustrial for two main reasons. One; I didn't want a third generation of my family to be hostages of this profession. Two; we were doing our job a little bit on autopilot. You can't continue to walk on a path that you've already trodden ten thousand times.
W*: Will you remain?
PG: Absolutely. Today the company is the same, the team is the same [as before]. They haven't put one person in the organisation. I still make all of the decisions.