It must have been the honey colored herringbone parquet, the framed quotations on the white tiled walls or the mirrored glazed doors, but when I walked into their space, I could feel a Parisian atmosphere … and yet I was in the center of Milan, inside the welcoming and multifaceted studio of Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto.
Two young women, many objets trouvés (especially Arianna!) and a fabulous story to tell. This is where my interview with the girls of Studiopepe began.
Studiopepe, is the name given by the two designers to their international enterprise which inside looks like a beautiful Pinterest mood board. The air is filled with inspiration which could come from every corner and every object within their studio. Two young women, many objets trouvés (especially Arianna!) and a fabulous story to tell. This is where my interview with the girls of Studiopepe began.
How did the Studiopepe adventure start? What triggered the spark between you two?
Arianna: «All thanks to what is called synchronicity and serendipity… ,we were both traveling in Mexico, but separately. I didn’t know that Chiara was on holiday in the same place. Then, one day on a beach with very few people, in a practically unknown and remote place, I saw this red hair from far away and I thought “I can’t believe it, is that Chiara?!”. And it was her! We had met at University and both graduated from the Milan Polytechnic, with the same tutor. We knew each other, we were close at the University, but we didn’t go out together at night together, we were more coffee-break colleagues».
Chiara: «During those years we created photographic sets together, working as assistants for each other. At the time we had several tasks in common».
Arianna: «After the trip, we met up in Milan and then fate put us together. The first project we did together was for “Case da abitare”, a famous magazine that is unfortunately no longer there but we admired it greatly at the time. We created for them an interior project that was a sort of three-dimensional puzzle. In the end, the idea was very appreciated and in fact we were given the cover».
Well, this wasn’t a bad start!
Chiara: «Yes, it was an important baptism. So that’s how it all started. Involuntarily we started from the top».
When was the moment when you realized that your dreams were becoming reality?
Arianna: «Definitely, after we found the right place for our studio. Amongst other things, this studio in which we are right now was the first we had seen. At first we only took one room, then after a few years, the architects studio next to us moved into another building and so finally we were able to expand across the whole floor».
Having a studio gives you a more entrepreneurial mindset, otherwise, it's as if you don’t believe in yourself enough or you don’t want to take it all the way.
What was it like to open your own studio? Were there any pros or cons?
Chiara: «A lot of people said, ”Why are you going to open a studio?!? There are many costs…”. But having a studio gives you a more entrepreneurial mindset, otherwise, it’s as if you don’t believe in yourself enough or you don’t want to take it all the way. Having an actual physical place is important, also because that’s what we do, take care of physical places».
So, tell me, how is it working together in two?
Arianna: «I think it is important because creativity comes from discussions and our work is born using comparisons. When confronted with adversity, it’s important to be in two, because together we mentally support each other. Also because we have different skills, together this makes us a stronger unit».
Color and the chromatic combination of materials, is definitely our strong point.
With your multidisciplinary approach to your projects, is there a particular thing that prevails over something else? For example: graphics, aesthetics, colour, design or other functional elements…
Chiara: «It depends on the project, but let’s say that colour and the chromatic combination of materials, is definitely our strong point. However, it depends, there are some projects in which colour is less dominant or sometimes there is a precise colour chosen giving less chromatic choice, in which case a graphic approach prevails, or sometimes we use a more sculptural and installative approach. Together we have a very eclectic and multifaceted approach to our projects».
Arianna: «Certainly there is a common thread that runs through our work, or at least that’s what people tell us. However, from our point of view, all our projects seem very different from each other. Probably it is also a question of time, as since we started we have done so many things all so different from each other, that maybe it’s less obvious to us now».
Arianna, what’s your main characteristic?
Arianna: «I really love interiors, interior design and all that is involved with this, not just colour, but also the livability of an environment. I really like the visual relationship between objects and so I’m always looking for harmony between things».
What if you notice something out of place, does this bother you?
Arianna: «When I go to a hotel, I change things around or even remove things, I move all the furniture, if I don’t, I feel the place is all wrong. It’s a problem and I can’t do anything about it».
* general laugh *
And you Chiara, what’s your main characteristic?
Chiara: «In my opinion, even if I do not know how to explain it, it’s the stroke of genius».
Arianna: «Yes really, an idea that maybe at first seems impossible, then slowly takes shape. Chiara has strong intuition and strange visions, I understand them and then try to make them concrete and elegant. This is only the starting point, because then there is discussion, confrontation and modeling to be done».
Chiara: «We work very well together because this is the mechanism that gives us our strength».
And then there’s serendipity…
Chiara: «Serendipity really is our key concept».
Is it also found in your work?
Chiara: «Yes, absolutely».
Give us some examples.
Arianna: “The inspiration for many of our projects has come from some of the trips we’ve had“.
Chiara: «There are also cases in which the limits of a project were incorporated and then used as the feature of the project itself. Sometimes it all just comes from synchronicity. Just like our project “Out of the blue”, at the Salone del Mobile, two years ago. I had found this laboratory that did ancient photographic techniques, including cyanotype. A technique that I loved right away. From there, I had the idea of using a three-dimensional lighting effect, which became the characteristic and the main theme of all our work exhibited at the Salone del Mobile. This project brought many things together for us».
So, your life experiences transfer over into your design and projects…
Chiara: «Yes, I’ll give you another example. Last year when we were in Canada, we went to a restaurant which was recommended to us. When we arrived they told us there was no table available but they said they had a speakeasy just around the corner. When we entered this place, we discovered a sort of secret bar with a 1940’s mood. Immediately we decided to create something like that at the Salone del Mobile, but with a different aesthetic touch. From there arose the idea for the bar “Club Unseen”».
The bar “Club Unseen”, which was a part of the project at the last Fuorisalone, really impressed me. It suggested to me the feeling of watching something at the theater. Is that correct?
Arianna: «Yes, we wanted to highlight the concept of waiting, which in a bar is something that we never like to do. Nobody likes waiting for cocktails, so we made the wait a show, a highlight. This is what Chiara meant a little while ago when she said “making the limits of a project a feature”».
Was the project for “Club Unseen” born from a partnership?
Arianna: «No, it’s our project but then entrusted to an excellent craftsman who works with glass».
Chiara: “Many of the pieces at “Club Unseen ” have a touch of handmade craftsmanship. Especially for ceramics, for example, because for us expert dexterity is a fundamental thing, just as attention to detail for us, is part of our DNA».
Looking back, where did your passion for design come from?
Arianna: «My passion for design has been there for a long time. I remember at school I would cut out objects I liked from magazines to make collages. As a child I used to read the magazines of my grandfather who was an interior designer. I’ve always liked it».
Do you have a favorite design product?
Arianna: «This question is very difficult for me, because I don’t have one favorite, but a thousand! But one product that I really like is the Superleggera by Giò Ponti, because it is part of my life, but in reality I don’t have a favorite product. I could tell you one but it changes every month, every year or every day».
I don’t have a particular product either. My love for design is more of a fascination. I did try and work in fashion but I realized it wasn’t for me. Then there is another episode of serendipity, which I want to tell you about.
I had been at University for a couple of months when my father asked me to meet one of his design clients. “His name is Bruno Munari”, he told me. The name meant nothing to me and so I went to the library to look for information about him and then I found out that he was an important designer. I went to the meeting with Munari without knowing much about his work. I will never forget this light hearted but serious and very playful person. He knew perfectly well that I didn’t know anything about him and in spite of that, he showed me all his designs and ideas. If I could go back there now, I would feel much more than privileged. But back then I was a young 20 year old girl with a carefree soul and a little naive. When I rang the doorbell, no one answered and I thought he had forgotten the appointment. Then I saw this little man arrive with his shopping bags and I asked “Is it you?”. He too looked at me saying “And is it you?”. It was a funny moment».
Milan has always been your base. Here you have studied and here you have decided to open your own studio. In what way and how much does Milan affect your projects?
Chiara: “Milan undoubtedly influences many of our design projects, we recently had a project for Amsterdam in which we added a little bit of Milan’s soul“.
Arianna: «Milan over the last few years is acquiring more awareness for itself. It’s not such a showy city and is more hidden than many others. It has a lot of history, but generally it’s a working city that has a lot to say for itself».
Your future plans?
Chiara: «We are currently working on new retail spaces, including a flagship store in Bangkok for a well-known Thai brand. By 2019 we will have completed a hotel in Paris. We also have some very important private projects and we are collaborating with the Milan Fashion Week».
Arianna: «Apart from other publishing projects, we are finishing two new catalogs, one for Agape and one for Fendi, which will be released at the end of the year».