The emotion before the function

June 29, 2010

“With flowers we are always in trouble, vases are too small or to short. But it’s not vases’ fault. By the way, there is still the habit of the XVIII century to send too many flowers. One flower is enough to shake the air”




With these words Ettore Sottsass, one of the two grandfathers of the Italian design (the other one is Achille Castiglioni. From here, the legendary and perennal conflict between Hector (Ettore) and Achilles (Castiglioni) like Homer’s Iliad, two men each being perfectly reasonable in his own parallel universe), tried to explain in his last interview for “Repubblica” the function of the objects. This functionalism, he said, is in the hope, given to the objects, to find their own function. Let’s take the example of the bookcase “Carlton”: many critized it because it was oblique and it has no function. But the shelf per se has no function, it’s the user himself that has to find it. “The emotion before the function”, he claimed.






Not so far from Sottsass’ idea, another contemporary designer developed his thoughts in the same path, Ron Arad. For him, the function takes the second place, after the form and the shape. Hence, he can create “a piece like a big vase, let’s call it vase, but we shouldn’t call it vase. I don’t care if people use it or not, but I enjoy discovering the process, what I can do with the material, which kind of shape I can obtain, and the fnction, in this case, is merely an alibi”.




In this extent, we don’t buy furniture firstly and mostly comfortable, but rather we buy them in order to show our status: a sort of decline into mere appearance, a sort of “Society of spectacle” in which what is more relevant is no longer being, neither having, but just appearing…


DiY: How To Arrange Flowers

June 27, 2010

After all this talking about flowers, after having seen truly different kind of production and selling (think about Interflora, Mr. Francesco, or the invisible sellers of roses from Bangladesh), I have thought: “why don’t arrange a bunch of flowers on your own, without the aid of an expert?”

Here we are. Let’s go!

STEP 1: The structure.

First of all, you should consider the structural qualities of individual flowers. Therefore, focus on:

  1. Focal flowers: provide the focal points of an arrangement, and are often the largest and brightest in the arrangement. Typical focal flowers include roses, peonies and hydrangeas.
  2. Line flowers: create the silhouette, providing a sort of visual scaffolding for the arrangement. Typical line flowers include delphiniums, gladiolas and snapdragons.
  3.  Fillers help fill out the silhouette of an arrangement. Baby’s breath, dianthus, and wax flowers often serve as fillers.
  4. Floral arrangements can also contain non-flower elements. For instance, vines, berries, fruit, ferns and other greens provide interest and texture.



STEP 2: Choose the colors

This choice should be really thoughtful, because inevitably the different colors of your flowers work together to create harmony or disharmony. In this extent, you can distinguish warm colors, such as reds, oranges and yellows, that have a different affect than cool colors, such as blues, greens and purples; a monochromatic arrangement, that uses variations of a single color; an arrangement based on analogous colors, which combines colors that lie immediately next to each other on the color wheel; an arrangement of flowers with complementary colors, that makes use of colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel.



STEP 3: Assemble Your Supplies

 If you’re making a simple vase arrangement or informal bouquet, you won’t need much more than your flowers, container and a sharp knife or scissors. However, more complicated or formal arrangements necessitate some other tools. Basically, you need:

  • Scissors
  •  Stem tape and wires

For vase arrangement, you could also use

  • Waterproof floral tape that can form a grid through which to stick flower stems.
  • A knife is a useful tool, in addition to scissors. You can use it to cut floral foam.
  • Anchor pins and prongs also secure foam in place.
  • Candle cups allow you to illuminate your arrangement, providing a safe base to help set candles in foam.



STEP 4: Arrange the Flowers

Once you’ve chosen a form for your arrangement and the particular flowers you will use, you’ve done much of the work. The shape you’ve chosen will decide the placement of the focal and line flowers.

  1. If you plan to place your arrangement in a vase, organize the flowers in your hands first.
  2.  Support the blooms of heavier flowers with floral wire and tape so that they won’t droop.
  3. Your arrangement must have a sense of balance. You don’t want it to feel lopsided in any way. Don’t put all the large, vibrant flowers to one side, or that side will seem heavier.
  4.  Cut the flower stems to the appropriate length for your container. Cut the stems under water to prevent air from closing the stems.
  5. Some types of flower may require special treatment, such as cauterization or mashing of the stems, before they’re placed in a container with other flowers.
  6. Cut off broken and dead material, as well as any leaves that fall below where the water line will be.
  7. Insert the stems of your stationary arrangement into the floral foam you’ve secured in its container.
  8. Insert your line flowers first to outline the overall shape of your design
  9.  Add focal flowers after the line flowers. Place them at the center.
  10. Once the major elements of your design are in place, use filler flowers to flesh out the spaces between the focal and line flowers.



STEP 5: Continue to Care for Your Arrangement

  • Cut flowers need water to thrive. If your arrangement is in a vase or contains wet floral foam, give the flowers fresh water every day.
  • Give blossoms warm water if you want them to open immediately, and cool water to help them live longer. Don’t use water at extreme temperatures, either hot or cold.

The right floral arrangement can bring warmth, freshness, and beauty into a home. Flowers can be used to express love, sympathy, spirit, and much more. While you may still prefer to work with a florist to supply arrangements for special occasions, learning how to create your own works of floral art can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as save you money on less formal occasions and, of course, a way to enjoy yourself.

Don’t you think so? :-)



What’s your alleyway?

June 25, 2010

Milan is not really famous for its ancient buildings or picturesque ruins, but there is an area which has some distinctive traits that make it very, very fascinating. This is Brera, a suggestive quarter where artists live with famous fashion designers and small craftsman who still crowd its streets. If only you wandered around a maze of tight streets, you would be caught in a sophisticated atmosphere, and you would find a wide variety of  flowers or, better, of ways of “using flowers”.

From the classical shop (1)…



…to the specialization on just one kind of  blossom, rose, maybe the flower par excellence (2)…



…to the attention to their incredible scent! (3)



But what is more curious about the relation between flowers and Brera? In the first half of XVIII century streets didn’t have a name, neither the buildings a number. Milanese people should orient themselves referring to the entrances of the cities, rich palaces, columns and churches. Was the Austrian Joseph II who established that the streets should have a name. And nowadays, they are entitled to famous people, jobs, curiosities…

Two opposite crossbeams of via Brera are  via Fiori Chiari and via Fiori Oscuri.




The first one is related to an old building for virtuous girls, while the second one to a whorehouse. It makes sense, because girls are all compared to flowers, but some are clear as their souls, others obscure as their jobs. Others think that the name are related to some cultivations of the past and organized separating the lighter flowers from the darker ones, but this thought is less taken in consideration.

Last, but not the least, is another tiny alleyway…



(1)  The shop I’m referring to is “Lami”, in piazza San Marco, where I went to ask some information about the differences between stallholders and shopkeepers I dealt with in past posts.



(2)  I’ve never seen so many kinds of roses as I did at “Au nom de la rose”! From soap, to perfumes, to candles, sweets, honey, oils… A small shop with 1000-1500 blooms from everywhere: France, Holland, Kenya, Ecuador. A corner of France where touch, sense of smell, eyesight and taste are stimulated.



(3)  Have you have heard about a “Bar à parfums”? Well, in Brera there is just the so called olfattorio, “Penhaligon’s”. They wanted to create  authentic perfumes, wrapping and delicate, using floral essences for most of them, such as Bergamot, Musk and Freesia, Iris, Rose, Jasmin de muet.



Let’s talk to the President

June 13, 2010


Sometimes we see just the result. We don’t pay too much attention to the process behind it, but we focus on what appears at the end. Maybe, however, it is not the most important thing: what is more relevant, instead, is what is hidden, what is covered and unreveiled. This happens especially during big events: we look at the amount of people, the colors, the appealing events, we listen to the sounds, we sniff to the scents. This happened, for sure, for Orticola too.

But let’s stop for a moment and check what the President of the Association Orticola di Lombardia, Gianluca Brivio Sforza, has told me about the mostra-mercato during an interview.

1) Which are the main activities of “Associazione Orticola”?

From 1854, when it was founded, the patrimony of the old knowledge, remembering  the care for flowers, always taken here in Lombardia, and the will to follow the “culture of green” and the defense of  natural areas, are handed through the management of a specialized archive and some social activities, such as trips, conferences, periodical meetings and a consulting service for members.

2) Which are the goals of the Association? Do you follow a specific strategy?

“Associazione Orticola di Lombardia” is one of the first Italian modern institutions that has promoted the knowledge of plants, the art of the gardens and the green landscape.

3) How did you come up with the idea of organizing a “mostra-mercato” focused on a topic sometimes “silent”, dealt in very few occasions, such as this one of flowers and plants?

15 years ago an event like Orticola definitely missed in Milan, and they were rare outside the city too. Then, they are 15 years we have been organizing it every May, in the public gardens of Via Palestro, with the support of Comune di Milano. It is an important and cultured appointment, an occasion to go out and do something in favour of the collectivity, being the main goal the fund raising for the public green of Milan. Indeed in the latest years it has renewed Giardini Perego, in Via dei Giardini, realizing new plays for kids as well. During the next three years it is going to collaborate with Università degli Studi of Milan in order to recover and valorize again Orto Botanico of Brera.

4) How does the exhibition work? How many people deal with the organization?

At the beginning they were just three, helped by many voluntary members for the hand labor. Now, we are 5 in the steering commitee and we have an association that follows all the “practical” matters, such as graphic, ads, communication and sponsorships.

5)Which are the dynamics that move it? Which are the hidden process, those one s that simple visitors like us cannot see?

There is a careful research of the specialized exhibitors and of the cultural content, in order to figure out new projects and make them real.

6) How is “mostra” financed?

With the incomes of the previous years, such as entrances and sponsors.   

7) Who are the stakeholders? Is it difficult to have a relationship with them?

The strength of the Association is that everyone involved gives his own support constantly, in every moment.

8) Are you satisfied about the results of the latest mostra-mercato?

It is our second best result, and it has been raining and cold for all the four days. Therefore, I can be pretty satisfied!

9) Could you please reveal some peculiarity, some backgrounds of this latest edition?

The peculiarity is that we have started a design competition and in the next years it will be surely, among the others, one of our stable event.


Les Anis de Flavigny

June 9, 2010

A hundred year history, less than one gram of weight, always cool and appreciated by adults and children. What am I talking about? Les anis de Flavigny sweets, of course! White and authentic pralines with a delicious taste. They are made with an original and artisanal recipe, so that you can obtain these sweets without artificial coloring, preservatives and GMOs. Les anis de Flavigny are available in six tastes: anise, orange, mint, licorice, and, of course, rose and violet.  





I’m writing this post because a friend of mine really likes them: if there is something never misses in her bag it is a thermal bottle, filled every time with a different kind of tea, and two packages of candies of rose and violet tastes. I’ve never heard about them before she showed me, but then I paid more attention and I found them in a supermarket near to my house, here in Milan. Since she loves them, I bought and I found them delicious as well, I started hence looking for some more news.

I was able to get some deeper information about the company sending an email to the director, Catherine Troubat.



The company which produces them is a particular one: it is a family company, it keeps the traditions alive and it is one of the boast of the French patrimony, against the big enterprises which rule the market. The entrepreneur is Catherine Troubat, who has inherited the company by her father, and she is continuing to lead the society in the best way ever, helped by her brothers, Marc and Etienne, and her sister, Emmanuelle.

 Some information about the product:

  • Place of production: an old abbey in Flavigny-sur-Ozeirain, Côte-d’Or, one hour and half from Paris
  • Employees: 25 people
  • Sales : 2,5 million of Euro
  • Number of sales: around 220 tons of sweets
  • Distribution: shops of sweets, shops with gastronomic specialties or natural and biological products., duty free shops, airports, railway stations, garden-center, malls in Borgogna, pharmacies.



Between the 1990 and 2003, the company has registered an increase of sales (+91,6%), and the 25% of it is given by the exportations (USA, Canada, Japan, German, England, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland…)

A curiosity: in 1940, Les anis de Flavigny were the first sweet sold in vending machines of the subway in Paris.




The story so far:

None knows who was the real inventor of these sweets. The Benedictines had probably substituted the almonds, traditionally inserted into them, with the aniseeds, brought to the village from Siria by Flavinius. Around 52 BC, Caesar, the future Roman emperor, gave some of his veteran soldiers land after his victory over the Gauls. Flavinius received a hill that bore his name, Flaviniacum, now called Flavigny. Caesar took aniseeds with him to care for his troops. It was probably at this point that the story of these candies began and went on.

Since the XVI century, instead, famous people who visited the region had them as a present.

And nowadays, today like yesterday, thanks to the know-how inherited from the Abbey’s monks, the factory’s entire team is driven by the same desire to make Anis de Flavigny . The production still happens in the same place, an abbey founded in 719, the 25 people who work there all come from the village itself or from somewhere about, and obviously the old, original recipe is meticulously followed. They use simple and natural ingredients, such as sugar, natural flavoring and green aniseed, which are carefully selected in Siria, Turkey and Spain. Then, they pour sugar syrup (water and sugar) over them. The seeds roll over one another and gradually become covered in fine successive layers of syrup. The process involves delicate, patient work: the candy-maker needs 15 days to transform the small seed that weighs barely two milligrams into a one-gram candy.

Indeed, the sugar they use is the unrefined cane one, (nice to know that Darius, back from an expedition in the Indies (510 B.C.) called sugar cane “the reed that produces honey without the help of bees!”), in an Ecocert-certified organic collection, just as people used to do before Olivier de Serres had discovered sugar beet in 1575, when white sugar then started to be used.


And, finally, let’s live “a sunny day in Flavigny”!    :-)     :-)



Light, shape, mirror, silver: De Vecchi Silverware, precious vessels for flowers

June 5, 2010

The Naviglio on the right, a warm sun just in front of us, some chatting guys, a couple in love. A little further, noisy sounds, people stuck in a traffic jam and the frantic life of Milan. A warm sunny day of Spring (finally arrived!), in an outlying part of the city.

That’s where I was last week with my special class of design, in order to discover an hidden, small, still full of interesting aspects and surprising world of De Vecchi Silverware. The owner who welcomed us, Giacomo, so proud and satisfied by his job, has a lot of things to say, too. You could see, through his eyes, how much passion he has for what he does, day by day.



But, maybe, it is a “matter of family”: he represents the third generation of a family company, founded in 1935 by his grandfather Piero, who made pieces for the Futuristic Movement. Hence, a traditional craftsman or an avant-garde artist? Both. For sure, he did something completely new, never done before. In a first moment, he was particularly allured by the interactivity of objects, how they could appear always changing still remaining the same, thanks to the kinetic energy. Through Mr. Giacomo’s father, Gabriele, this fascinating idea developed, considering the mirror effect as well, which reflects shapes and colors, and then applying this to silver, seeing how forms do react through it. Silver has no color, but you can easily play using it as a changeable surface, and creating a relationship between the real and the fake, the material and the immaterial elements.

Among the hundreds of objects they have done, from Mr. Piero untill now, something caught my attention that day: some really beautiful vases.

Mr. Giacomo explained that what was interesting was seeing how different lines can create different lights, in different points of the surface. In these vases, “Phoemina” and “Diana”, for instance, they worked on two profiles:

For this one, called “Invaso”, a virtual vase is inscribed in the factual one, and it is created by inverting background and shapes.

This limited edition vase (only 70 copies), “Crac”, is broken as it would be “two in one”: various and multiplied forms reflect images and lights.

But it is not finished yet: hundreds of shapes, curves, squares, triangles… in order to design thousands of bright and sparkling games!


Fuori Orticola

June 2, 2010

Orticola is not just a fair-market: it is also a chance to exhibit some works of art, related to flowers… of course! For this occasion, 11 of Luigi Scrosati’s paintings are now shown in the Museum Bagatti Valsecchi.




He was a painter of flowers, in Milan of 18th century, andthese works come from private collections, so they are impossible to be seen in other occasions. Hence, a little exhibition in a precious place, we could say.



A short focus on the Museum House.

 In 1883 with the restoration of the building, the brothers Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi crowned their dream of a house inspired by the noble houses of 16th century Lombardy. Personal involved in the interior design and decoration, they added their collection of 15-16th century paintings and artefacts. The museum, then, opened in 1994.

Interesting news for the one mad about design: a surprising chronological crossover  among pieces of design and period furnishing and artworks. Bagatti Valsecchi museum, Boschi Di Stefano Museum House, Poldi Pezzoli Museum and Villa Necchi Campiglio had hosted the exhibition “Unexpected Guests. Yesterday Homes, Today’s Design”, where design objects  from the last decade interacted with locations of the past. Contributed to this incredible and fascinating project and to create cross-referencing, differences and contrasts really big names of the design world, such as Maarten Baas, Marc Sadler and Ettore Sottsass (the grandfather of Italian design).