The Fashion Cycle
Last season's leftovers are this season's must-haves at Luisa Cevese Riedizioni, Milan
Cecilia Fabiani -- Interior Design, 8/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
"I love waste," Luisa Cevese says. The statement might sound strange, but the work of this Milan designer—who used to head a large silk manufacturer's research department—consists of a material she invented and patented: a mixture of textile scraps and polyurethane. "My contact with industrial production made me realize how much is left over," she recalls. "I started thinking about how I could use it for a new project." Taking an approach simultaneously artistic and utilitarian, she launched Luisa Cevese Riedizioni in 1995.
Cevese starts with garment scraps, weaving remnants, fringe, embroidery, fur, thread, yarn, selvages, leather, even fishing net and wood chips. Fusing all of this together in polyurethane—chosen, after several experiments, for its suppleness and strength—she makes astonishing bags of different sizes for various uses. There are shopping bags and cosmetic bags as well as travel bags designed for eight, 24, and 48 hours. In addition, Cevese produces raincoats, belts, notebooks, baskets, floor mats, and other articles. Her shapes and forms are always simple and classic, but each piece is unique, thanks to the nature of the material and the manufacturing process.
Production, a closely guarded secret, takes place in a workshop-factory north of Milan. Finished goods are sold worldwide, from Barneys New York (her first client) to Designers Guild in London. On Via San Maurilio, a side street in the heart of vecchia Milano, she recently opened a minimal shop where she shows one line at a time in two-week rotations.
On the very same street, at the back of a quiet courtyard a few doors down, lies the real center of the operation, a light-filled atelier and showroom that Cevese designed herself. The front door opens onto a display space dominated by a long bench made of an oak trunk; here and throughout, she laid larch floorboards on the diagonal. Next comes a tiny square showroom with a frescoed domed ceiling. To one side of this space, a white curtain conceals an office where metal-and-glass medical cabinets, which used to belong to the designer's father, hold fabric and product samples. The domed room also leads to the rear showroom-atelier, the largest space on the premises. Antique wooden chairs, now upholstered with a Cevese polyurethane fabric incorporating scraps of fringe, surround an iron table.
All furniture is on wheels, affording flexibility between atelier and showroom functions. (The latter becomes particularly important three times a year: during the two women's fashion weeks and the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, when buyers, journalists, architects, and friends come to see the new pieces.) And everything, including the birch pegs festooning the walls, was conceived by Cevese personally.
So has each accessory's materials choice and finished design, embodying the relationships between old and new, artificial and organic. ("I perceive plastic as part of nature as it changes, decays, and is affected by time," Cevese says.) Most striking, though, is her sense of fun and adventure, which pervades this suite of rooms dedicated in equal parts to fashion, interior design, and art. With her strong personality and her charming manners, she is never afraid to dare: "For me, interpretation and explanation always come after the work. Nothing is planned rationally. It's a question of vision—and problems to solve."