The Invisible Wrapping

Lush* is revolutionising the way of selling cosmetics. Completely fresh. Completely hand-made. Completely devoid of packaging. And yet…

Sonia Pedrazzini

Entering the shop, we stop for a moment, amazed and confused. A wave of perfumes and fragrances engulfs us, body and soul. Lavender. Banana. Chocolate. Rosemary. Rose. Oriental spices. Celery and ginger. Musk. Milk and honey. Orange blossom. Mint. Tea. We do not know if we are in a chemist’s, a perfume shop or a dairy. On the counter, large shapes, like cheeses, are being cut into slices, weighed, and wrapped in greaseproof paper. We can choose to buy a few hundred grams of fruit-fragrance solid shampoo or a jar of soft almond cream; a little packet of clay or a sphere (a musket ball) of jasmine. These are cosmetics which are juicy, luxurious, they make your mouth water. They are Lush!

Lush was founded in England in 1995 by a group of vegetarians, experts in natural cosmetics, under the leadership of Mark Constantine, the originator of the project. The Lush philosophy is based on several very successful concepts, such as individual products being hand-made and signed with the maker’s name; using only natural ingredients and fresh fruit and vegetables; totally rejecting the use of raw materials derived from experimentation on animals. To this is added the unique presentation of the cosmetics. Apparently without any traditional form of packaging, in reality they are wrapped in a material which is imperceptible but extremely strong, thin and diffuse, a packaging of the mind you might say, but one which with regard for the surface of the contents takes into consideration its context, and consequently our imagination. It is in fact the context which strikes you, as soon as you set foot inside a Lush shop. It is conceived as a chemist’s or a dairy of former times, with polite, attentive assistants, counters piled high with all God’s gifts, full of fragrant, beautifully displayed merchandise. You are struck by such an abundance of sights and smells, you are enticed into feasting your eyes on it without fully realising what there actually is on sale. Whoever enters a Lush shop is literally grabbed by the throat… and by nostalgia. Everything is made by hand, and the huge solid blocks of soap or the wide bowls of freshly-made creams, not yet divided into portions for sale, bring back memories of grandmother’s house, of the kitchen, the garden, big families, and therefore of things which are good and genuine and real, just like in the old days.

The strong, penetrating fragrances, unmasked by paper or other wrapping materials which might stop them spreading, circulate freely in the air and, paradoxically, “wrap” the product with a packaging which is far more effective than paper, cardboard, bags, film, jars and bottles. The smells reawaken memories, unfold images and dreams, revive feelings. It is no coincidence that we talk of wearing a perfume; perfume is a barrier, like clothes, an invisible wrapping; an object without packaging which breathes and exudes fragrance has no need of further emphasis, it is already of itself a little piece of “packaged memory”. And also, in the magic natural world of Lush, the wonderful living colours and the tactile textures of soap, shampoo, creams, facemasks and treatments surely hold more fascination and conviction (because they can be seen and touched) than the graphics on the boxes in the perfume shop.
To sum up, the packaging of merchandise, which in other places seduces and entraps through traditional visual means of communication, is used here in a new way, becoming indirect and non-material. It is not intended to protect or to contain, (for this, Lush has invented solid cosmetics, without water or preservatives); it does not need to offer trivial information, or to attract through brand names, script or graphics. It denies itself, but in doing so it makes a much deeper impression and catches our dreams in a net of the senses.

Interview with Mark Constantine, founder of Lush

The Lush brand is very recognisable and has a very strong image; how did you manage to reconcile this visibility with the choice of “zeroing” the product packaging?
We enjoy making spectacular displays of the products. It’s the perfect way of presenting the fresh ingredients that we use to create our cosmetics. Our decision to present beauty products unpackaged is reminiscent of market stalls where this is only the fresh product and the salesman to make the sale.

Even if the packaging of Lush products is virtually inexistant, all the same a specific packaging design approach can be noted in the paper and in the bags used to pack loose products, in the jars, in the presentation and in the very shape of the products. What kind of aesthetics do you refer to and what choices have you made in creating this type of “antipackaging”.
The aesthetics we refer to is the natural beauty of the ingredients. It’s really inspiring to us to see fruit and vegetables when they are freshly delivered to markets. We love looking at the raw beauty of nature. The way everything looks in the shop is designed to have impact and this also applies to the packaging we use, such as pots and carrier bags, all of which bear the Lush logo.

Why has Lush decided to associate cosmetics with food, to the point of making this the strongpoint of its image?
The idea of freshness is what drives the link between food and cosmetics. We believe we have created a new beauty category by using fresh ingredients. There is all the goodness we need in food, and since we use food and natural ingredients, it makes sense that the skin benefits from the freshness, too.

How do people react when faced with your fresh products sold without packaging?
It’s very unusual not to have a reaction from people and generally they are very complimentary. Lush is a very sensual brand and for some the smell is a bit shocking.

Can we really imagine a future in which products, all types of product, can be sold without packaging?
I like to imagine a future in which all types of products can be sold without packaging.

Isn’t there the risk that the absence of packaging makes your products difficult to use and preserve at home?
We don’t use lots of preservatives in our products anyway which is another advantage of creating fresh products. Much of the fun we getting out of developing products is in making something in a form that works well, that people will enjoy and that is easy to use and store. An example of this are the recently launched NO SHIT COLOUR AND SHINE, which is a range of solid blocks of hennas for the hair.

To finish off, is Lush really indicating a sales approach, or might one say even a Lebensfilosofie for the future, or is it merely an advertising ploy?
Nothing about Lush is a “marketing ploy”. It’s what we do, we love it and we hope our customers love it too!

Translator’s note*
“Lush” comes from the English, meaning luxuriant (vegetation), juicy (fruit), sumptuous or luxurious. All the meaning of the brand in one striking word.

The Breath of Gaea

Very often the world of cosmetics draws inspiration from nature. More than not it is the products that stand out for their fresh and delicate formulas, but, in the case of the young Greek concern Korres, the packaging also manages to transmit “the breath of the Earth” at its best.

Sonia Pedrazzini

Korres natural products is a concern that has been dealing with beauty and nature since 1996, direct emanation of Athen’s leading homeopathic chemists. Currently Korres offers a variety of around 150 body and hair treatments, sun products and herbal based compounds. The ingredients are all naturally derived and high quality; mineral oils and their derivates (such as paraffin) are not used but only vegetable oils compatible with the skin. The silicon based compounds have also been replaced by special vegetable combinations that do not block the pores of the skin but nourish and soften the same. Thanks to advanced extraction technologies, the active principles of the plants remain unaltered and guarantee maximum efficiency. These are the main values around which the concern has built up a success that is growing continuously but, as well as the quality of the product, what strikes one about the pack is the graphics used to clad the solutions. The flacons, tubes and jars are without frills, sober, essential, designed to carry out their functions. The images that cover the same on the other hand are anything but minimal: they are close-ups of flowers, seeds, fruit, herbs instilled with a life of their own. They are visual incursions into the world of nature and its vegetable and mineral contents, that appear different when seen close to; they become abstract patterns, vibrations of color, movement, waves, and are a foretaste of an immersion into a world of wellness.
If packaging ought to express its contents, Korres’ packaging surely goes further, it acts on the psyche and transports the mind far afield. Yet there is not only nature in the photos, but there is also the analytical gaze of the entomologist, who scrutinizes the interstices of the world, and there is the creative gaze of the artist, who freely composes matter. Hence these packaging items are neither naïf, nor are they banal and they poetically represent the cold distance of the scientific approach along with the warmth of life at one and the same time.
Impackt interviewed the art director of Korres natural products Giannis Kouroudis, who is responsible for the company image and winner of many awards and acknowledgements, among which the First Packaging Award & Merit for Corporate Identity 2002, the Golden Star Packaging Design Award 2003, and the First EB-E Award 2004 in packaging and advertising.

What is the concept and the philosophy that lie at the basis of the Korres image?
We have mainly based our approach on minimalist and geometric abstraction; at the same time the company image in its entirety aims at showing quality in aesthetic terms, without in any way overshadowing the natural feature of the product.

How would Korres like to be defined as a cosmetics company?
Our company concept is a well-balanced combination of three basic elements. Firstly, thanks to the company’s pharmaceutical background, every process is well documented and is produced following pharmaceutical type procedures. On top of that, all active ingredients are naturally-derived. The third element is the “joy” that features throughout our entire product range. Our intent is to offer products that are good for you, that are attractive both inside and out, which means that they smell good, have a pleasant texture that of course have nice packaging.
Why did Korres come into being? To satisfy a specific market, to respond to given needs?
Korres natural products was founded in 1996, primarily due to the demand from the customers of the Korres chemist’s for natural and homeopathically compatible cosmetics. Hence, working in that direction, plant extracts with significant medicinal properties were used for the creation of safe and effective herbal products. Now, despite commercial success and broadscale recognition, product development has stayed ingredient-oriented and not marketing-oriented. We assiduously take part in research & development programs, and we are constantly seeking new ideas to best exploit plant properties in cosmetics.

Who is your ideal customer?
At this moment in time our ideal end user is not demographically or socially definable. Our products are intended for men and women of different origins and social standing, persons that share our ideas, common values and even the same aesthetic tastes: we have many consumers and this is why our products are used on markets that are apparently very different from each other.

Can you tell us about your role in the company and how you normally work?
I am the company art director and am responsible for the company’s image in its entirety. My team works on product and communication design, on organising shows and fairs, on merchandising and even on our stationery, all this on a daily basis. I normally develop new products or new concepts along with Gorge Korres, and our working relationship, that also thrives on a strong personal friendship, is very inspiring for both of us.

Can you recall a special feature of your Korres experience?
There is a funny story linked to some of our new brochures and our company calendar, all having been given an intentionally rough finish. Initially some people were led to believe that they were mere proofs or that a mistake had occurred during their binding, and that they weren’t the real product.

Korres has been able to give itself a very strong image thanks also to its packaging: how did you achieve this?
While my influence was certainly decisive, our success is due to the energy of a team of young designers who work at my side and with whom I share common values with. Along with our team George Korres, the designer – Stavros Papagiannis, my colleague Chrysafis and all the members of the general Korres team have all helped build this image by pitching in with their personality and their aesthetic taste.

Who is the photographer who created the striking images that deck your packs?
Our photographer-designer is Stavros Papagiannis, a real talent. He has the task of creating the company image and he is capable of turning a simple idea into a work of art; I mean to say his photos are the starting point for all our concepts.

As art director, what is your point of view on packaging in the cosmetics sector? Are there new trends or behaviours that are worth pursuing?
During the last 15 years, consumers have become more aware of other parameters besides the quality of the product, for example they pay greater attention to how the packaging has been made. This is why design plays an evermore important role on the market in general, and not only in the cosmetics sector.
The above explains why a growing number of manufacturers are paying more and more attention to packaging, a trend heralded by Korres. Indeed predicting future trends is a very tricky business. For us trends are made by people and thus depend aboveall on their values and on a host of personal aesthetic tastes, these being always in the making.

Behind the scenes at Paul Smith

Alan Aboud and Sandro Sodano are the designers that have built and fostered the image in the world of the UK brand Paul Smith, creating top level advertising campaigns, perfumes and packs. Fashion no longer holds any secrets for them and neither does packaging.

Sonia Pedrazzini

It is certainly curious, and we hope a good omen, but this with Impackt is the first interview the two designers have given after the substantial changes made within their agency. In fact Aboud+Sodano has just recently become Aboud Creative, under the direction of Alan Aboud, while Sandro Sodano has preferred to dedicate himself even more fully to photography. This though has not disrupted the timehonored collaboration between the two colleagues, that is indeed continuing to great effect and with further possibilities for both to act more freely and on new projects. Alan Aboud answers our questions.

What is the common ground you share and that led you to decide to work together?
We were both unemployable when we left art school, so an older colleague who used to tutor us, offered for us to freelance from his space in Soho. We stayed in that building for 13 years, after we finally realized that we had to work for ourselves. Sandro’s knowledge and understanding of photographic and fashion helped me a lot, as I was not a particularly fashion conscious person at St Martin’s School of Art.
As I started getting more work from Paul Smith that entailed photography, I increasingly worked with Sandro on these projects, and that is how the collaboration began.

How is your studio organized?
We have evolved from just being a studio with two people, to now a functioning studio with 8-10 staff during busy periods. We offer a one stop service for clients. We design, we art direct, we produce shoots and we retouch images in post production. All activities are in-house, mainly so that I can keep a very close eye on the progress of projects.

Broaching a topic very dear to us: fashion and packaging, in your opinion what importance does packaging design have in the coordinated image of a big fashion maison?
It has very high importance. Presentation of garments and packaging helps increase the perceived value of an object. At the companies that we work with, a lot of money is spent trying to produce the right carrier bag, the right gift boxes for the consumer.
A lot of fashion purchases are gifts, and gift packaging really helps ensure that a customer comes back to shop again and again. If a person is buying a piece of jewelry from a fashion house for £2000, the least they expect is for it to have packaging that protects and also houses that item carefully and as attractively as possible. All garments have ticketing and packaging factored into their unit cost, so it is up to each fashion customer to decide how much they want to put towards packaging. Japanese fashion houses, for me, are the ones who value packaging the most. Even if you buy a tiny item in Tokyo at any store, your purchase is exquisitely packaged and you leave the store feeling special, and also contemplating further purchases.

How do you go about tackling a new packaging project, where do you get your inspiration, what methodology do you use?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. It could be a walk in a gallery, down the street, at a market or watching a film. I am constantly thinking of things to do, and projects to work on. I also am a book addict. I buy so many books, and thrive on their content. I try to avoid buying books on design, with the exception of true greats such as Saul Bass, Herb Lubalin and Robert Brownjohn. All heroes of mine. I carry my camera with me at all times too, especially when I go to New York. It is my favorite place for inspiration. My favorite book store is Dashwood Books, on Bond Street off Broadway. David, the owner, knows my taste and when I leave there each time I visit, I am usually a few hundred dollars poorer!!!

How did your relationship with Paul Smith come into being and how has it evolved in time?
I was in my final year at St. Martin’s School of Art in 1989. The Head Buyer at Paul Smith came to our end of year show, and short-listed me along with some of my friends to come for interview for freelance work. At the time, my specialisation was typography and I had no fashion or art directing skills in my portfolio. I was interviewed, and I was totally the wrong person for the job. Paul liked that, and I was offered some freelance work. I worked three days a week in the beginning and it has grown massively since then. I was lucky to be with Paul Smith at a time that they were massively expanding. I grew with them, and thankfully, my working relationship with the company and especially with Paul has been excellent. There have been some rocky times, but we are all still together after 19 years.
It took Paul a few years to become comfortable with me and to delegate, but now, we speak very often during the week and sometimes a brief consists of a sketch and a few lines of suggestion from him. We have a very good mutual understanding.

For the work done for Paul Smith, did you try to impose your own style, did you make the fashion designer’s style your own, or have you always worked in perfect cooperation and stylistic unity?
I don’t believe that I have a house style at my company, other than a simple, clear well reasoned solution for each piece of work that is output. I believe that as a service industry. designers have a responsibility to their client to further their brand image, and not the design agency’s. We act as a catalyst for image and design solutions. The client briefs us on what they need or what they see is lacking with their product, and we then seek to put the right team together to produce a well reasoned design solution for that specific purpose. Due to the longevity of my relationship with Paul Smith, I am often simultaneously the client and the agency. Very rarely do others make decisions on shoots etc, as I am effectively the brand guardian for the company, as I have helped establish the house style for them. I know, after 19 years, what Paul likes and what he won’t like.

What are the main elements a designer has to consider in designing packaging for the high fashion sector?
The most important question for every project is clarifying who the customer is for the required packaging. Is it a man or woman? What age are they? What other brands would they aspire to? Once one knows the answers to these questions, you can easily start to build up a picture of what is required.
Budget also, nowadays is very important to clarify. One can design the best packaging with bespoke linings etc, but if it is too expensive, the client will not do it. Finance plays a huge part in fashion now, and all fashion houses (successful ones) are governed by financial directors.
For me, luckily, often the simplest design and solution is the best. Luxury sometimes means simplicity, and space.

Do you have a case history or a special or curious anecdote you could relate to us?
Often notes are scribbled by Paul and given to me as a brief. I have kept a lot of them, and often they serve as a good reminder as to how to conduct one’s self in this industry.
After all, Paul started his business properly in 1970, so he has a whole wealth of experience to avail of. However, one day, whilst searching through some of his notebooks for some sketches, I came across one which sums up Paul completely in a way that no magazine article can. This scribble said: “I am at xxxxxx xxxxxxx (famous LA hotel). It’s full of bullshitters and showoffs…”.
He had been dining alone after doing interviews at his new LA store, and was appalled at the some of people that fashion attracted. He is no nonsense in his approach, and very, very down to earth. I like to think of Paul as my mentor in business and life. He shows me ways of conducting myself in a way that is proper, yet honest. He has been surrounded by stars and fame for a long time, but he remains unaffected by it all.

Who are your other customers besides Paul Smith?
I am now working for a company in London called Neal’s Yard Remedies, an organic Apothecary and organic and beauty retailer. They have bring me in as creative director to oversee the whole brand from packaging to store design. It is an immensely rewarding project as the passionately believe in creating products and packaging that does not harm the body or the environment. We inherited a truly iconic bottle and colour way and we are steering them in a way that creates continuity and strength. We also have been working with RIVER ISLAND, a high street company similar to H+M or TopShop. A very different challenge, but rewarding nonetheless.

What other fashion griffes would you like to work for?
I don’t seek to work with many fashion houses, as I think they are mostly too established for me to get involved. I would love to work on a brand that has had better days, and needs some re-invention. One such brand for me is Laura Ashley, an amazing British brand that enjoyed success globally in the 1980s, but sadly since the owner’s death, it has sunk to mediocrity.

Could you tell us something about what you will be working on next?
Next up for the studio are: A new limited edition men’s fragrance for Paul Smith. A book of personal images of mine called ‘Above All Else’, also a collaborative book written by my cousin, Simon Aboud, called TOLD. This is our first collaboration with our satellite company called ABOUD + ABOUD. (

The Cognition of Taste

Luigi Veronelli*: “The pleasure of the table is an ever different, ever changing reality”

Marco Senaldi

Listening to Luigi Veronelli is already an experience in itself. His unmistakable style changes simple gastronomic fact into narration; with his skilful telling, wine becomes poetry, a dish literature. An enodissident, gastrorebel, an anarchist by lyrical and political vocation, Veronelli is not only the best-known of our gastronomic experts internationally, he is undoubtedly the most cultured, the most committed and thankfully the least academic.
We talked freely with him on the subjects he loves best: from defending the quality of oil to the proposal for the Communal Denomination (De,Co.), to the importance of packaging as a vehicle of information. This year Veronelli will turn 78: but he certainly hasn’t slowed down his tireless activity of agitator on the subjects of the day, like defending quality, care for the earth, his refusal of food homologation, assets that are no less important than our artistic and environmental ones.

Luigi, where were you in February?
At Monopoli in Puglia, we demonstrated against the trade of hazelnut oil produced abroad and sold off in Italy, that the multinationals then turn into extra virgin olive oil. It was really wonderful, there were hundreds of people there and, I have to say, the thing that most surprised me was that the police on duty were solidly behind us. It should be said that 80% of the olive oil market is in the hands of the multinationals; in what is a straight legalised fraud – the tankers “convert” their load of seed oil into extra virgin olive oil on their way to Italy. No miracle there, all you have to do is forge the papers. The consumers and the olive farmers are the ones to suffer the consequences. The trade of these oils seriously harms Italy’s heritage; you should know that in Italy we have something like 400-500 cultivar (the variety of olive is called cultivar) against the tens or so of varieties in Spain and Portugal; it is a great wealth that risks being lost if it is not adequately protected. Thus we have created the project Oil according to Veronelli; in order to do what was done with wine, that is identify the characteristics oil by oil, that should be tied to the areas from where the olives originate.

You have also created a special strip for the bottles…
Certainly, for product traceability. The label must bear all the important information to show history and quality, production lot, progressive bottle numbering and the month the bottling took place. Logically these oils may cost a lot more than the oils one finds in the supermarkets, but one has to think of the commitment and the toil that the olive farmers that choose this path have to face in their striving to create a unique food item each being different in terms of taste and characteristics.

Very often though food labels may be incomplete or unclear…
And it is for this reason that we though take them so seriously. You know a good consumer must by now be critical, they have to become good readers. They have to be people who have developed, let’s say it, that famous critical awareness, they have to first and foremost watch out for what they themselves consume, and they have to be able to read the information borne on the pack…

…hence packaging has its importance.
It is highly important; but not only the pack, also the forms in which the food and the wines are tasted. Think of the importance that glasses can have in the gesture of wine tasting! This is a thing that has always been close to my heart, I have even designed special wine glasses along with various designers – Castiglioni, Silvio Coppola, Giacomo Bersanetti, and yet others – to enhance the very tasting. A wine produced according to given criteria needs its right glass; if the glass has been conceived correctly, all the sensations that the wine can give can be better perceived. Those that do not know wine limit themselves to pouring it out and drinking it; I say though first one should look at it, admire it, allow oneself to be conquered by its perfume, its aroma, and then, as a last thing, taste it. It is a complex itinerary, but this is what the pleasures of the table and the pleasures of drinking consist of.

This must be why today there exists the fashion of pourings wine into the socalled decanter?
On this point I have to tell you that the decanter is not of much use, even if it is among the trappings of the connoisseur … in actual fact it is an object reserved for very few special wines; I can say that from among the hundred wines in my cellar [that includes around 70,000 bottles, E.n.!] only one needs to be poured into the decanter; also because it is a delicate operation, one risks “breaking” the wine, “casser” as the French say, to disarticulate the bouquet, the complex whole of the organoleptic qualities…But I can say that I am designing a decanter that overcomes the problem…

So one can say that the containers also have their importance, they affect the content.
Yes without a doubt; a nice glass brings out the quality of the wine.
Or a fine label… not everyone knows that there are labels that have been designed by great artists such as Echaurren or Salvo; Sandro Chia, a protagonist of the Transavantegarde, has even gone over to producing Brunello di Montalcino, for which he also designs the labels…
… and it is also a good Brunello. I have also spoken to him of it; and to think that the best vintages are in the years when he is there, when he takes part in the production. This allows you to understand the delicacy of a production like this. Also turning wine into an art experience.

But what is pleasure according to you?
There is not one sole pleasure at the dining table, pleasure is an ever different, ever changing reality, it is the summing up of pleasures, even complex ones. Pleasure, thank heavens, is in continuous evolution. If you consider wine, fifty years ago very few producers were able to make good wine; today we are facing a highly complex reality, there are excellent winemakers, high ranking wine concerns, studies on the vine, on bottling and conservation techniques… there are my young pupils, sixteen year old kids, that have an excellent capacity of judgement and taste, that have now surpassed me! Money does not in itself mean quality, money is not the thing that prevails in gastronomy, what prevails is choice; a potato chosen, cultivated in its area, even if you taste it without any dressing can be something exceptional. The important thing is to watch out, be bright, follow the evolutions of the products, be able to choose independently. The project we are supporting for the Communal Denomination has this meaning: it is a concrete way of fighting fraud and protecting and promoting local produce. As well as that the label should also bear the price at source to avoid speculation; it is one thing that wines rightly have different prices, another that exorbitant of unjustified prices are charged. This too is a tool for going back to the recognition of the common thing, from the air, to water, to food, up to the production of material goods and the resulting networks.

* Luigi Veronelli (Milano, 2 febbraio 1926 – Bergamo, 29 novembre 2004)

The Queen of Waste

Enrica Borghi’s artwork scrap and rubbish are the prosaic materials from which poetic and magical works are born.

Federica Bianconi

Enrica Borghi, 35 years old, Queen of Recycling, began by creating installations using material for recycling drawn from the female universe (fake nails, rollers, various ornaments) and/or the domestic world (shopping bags, Plexiglas, labels and packaging, empty bottles…)
In 1995 she exhibited fancy women’s clothes and the series Veneri at Galleria Peola in Turin. Then, in 1997, she took part in the group exhibition curated by Lea Vergine Quando i rifiuti diventano arte at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rovereto. In 1999 she held an exhibition entitled Regina at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rivoli. Until 30th October 2005) her work is exhibited at Mamac in Nice. With an ambitious project in progress in a dream location – Asilo Bianco – an ancient palace close to Lago d’Orta. The purpose: to represent through different shades of white, through the temporal rhythms and echoes of flowers, clouds and smiles the eternal finites of human existence…

Recycling, manipulation, combination, repetition, pastiche, metamorphosis, magic…In your work different notions merge in complex projects. How far are these dynamic and poetic systems removed from the recycled material which is a vivid basic element in your work?
Recycling and manipulation. I believe strongly in the potential of scrapped objects. Not just things thrown away in the rubbish but society’s rejects too. I like looking at what people define as useless and defunct. My manual skill, the endless time I dedicate to reassembling the scraps is a time for reflection, the magical transformation in which everything can be reintegrated, regenerated. My installations truly undergo a metamorphosis of the object. I shift the attention, the tension to the point where the object can no longer be recognised… It has to be read as having a totally new and magnificent identity. In the case of Mandala for instance I assemble thousands and thousands of plastic bottle tops in a geometrically perfect way, like a precious inlay or a Persian carpet… the work goes ahead for two or three days and then, at the end of the exhibition it is all destroyed in order for it to be put back together again. The idea that this geometrical perfection is liquid and unstable, that it can be shown again in thousands of different shapes stimulates me and gives me the energy to repeat these patterns infinitely… On one hand I am interested in the fable-like aspect but on the other hand the aspect which is not only ecological-environmental but also subtly social is intrinsic…The idea that there not only things but ideas, men, ideologies which are scrapped, held to be no longer fashionable, dated, destined not to have a second chance to be interpreted in a different way… this stimulates me and gives me the strength to work incessantly.

What value does the single object have and what surplus value is given by your ability to sense the soft aspect of a material, destabilise it and release its expressive potential ? How much is salvaged and how much is re-examined?
An object taken singly, destined for the scrap heap, interests me precisely because it was conceived to be used and thrown away rapidly. I am thinking of all that seductive and coloured packaging, the idea of collecting it and rethinking it is suggested to me by the object itself, by its shape, by the intrinsic chemical make-up of the material. For instance, PET bottles immediately made me think of glass, and their ductility to heat for example heightened their infinite working possibilities.
The goods I buy always give me a sense of insecurity.. even food, everything that is consumed, devoured, eliminated creates in me a strong sense of instability and perhaps this is why I decide to lock myself into my studio and lick my wounds for hours on end.

What kind of conflict or complicity do you have with things? Do you perceive immediately that a material is incapable of being part of a project, or rather that it is versatile, open, not bound to the sole physical and functional dimension? Which objects are too far removed from your work?
Which objects are removed? Good question.. certainly those which are a little synthetic, chemical, skinless, lacking in seduction. A material or object isn’t automatically excluded from my work. Sometimes it just needs time. I am not always able to pick up on the potential of a material or instrument which allows me to work, and transform a material. In some cases it is the material itself which suggests emotions, creations and accumulations… In other cases I let the interest in the packaging settle in order for it to resurface loaded with a new value.

Are you simply sensitive to environmental issues or do you have ecological obsessions and fads?
I am a normal member of society who recycles rubbish. Without getting too obsessed I try to pollute as little as I can and to lead a healthy and balanced life. I have chosen with my partner Davide to live in the hills, abandoning the frenzied life of the city, conscious of having to face some difficulties in my work… I have chosen not to be at the centre of the debate… but nowadays the theme of centrality is very much debated and perhaps glocal is very much present in this small town too.
What role does manual skill and technique have in the definition of the work? Do you have collaborators who help you to produce your installations?
The role of manual skill is a significant factor in my work. It is precisely by working slowly and fussily that I manage to recreate its magic. The clothes of 1996 made out of slashed and knotted bags were knitted together and it is by keeping faithful to the spirit of female manual skill that I proceed with my work. Time is no longer hysterical frenzy but becomes something else, rescued from that disposable consumerism I am so seduced by. During the making of large installations people or students from the Academy or Art school often help me. The aspect of contemporary art as a learning experience and shared collective moment is significant in my work… it becomes a collective ritual.

Will you tell me about the magic of yours which worked best?
I think my most successful magic is La Regina at Rivoli. I assembled about 10,000 transparent plastic bottles, rejects. I was helped by the Teaching Department of the Museum and many students and it was done inside the room where we then installed the wok. In this case too, as always happens in my work, the project for an installation for children and the idea of working inside a castle suggested the idea of a Queen to me… the Queen of fairy tales, like a dream, a transparent and intangible apparition. The large room also suggested to me that I should work on something emphatically out of scale.

When you go shopping do you look for a brand and enticing packaging or do you prefer the anonymous product? Do you happen to buy something purely because of the packaging? And do you then keep it for one of your works?
Supermarkets and large stores in general give me a hybrid sensation of nausea and seduction which I would often like to turn upside down in my work. I love going to supermarkets, scrutinising the goods like a private detective.. reading the health warnings, controlling the logos, the colours. I almost always buy something for its packaging and never for its contents… when I am abroad I love getting hold of things which are not sold in Italy, coloured plastic bottles, essentially plastic packaging, from the bag to the three dimensional container… Logically I keep and pile up the scraps which might be useful for one of my works – sometimes they remain piled up for two or three years to then emerge like little acts of magic.

How much of your private world and your dreams are reproduced in your art? Do you have new projects in the pipeline at galleries and museums?
A great deal. I was able to become a queen in a world of rubbish… a queen nobody wanted however… I was able to have precious clothes and jewellery, made of recycled plastic but anyway unique: a kilometre – long bright path with snowflakes as big as balloons, dazzling enchantments, rooms from the Arabian nights. Art allows me to have that famous magic wand all children would like to have.

Will you tell me something of your current work at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice?
The exhibition at Mamac in Nice consists of new materials created specifically for this event. A few years ago I visited an aluminium foil factory and I was electrocuted. I have often collected chocolate wrappers as a fetish but to see them in industrial quantities was a vision. I immediately thought that sooner or later I would use this incredible material. The seduction of this material is truly thrilling: the silvery, shimmering, opaque, shiny, satiny colours like precious silks and fabrics. Visiting the museum of Nice I decided that finally this material might match the place, atmosphere and concept I wanted to explore. On one wall of Mamac I installed about 12,000 little balls wrapped in coloured aluminium foil and arranged so as to compose an arabesque pattern.
The Arab influence is repeated in the carpets on the floor and walls. They were made by twisting the foil into long strings which are glued in a swirls moving outwards. The theme is therefore the curved line, an echo of Nouveau Art, the Belle Epoque and the memory of the Cote d’Azure. A precious twinkle and glow, the sea… To complete the installation there is a room that is entirely covered in blue aluminium with a six metre blanket on which thousands and thousands of blue roses were placed, woven, tangled. All made by hand, like the 12,000 little scrunched up balls. The flowers reminded me of the making of votive paper flowers but also the decadent flavour of the end of the 19th century… a sensation somewhere between claustrophobia and seduction. Roses spill out of the cupboard too, from the lamp, on the table, on the bedside table, again a thin line, the obsession of a material but a misleading reinterpretation of the same.

Federica Bianconi is an architect and works on setting up exhibitions and commercial spaces. She has curated contemporary art exhibitions and contributes to trade magazines.