Land of the Free
Fabio Novembre brings his independent spirit to the New York showroom of Italian label Meltin' Pot
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 4/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Fabio Novembre is no shrinking violet. The bearded, shaggy-haired designer is a self-styled provocateur, an Italian-born Philippe Starck fond of off-the-wall pronouncements: "Palladio and I have never gotten along." "Architecture is like a beautiful woman. It should be nude. . . with the self-confidence of explicit sexuality." For a personal portrait, Novembre posed as a modern-day saint bathed in celestial blue light; in product shots of his S.O.S. armchair in rubberized fiberglass, he was naked. And his interiors are every bit as outrageous, with devilish curves, dizzyingly colorful mosaic-tiled walls, and surrealist touches such as sofas upholstered in camouflage or a ceiling decorated with serpents and apples.
The New York showroom of the denim and sportswear brand Meltin' Pot is pure Novembre. This is a more modest production than, say, his global showrooms for Bisazza—but every bit as dramatic. The inspiration behind the red, white, and blue color scheme and the star-shape clothing racks is clear. "A name like Meltin' Pot and the decision to open a showroom in New York in the dark ages of the Bush administration led me to reexamine American culture," professes Novembre, who serves as industrial-design director for the label in addition to running his own firm. "That flag, for many years considered a symbol of liberty, is now regarded, all too often, with resentment. Deconstructing the flag is an attempt at reclaiming that ideal. It's a declaration of love."
Meltin' Pot is based in Matino, in the heel of Italy's boot. The Manhattan space—the company's North American headquarters as well as a showroom for buyers and the press to view collections—is roughly a 4,850-square-foot rectangle in the massive former Port Authority Commerce Building, an art deco landmark that fills a city block.
Up on 15, you're greeted by Novembre's huge red And sofa, which spirals down the center of the bright blue carpet. The open area is for editorial and buying presentations. Professionals meet with the Meltin' Pot crew at a pair of red-painted curved fiberboard counters that bracket the sofa like parentheses.
These counters flatten into ribbons that wrap upward around two structural columns like bright red taffy, then flow in an ellipse across the painted concrete ceiling. There, the ribbons support recessed down-lights and distract the eye from conduits and ducts that Novembre also painted but left exposed. This dynamic plane becomes a baroque foil to the all-American Stars and Stripes.
Right before the ribbons would have met the window wall, they merge into a grid of white angled boxes built in front. Constructed on site by a small woodworking shop in Italy, these angular drywall frames transform what would have been a nondescript row of sash windows into a unified sculpture. Practically speaking, the frames make the space look bigger and amplify natural light. They also focus attention on the view south toward the Statue of Liberty, the ideal focal point for such a patriotic interior.
Bands of red animate the walls as well. On one sidewall, a painted stripe seems to morph into a long communal desk for staff. On the opposite wall, the stripe swooshes beneath the window of a conference room filled with Verner Panton's signature white chairs. So many stripes and curves set what would otherwise be a rigidly industrial space in motion, like a flag unfurling in the wind.
Novembre's Betsy Ross act plays well from sea to shining sea. Meltin' Pot has already translated the showroom design into a compact, portable version: a booth for the Project show in Las Vegas. No doubt Novembre was pleased by the attention.