Face to face with Rossana Orlandi

Always elegant and with a strong personality, she is amongst the most important design influencers in the world. Guided by reason and feeling, she has transformed her gallery into a special place, which is a bit wunderkammer, a cross between a design shop and a space for ideas.

Game and irony Rossana Orlandi's creativity is present on every occasion. Here she is portrayed for the campaign of the Municipality of Milan for the relaunch of the city. Sitting on a city tram, she is holding a copy of the Financial Times magazine that dedicated the 2011 cover (photo by Guido Castagnoli) to her. Her impeccably manicured hands, the large ring and her white clothes are her unmistakable hallmarks.

It happens to almost everyone the first time. In the beginning, Rossana Orlandi appears distracted. Always kind, but miles away. She seems not to remember the appointment, who you are and why you are there right in front of her. However, in a couple of seconds, two hints from her assistant and everything changes: every detail dawns on her, she rewinds the tape and it's a completely different script. She is curious, attentive, and generous and she knows how to immediately establish an empathic bond. After a tour of the gallery to discover the latest arrivals of emerging young people she has met around the world and asking your opinion, she leads you to her office. Sitting behind a desk full of everything - newspapers, prototypes, bags, glasses, telephones, electronic cigarettes, designer pieces, gifts for her grandchildren, boxes of exquisite “canestrelli”, chocolate wafers form Jeantet of Biella, that she immediately offers you - she begins to inquire about yourself.

Moreover, right at that very moment, you understand that you are in front of a very special woman who wants to be won with intelligence and wit, amused with elegance and seduced by authenticity. In little more than twenty years of activity, she has established herself as one of the most sharp and intuitive international design talent scouts, hosting personalities with different flair. However, when you cross the threshold of via Bandello 14, you will never imagine finding an immaculate place with white walls and soft lights. The Rossana Orlandi Gallery is a special place. A former tie workshop, at a stone's throw from Sant’Ambrogio, is what is called a hidden place. On entering the beautiful courtyard of the old Milan you are greeted by a pergola of climbing American grapes and a thousand flowers that change from one season to the other: this is the first exhibition place, the outdoor living room, furnished with unique pieces - all for sale - mixed with flair and fun.

Here book presentations, themed evenings or special dinners proposed by starred chefs are held. Emerging chefs can instead be found at the Bistro next door. Today managed by Aimo and Nadia, the restaurant completely furnished by Rossana is run by Lorenzo Pesci, awarded in 2020 as the best Italian Under 35 chef. But let's go back to the gallery. Entering the original three-storey building you will find yourself in a maze of rooms, corridors and stairs leading to other exhibition spaces, each featuring a particular flavour and appeal. It could be said that the RO Gallery is a little wunderkammer, a little research atelier, a little design shop. "Having worked for a long time in the fashion world, I don't like to call my gallery “atelier”," underlines Rossana during the interview. "What I like at the atelier is the search for quality, attention to detail, the evolutionary drive, and teamwork. However, I do not consider it as a place for a select few ". We are meeting her in the aftermath of the Guiltless Plastic's Digital Prize Ceremony, the competition on sustainable and innovative creativity that she has been running for two years.

The power of ideas Una stanza di Tabula Rara, an invitation-only event organized in 2004. With the aim of raising the awareness of her recently opened gallery, Rossana decided to invite the main national design magazines by involving them in the creation of a design table. In the photo the Case da Abitare project created by Katie Lockhart.

Surrounded by gardens, the space of the Ro Gallery is always in transformation. Composed of environments of different sizes, it lends itself to themed installations and site-specific interventions.

An unmistakable style The BistRo managed by Aimo and Nadia is located next to the Galleria Ro. The space has been entirely furnished by Rossana, with a masterful use of colour, handpicking pieces carrying the signature of the designers she represents.


The pleasure of hospitality On top. The counter at the entrance of the BistRo in via Matteo Bandello. Creativity and functionality are the absolute protagonists. Above. Under the climbing American grape pergola, the first space of the Rossana Orlandi Gallery. Dinners, conferences and book presentations take place here, all furnished with outdoor furniture.


How was Guiltless Plastic born?

Together with my daughter Nicoletta - who manages the communication and the relationship with all the people involved, from designers to jurors - we wanted to give an important signal to the world of design. Too many useless plastic objects surround our daily life and too much nonbiodegradable waste is suffocating the planet. Starting from these considerations, we launched an international award aimed at designers, dividing it into 5 categories: Industrial Design, Packaging Solutions, Conscious Innovation Projects, Innovative Textiles, and Awareness on Communication. This year 1,200 designers from 65 countries took part. 123 of them were shortlisted. It is an exciting job and we are very satisfied with it. Just think that the winners of the Conscious Innovation Projects, the Ecoact Tanzania team, have created a beam made of plastic scraps and transportable packaging material. Therefore, they sent a piece of 7.5 cm: divine, I am going to wear it as a pendant around my neck.

Prototype of Golf Weave (2020), a seat made with golf balls. It is the first work by the young Australian Jake Rollins, who also took part in the latest edition of the Ro Plastic Prize.




Let's start from the selection process: how do you choose the designers for your gallery?

In many ways. Much depends on the quality of what they bring me: I never stop at the object alone. For me, it is important to look people in the eye to understand how creative they are. I'm not looking for exploits that don't go any further. When I started dealing with design and I didn't have the faintest idea what I would do with this space, I let my gut-feeling guide me. The first object I came across was a splendid Sebastian Wrong lamp. I went to London to meet him and bought the whole small collection of his - two of these pieces were then purchased by Piero Busnelli of B&B Italia, an extraordinary man. We organized the exhibition by presenting all the drawings and prototypes made with a very light material developed for spaceships. An immediate success: all sold out in a few days.

Piero Gandini, then at Flos, acquired the project and Spoon Light was born. Obviously, production imposed some changes, Wrong didn't agree, but I suggested he accept and time proved me right. Then I met Piet Hein Eek, Nacho Carbonel, Marteen Baas. I am very proud to remember that I organized the first exhibition in Italy of Formafantasma, the Italian duo based in Amsterdam, today one of the most interesting names on the international scene that has always questioned how design can go beyond the object.

Conscious Innovation Project The Ecoact Tanzania team signs one of the winning projects of the Ro Plastic Award 2020. It is made with waste plastic from industrial and food packaging.

They show-cased a large planter made of textile material. They had studied everything: drainage, how to maintain humidity, aseptic and non-bacterially harmful qualities of the fabric for plants. Together we have organized three other exhibitions. Autarchy remained famous in 2010. It was an installation that investigated autonomous forms of design through the presentation of a collection of bowls made with flour, agricultural waste and limestone. The project anticipated the themes of sustainability, waste awareness, self-production. Enzo Mari, a very temperamental designer who used to criticize everyone, had also come to see it and, wandering around the gallery, he said that it was all good for the bin. Then he stopped in front of them, looked at them and said "perfect": we were about to faint with emotion.


Roberto Tarter and Rodolfo Viola from the Morghen studio, portrayed under Ophelia (2013), a suspension light made of thin metal ribbons.

"Designers often call me mom maybe because I discover their talent, launch them and follow them for a long time"


Did you have any mentors or reference models?

At the beginning, I used to travel a lot specially to get to know what was being taught at international design academies. Unfortunately, in Italy they didn't focus on the product: they had renderings but I didn't care. I must say, however, that when I started, magazines were my great teachers: Case da Abitare was amazing, I learned a lot from it. Then two points of reference: Lina Kanafani of the Mint gallery in London and Cok de Rooy of the Frozen Fountain space in Amsterdam. They introduced me to many designers, told me how to work and how they chose the projects. A very unusual attitude: their generosity is really special and in fact we are still great friends today. London and Holland were definitely my training grounds. In Eindhoven I met Lee Edelkoort, an absolute trend setter: she was pure fantasy, an explosion of creativity. At the time, she was the Chairwoman of the Design Academy. Her intuition is proverbial.


How did you win over the public and the press?

With Tabula Rara, a cycle of events by invitation. Giovanna Moldenhauer who used to work for La Cucina Italiana gave me the idea: she had to set up three dining tables. It took ten days of work, but the result was amazing. I understood then that socialization passed from the table, no longer from the living room. So I called the directors of the most important design magazines and suggested creating their ideal table. We had a lot of fun and if at first everyone upheld their ideas, in the end we became friends around the set table, obviously.


Relationships are key in your work, aren't they?

A relationship of great friendship has been built over the years and they often call me their mother, perhaps because I discover their talent, I launch them and follow them for a long time. I have always followed Piet Hein Eek, now he has created a famous brand for instance, and even today, that he has created a famous brand, I am his exhibition reference point in Italy. My latest discovery is beautiful, it is an armchair made with golf balls recovered from the driving range: he is an admirable Australian boy, who sent the prototype to me at his own expense during the Covid lockdown. He started from the study of the molecule of the atom, designed the frame and built it. I am already thinking of a way to launch him.


What would you like to say to our readers?

If the readers of Together deal with hygiene and well-being, I suggest paying attention to bathrooms for the disabled: in general, products are very ugly, punitive, the seats are horrible and even worse, the grab bars look really sad. In order to furnish a public place it is mandatory to have a toilet in compliance with the law and believe me, today they are really giving us a hard time. Why not have a more welcoming, playful, colourful and positive look?

The colour of light The lights of the Halo collection, born from the encounter between design and high technology, bear the signature of Studio Mandalaki. They create unique environments with a strong chromatic impact.

Moodboard

Like a desert rose

Inspired by the colours and the local materials, the National Museum of Qatar bears the signature of Atelier Jean Nouvel. An avant-garde building that has been able to address important technical challenges. When technology meets the harmony of form.

Nature gives her peace, but she couldn't do without work and Milan. She is extremely curious and she is always ready to go and discover something she still does not know


Infinity blue

She loves all the seasons, as long as the sky is clear and bright. In this shot by Chris Jordan the moon and a flying albatross represent the freedom and the strength of the dreams.

Milano mon amour

Milan, as Umberto Boccioni had depicted in his famous The City Rises, is capable of transforming itself, but knows how to preserve its history. Perhaps it is the smallest metropolis in the world, but the energy and creativity it triggers make it unique and always welcoming.


Fire

Lit fireplaces are her passion, but the fire in general has the power to enchant her. It is certainly the element that best defines her: impetuous, welcoming, capable of incinerating you with a look.

Irony

Milan, as Umberto Boccioni had depicted in his famous The City Rises, is capable of transforming itself, but knows how to preserve its history. Perhaps it is the smallest metropolis in the world, but the energy and creativity it triggers make it unique and always welcoming.

Leonardo da Vinci

She has always been fascinated by the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, by his curiosity and attraction for science and discoveries. A mere glimpse at his writing opens up a multi-faceted world of infinite research.

The flower of the East

She has been growing peonies for many years and in spring she gives away breathtaking baskets as presents. With a thousand shades and the richness of the petals, it is a symbol of prosperity and good omen.

The flower of the East