On an empty milanese Morning, we meet Derek in an apartment close to Porta Venezia. With some of his outdoor pieces exposed at Nilufar Depot, the design ‘must go to’ of Milan, Derek presents himself with a genuine and smart smile which speaks of Italy, contaminations and a magnetic creative energy. We are pleased to involve him in the garments, and we hope he feels good in DOPPIAA as we are talking together.
Ciao Derek, I would like to start this talk mapping the places which made you who you are today: an outdoor space designer. Where did you start and where did your journey continue?
I was born in Varese and I grew up in the milanese hinterland. I come from an entrepreneur’s family, focused on the construction sector. My grandpa had a factory which produced asphalt and coverings. I took over the company with my father and grandpa starting to specialise on ‘giardini pensili’ (roof gardens). 30 years ago it was still something little spoken of, and I became really interested in developing this particular green rooted section within the company. I was still in my teens and soon begun my Architecture studies split between Milan and Perth, Australia. My Australian experience enriched me particularly, I have the feeling that their ‘newborn’ culture allows more freedom when projecting. I have also a big Californian-American influence, something which is probably innate in me. Palm Springs and its iconic squared and futuristic designs are always in my thoughts, it might be also linked to the ideal ‘outdoor weather’ they have there.
Having completed my studies I started working officially for my family’s business, thinking (wrongly) that I would have little to do with nursery and everything involving the plants. It was actually the first need at that moment so I started learning a lot about a universe I knew nothing of. I was lucky because the company was already dealing with an important variety of clients, so taking over that clientele, I started creating my own world by proposing my ideas to the architecture studios, shaping new interesting projects. Slowly, I begun to step away from the family business and its ‘big scale’ projects in order to be able to travel and bring forward my projects outside Italy. There I started to notice a need I had: I couldn’t find the products I wanted for my projects anymore: the outdoor furniture available on the market had no distinction between private and public, they all looked the same. I don’t want my house to look like an hotel, personalisation in design is the key. The products started to become ‘physical’ and I thought about making my own line.
How did you start from a material point of view? Which were the first materials involved?
Initially I started from the basics: outdoor design, due to the exposition and the resistance it should preserve, is still and unfortunately quite limited from that point of view. Metals were the first involved. Later my research expanded to new ways and uncommon techniques, like lacquered wood for instance. Taking risks in my job is fundamental and part of the game, since what we know about materials is continuously developing, and every day there is a new discovery. Finding new solutions is the right approach to grow.
What is the POIS collection about? Tell me more about it.
It was actually one of the first things I ever developed. It is based on metallic materials, mixing patient aluminium with brass and fabric. It was born by accident from the need of seats during Salone del Mobile; the stools with a 50s retro taste were firstly imagined, combined with holed metal sheets. The result was a fun piece, something that wouldn’t really take itself too seriously, and that was exactly what I wished to convey.
Your pieces talk to me of lightness. I can see the past in them and I can sense how you talk of a kind of ‘retro futurism’, a term which is really dear to me also from a sociological point of view. What do you think are the retro elements you try to incorporate in your design and which the futuristic ones?
From the past I try to draw inspiration from my dearest iconic designers and their idea of functionality, something that then was much more important than aesthetics. Today extravagance tends to take over. To preserve the functionality of an object and match it with its outer appeal is my main goal when choosing materials and colours, it is always about a balance between new and old.
Italian essence is present in everything you do. I can really breathe it even by taking a look at your social Instagram profile. Which are for you the Italian values which are visible in your designs?
I think that us Italians, in design, are still one step ahead. It might be our history, tradition, or simply a way of being, but our way of doing things is really rational and yet never boring. I feel really part of this idea, creating ‘clean’ objects with an unexpected twist. Making a deeper analysis, I also think that we are a bit stuck. We still live of past success, something typically Italian, and we experiment less than others. This is something that I hope will change.
You are based in Milan, a city developing year after year and month after month. What do you think is the biggest value of being in a place like this in 2020?
Milan in 2020 represents one of the best locations to be based, especially for design. It is international, but it keeps the right dimensions to be able to walk around and never get really lost. I think this is pretty unique from an urban point of view. Everything is handy, and transport is really fast and easy. Working and visiting is practical and interesting. From a production point of view it is also strategic: north of Milan, from Como to Varese, all the social fabric is highly specialised in different ‘artisanal-industrial’ skills. As a base and as a ‘showcase’ Milan works perfectly, and the crafts surrounding it are just a new surprise day after day, with a variety which is almost unique, from laboratories to bigger industries, keeping also advanced technologies in mind.
Today casual and formal styles merge way more than in the past. This is visible in womenswear but especially in menswear. When talking about design is really hard not to talk about personal style. How do you like to dress daily?
I consider myself quite a basic dresser. Especially in what I wear daily, opposed to the products I imagine. I like a classical and comfortable style, to be able to move is very important in my environment and work. Colours like blue, beige, white, grey and black are my signature. I also like to be very formal once in a while, it feels like a luxurious act to be able to wear a tie. Today fluidity in dressing reigns and I think it is a smart evolution.
I would like to finish this chat with the iconic Lancia Stratos Zero designed by Marcello Gandini I saw in your feed. What does objects represent to you?
I love objects and I believe in their aesthetic power. I just got a 80’s Mercedes just because its design really spoke to me. Objects become art pieces and in that case they move something in us. Objects are therapeutic.