Festa Italiana: Meet Rossana Orlandi, The Queen Of Design

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / May 31 2018 / 21:43 PM

The globally recognised design icon, who is the cover star of Bazaar Interiors Summer issue, is known for championing the careers of designers on the rise. Rebecca Anne Proctor visits her eclectic gallery in Milan

Festa Italiana: Meet Rossana Orlandi, The Queen Of Design
Photography by Brando Cimarosti
Rossana wears Gucci and Rossana Orlandi Eyewear; Pictured here are the Circe armchair, Eos table and Gaea pendant by Ini Archibong for Sé

There’s a bustle of activity on Milan’s Via Matteo Bandello. It’s hard to expect anything less during Salone del Mobile, the city’s pre-eminent design fair when the entire design world flocks to Italy. Yet the throngs of visitors outside Rossana Orlandi’s gallery seem denser than in other places. The Milan gallerist presented a vibrant selection of her personal design pieces and a new project called Senso di Colpa, which translates to “Guilty Feeling” in English. The iconic Rossana, a mover and shaker in Milan’s design scene, walks around energetically greeting guests. Her white hair wisped up into a tight bun, she dons her signature big glasses and is dressed in her fashionably eclectic attire. Rossana is a marvel and visitors seem just as eager to meet her as they are to peruse her impressively curated exhibition.

Rossana Orlandi

Rossana Orlandi

For this year’s Salone, the former tie factory, which was recovered in 2002, has been transformed by Rossana into an exhibition space showcasing the creations of some of the most talented minds in design. And Rossana is the trend scouter – it is she who selects and curates the roster of avant-garde exhibitions that take place inside this lively, industrial space. The space hosted a temporary pavilion designed by Italian Jacopo Foggini featuring a conference room and Illy lounge bar. Inside, there is a space decorated with Telami chairs and Dedar canvases as well as a slew of other quirky design pieces that allow visitors to pause and ponder what they see.

Senso Di Colpa is dedicated to raising awareness on the theme of recycling plastics – an apt subject in today’s design sphere. Surely, elegance, creativity and reusable materials can join hands in innovative design, especially if Rossana is at the helm. The project Guilty Feeling has now been renamed Guiltless Plastic. First portraying trauma and disaster in the environment, the exhibition now reveals avant-garde design pieces made through recycled goods. “Plastic has become a worldwide disaster,” says Rossana. “However, if recycled and transformed, it becomes a new resource with enormous possibilities and potentials.” The project will soon be online for everyone to enjoy.

Rossana Orlandi

Giraffe by Benedetta Mori Ubaldini, and QTZ 100% Recycled by Alexander Lotersztain for Ecopixel

Once a fashion designer, Rossana now loathes the word “trendsetter.” Yet her eye for spotting design talent is legendary; she’s like the Anna Wintour of the design world with an Iris Apfel-like fashion sense. Her signature white, big-framed sunglasses, quirky fashion sense and larger-than-life character endow her with an almost mythic quality. She’s an elegant cartoon brought to life – one which immediately puts you to ease and inspires all around her to go off and discover something new. And that’s exactly how Rossana has risen to fame: by discovering design talents all over the world and displaying them in new thought-provoking ways. Exhibiting at her three-storey, 19,000 square-foot place signifies a rite of passage for many of today’s aspiring designers. She has helped launch the careers of Maarten Baas, Piet Hein Eek, Nacho Carbonell, Formafantasma and her last talent Guglielmo Poletti, among many others.

Rossana Orlandi

Rossana wears Etro, Marras, Chanel, Miha Woo and Rossana Orlandi Eyewear

The scion of textile industrialists, Rossana always had a passion for all things creative. Born in the countryside outside of Milan, she was constantly fascinated by art, design and fashion. She then went on to work as a fashion designer. “It’s so important to always watch what is going on in the world and how it influences fashion and design,” says Rossana. “Fashion has always been important to me but I decided to stop after a certain time because it wasn’t exciting to me anymore. I have worked with all the designers but my most memorable time was with Coco Chanel.” While her time in fashion might be a thing of the past, style is still very much a constant for Rossana. Over the past decade, since her influence has grown, she’s enjoyed almost iconic status in the pages of countless fashion magazines – her warmth, sense of humour and grace captivate all around her.

When Rossana came across what is now her gallery space on Via Matteo Bandello over 15 years ago, she immediately fell in love. “I bought it originally thinking I would come here with my family but the family decided not to live together and said for me to do whatever I wanted with it and so I did what I love: work with my beloved designers,” she smiles. And it’s a process that is ongoing. Rossana is always on the lookout for new talent. “When I like something I offer the designer my space but oftentimes the designers get in touch directly with me and I have to select,” she says. “I am always researching, attending design fairs around the world with my daughter Nicoletta, reading magazines and visiting design schools.”

Rossana Orlandi

From left to right: Light Stacks collection by Matt Gagnon; Queer #3 by UNDUO + BIANCODICHINA; Olive desk and chair by Enrico Marone Cinzano; Holons by Martens and Visser; Aurora screen by McCollin Bryan; The Okaukuejo Waterhole by Anotherview; Tower cabinet by Nika Zupanc; Closet for Guest by Andrea Russo; The Humpback Dreadnought by Major Darling; and Frosted Ombre glass chair by Germans Ermics

Additionally, Rossana participates as a judge on numerous competitions – something that similarly helps her to discover fresh talent. She quips as she remembers the first item she ever acquired. “A lamp designed by Sebastian Wrong in two sizes – one big and one small – created in the same material as is used to create spaceships,” she smiles. “It was a lamp chosen by Flos which sold it for many years after.” The lamp, emphasises Rossana, continues to be an iconic design piece even today due to its fascinating form and use of materials. And it’s items such as this – timeless in aesthetic appeal – that Rossana is constantly on the lookout for.

Rossana Orlandi

Medusa Bloom lighting installation by OCHRE

In 2008, Rossana made the decision to show design-art pieces as a gallery and has since shown at such prestigious fairs as Design Miami/Basel. Her Milan space is articulated in an untraditional way – just like the design pieces that she shows. There’s a retail store, several offices, a courtyard with a luscious mix of vibrantly coloured flowers displayed artfully by a resident Japanese florist. Everything, despite apparent differences in form, function and materials, works together. The space offers a true marriage of art and design. “There are definitely designers that are artists, like Nacho Carbonell,” she says. “Design is a product but it depends on whether a designer wants to do a unique piece or make a production. But when it enters the realm of art, a design object is unique and handmade and one-of-a-kind.”

All becomes one exciting mix of fascinating pieces at Rossana’s space. There’s Marcantonio’s white giraffe sculpture with a decadent chandelier that dangles from the animal’s mouth, Beirut-based Nada Debs’s contemporary furnishings and objects with their Eastern flair, Korean brand Mete that couples metal with shiny enamel surfaces and prized upholsteries, and also French brand Moustache, which showed their new TGV Lamp by Ionna Vautrin, created for SNCF (French National Railways) in a domestic version, among many others. There’s never a lack of something new, experimental and visionary at Rossana’s.

Rossana Orlandi 

‘She is in love but she didn’t know it yet’ giraffe sculpture and ‘Five minutes alone’ dog sculpture by Marcantonio; PERSEO sculpture (Gatto Silvestro e Titti) by G+G; Alusion collection tables by Francesco Meda; and Monkey side table by Jaime Hayon for BD Barcelona Design

The Milanese gallerist beams as she talks about the opening of her temporary space in Porto Cervo, Sardegna. The annual pop-up “design village,” as she calls it, taking place from June until September,  showcases some of the best in design. She’s previously shown the work of Tom Dixon, Bokja’s chairs reborn in vintage Lebanese textiles, Maarten Baas, and many others. “It’s a wonderful chance for me to show these designers to everyone who comes to Sardegna,” she says, stating how the Italian island has the best sea in the world.

“I am always working last minute,” she laughs. “It makes it hard for everyone who works with me. I only like to plan when it is time to execute. I get bored and I change and that’s why it is better to do everything last minute.” It’s all about living serendipitously for Rossana. On the horizon is a possible trip to Beirut to discover Middle Eastern designers. Rossana, as we all know well, never stops. And it’s her laughter, sense of style, and iconic personality that have led her to create her design kingdom  – one that knows no cultural or aesthetic boundaries. Long live the Queen! 

Photography by Brando Cimarosti; Make-up by Fabienne Rea; Rossanaorlandi.com