Paola Navone is widely recognised as one of the most influential interior and product designers of our age. As a self-confessed globetrotter, she has developed her own unique and unconventional style that cannot be pigeon-holed into a particular genre.Born in Turin, she feels that her Italian origins also inform her work, particularly in terms of love of tradition and craftsmanship. In our “Questions & Answers“ she reveals what else she loves, what inspires her and who she would like to go for a drink with.
Never stop looking around you!
If you want to grasp the world of Paola Navone, you need to understand her irrepressible urge for creative freedom. Curiosity, a desire to explore and the courage to combine the seemingly irreconcilable have made this trained architect a design revolutionary. She no longer confines this pleasure in crossing boundaries to her work with big-name furniture and consumer goods manufacturers such as Cappellini, Gervasoni and Poliform, she has now also extended it to the worlds of fashion and jewellery design. In addition, she advises companies on corporate design, creates brand images and store and hotel interiors around the globe and even designs film sets. She has always kept to the same philosophy, which she urges all creative young designers to adopt: “Never stop looking at what’s around you! In every direction.”
A question of respect
This search for unrestrained creativity led the young Paola Navone into extremely high-powered circles. Shortly after graduation she joined the “Memphis Group” of post-modern designers founded by Ettore Sottsass and Alessandro Mendini whose aims still influence her work today. “A large part of my unconventional view of things comes from my time with the Alchimia and Memphis design movements, which in the late 1970s championed the anti-academic side of architecture in Italy,” she explains. And even if times have changed, the task of design remains the same: “To give form to things – from washing machines and tables to glassware.” Added to this, there is her desire to tread new paths, to dare to do things and not always to play things safe. “I believe that the challenge today is to reflect on sustainable, democratic, non-aggressive objects.” In terms of the design of everyday products, this also means a return to uncomplicatedness, to simplicity. “For me ‘simplicity’ is a word full of inspiration. It is in no way synonymous with mediocrity, monotony or convention. It has a lot to do with respect for things and for traditions. And, of course, it does not exclude the poetic, the beautiful and the ironic.”
The symbolic power of the sponge
Her wickerwork armchairs for Gervasoni give a holiday feel throughout the whole year. Her North African-inspired dinner service for Driade evokes the stories of The Thousand and One Nights, while her Panda furniture line for Cappellini are a humorous and playful recollection of her Asian influences. In her bathroom designs for Falper, the cosmopolitan Navone combines her wanderlust and constant search for multicultural inspiration with an understanding of comfort, convenience and function – as in the interior design for the Point Yamu luxury resort in Phuket/Thailand. There are countless examples of “the poetic, the beautiful and the ironic” in Paolo Navone’s designs. Her unconventional way of crossing stylistic boundaries and breaking through genre barriers makes the things she creates more than mere objects. She transforms them into items of desire with soul and character. However, they don’t need to be particularly special, she emphasises and gives the example of a design classic that once again provides insights into her non-conformist and freedom-loving perspective: “For me the sponge is the perfect symbol. It is natural, universally usable, democratic, trusted and to some extent ironic. All in all, a great example of ‘friendly design’, which in my opinion everything we create should be. Graceful, poetic, never aggressive, intuitive, simple and pop!”
Paola Navone, who has lived in Asia and has homes in Milan and Paris, is at home anywhere that she finds inspiration. She refers to herself as a nomad and is delighted that she can profit from the age of globalisation where influences from diverse worlds infect or ‘contaminate’ each other. “I like to describe my head as a sort of treasure trove in which I randomly collect images, sounds, smells and countless other impressions. This cabinet of curiosities also contains impressions from film, art and fashion. All my projects – each in its own way – are the result of contamination, where these things and ideas infect each other. I have long considered contamination as one of my particular driving forces.”
Nomadism meets la dolce vita
Although Paola Navone refers to the world as her creative home, she is aware of the influence that her origins have on how she thinks and acts. She carries the Italian ‘design DNA’ within her, which in her opinion manifests itself particularly in deeply rooted manufacturing traditions and a strong, inborn passion for the modern. “For me, Italian design has the ability to convey traditional savoir-faire using contemporary things.” Paola Navone will soon be displaying her Italian side at Ambiente 2016. She has already developed something for the partner country special presentation that embodies precisely this mix of tradition and modernity, kitsch and class, elegance and opulence that will connect people all over the world with the homeland of Michelangelo: “My mise-en-scène is inspired by typical Italian conviviality. I shall be presenting glass, ceramics, pottery and many other traditionally manufactured products on a giant table.” The freedom-loving designer emphasises that this presentation is not just a tribute to Mediterranean lightness and ‘la dolce vita’ but is also “ironically combined with poetry and pop”.
What inspires you?
The world around me is my endless resource. Hong Kong, Paris, India, Athens, New York, the Mediterranean. Even the little market around the corner. Wherever I am I always collect inspirations.
If time travel was possible where would you travel to?
To the future.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Who would you most like to go for a drink with?
Rei Kawakubo, founder and designer of Comme des Garçons.
Is there anything else that you’d like to design?
In my life I’ve designed almost everything. Currently I’d like to work more in the interior and hospitality sectors. More hotels, perhaps a boat.
What is your biggest sin?
Being a gourmet.
Which moment in your life would you like to experience again?
I’d like to return to my Asian roots.
Which three things would you take with you to a desert island?
My iPad, a cooking pot and my swimming flippers.
What’s your favourite colour?
I feel myself strongly attracted to cold colours. Colours of water and air, colours without an earthy character. I was born in March under the star sign Pisces and my natural element is water. Blue is my favourite colour. It has a hypnotic effect on me.
Which invention has changed your life the most?
The mobile phone.
Do you have a favourite piece of artwork?
My Picassiette vase. A gift from a lifelong friend.
What would be your perfect day of leisure?
Sleeping late and going swimming in the sea.
What is your philosophy?
In two words: curiosity and simplicity. Everything I do stems from my curiosity, an almost obsessive and childlike curiosity that lets me look around me in all directions. Wherever I am, every day, 24 hours a day.