The classic innovator: Claudio Luti, CEO of Kartell
by Peter Howarth
Classic design meets innovative technology in eye-catching furniture at Kartell, say Peter Howarth
Kartell is one of the most famous names in Italian furniture design, and this is squarely because of the vision of Claudio Luti, the company’s CEO. A former MD of Versace, Luti bought Kartell from his father-in-law in 1987 and set about reimagining this traditional Milanese company for a new era - making it one of the top yacht interior design brands to know about this season.
Not only did he understand the importance of design and glamour – something he’d learnt in the fashion industry – he also saw an opportunity to work with new technologies and materials. In particular he recognised the potential of humble plastics, then more associated with cheap goods and yet thoroughly modern, adaptable and ripe for championing.
“I invited Philippe Starck to be my first designer,” remembers Luti, “and he created his first chair for Kartell – Dr Glob in 1988. That chair already embodied all the key elements that you will find in all other Kartell products: research, sophistication of materials, glamorous design, functionality, industrial dimension and high quality at a reasonable price.”
Ten years later Starck was back, making use of a process for injecting new materials such as polycarbonate. “La Marie by Philippe Starck was the first transparent chair in the world realised in one single moulding,” says Luti proudly. “Today, after more than 15 years since La Marie, we are able to inject 35kg of polycarbonate in one single moulding for the Uncle Jack sofa by Philippe Starck, which is two metres long.”
Starck is, of course, no stranger to boat design and Luti, as a successful Italian businessman, is also a passionate sailor. “I love sailing. I have had my sailing boat since 2000 and I spend all my summer sailing on the Mediterranean,” he says. “As soon as the summer comes back, I work hard during the week and spend all my weekends on the sea.”
And does he have lots of Kartell furniture on board? “As I have a sailing boat, not a yacht, I only have little pieces or accessories from Kartell. However, I think that they would absolutely fit in a yacht, too, especially because they are light, user-friendly and, in many cases, also good for outdoor use.”
Luti explains that the company has helped several owners to furnish their yachts but that, on a more basic level, he makes many pieces that would readily work on board. “Kartell products are easy to mix with other styles and they simply fit into every environment.”
Today, Kartell has plenty of those products – more than 150 ranges in all – and carries on investing in R&D. “This year we present the very first chair with an exclusive new compound of a new polymer with carbon: Piuma by Piero Lissoni (pictured),” says Luti. “This is the lightest and thinnest chair in the world! Two kilograms and two millimetres for a super-strong and stable chair that can easily fit indoors or outdoors, with incomparable performance in terms of both durability and functionality.”
Lissoni is just one of the designers that Luti now counts as being “part of the team”. Along with the likes of Starck, Ferruccio Laviani and Antonio Citterio, who have worked with the company for some 20 years, Kartell can now also call on the talents of Lissoni, Eugeni Quitllet, Alberto Meda, Patricia Urquiola, Tokujin Yoshioka and Nendo, to name but a few of the designers on its books.