At 60, Kartell's View Is Clear

Kartell, the industrial design company, can flaunt unrivaled fashion ties and designs footwear to boot.

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Kartell Ballet flats.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

MILAN — Kartell, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, is known for elevating plastic from cheap to groovy with fruit-salad-colored pieces designed by Philippe Starck, Ron Arad and Antonio Citterio. The industrial design company also can flaunt unrivaled fashion ties.

The fashion connection revs up during Milan’s Salone del Mobile furniture fair in April, when Kartell’s edgy lamps, chairs and vases decorate store windows either as props or as customized items, such as the fuchsia Bourgie lamp created for Blumarine, the floral printed Missoni sofa and Dolce & Gabbana’s limited edition maculated chair. Kartell also has hooked up with Dsquared, Moschino, Etro and fine jeweler Vhernier.

Teaming up with fashion houses is more than marketing for the company. Claudio Luti, Kartell’s owner and chief executive officer, was Gianni Versace’s business guru in the late Seventies and Eighties, when the designer gained major momentum. Santo Versace, whom Luti met during his military service, introduced Luti to Gianni Versace.

“I was very involved in Gianni’s world and lived that experience very intensely,” he recalled. “Sales were booming and we self-financed the company. I’m talking about Milan’s golden period when, besides fashion, the Americans started discovering the city, the food, its palazzi, La Scala and their courtyards. It was amazing.”

In 1988, the relationship with Versace started to ebb because of the designer’s spending. That same year, he used the money from the sale of his Versace shares to acquire Kartell, founded in 1949 by Giulio Castelli.

To help woo customers, the windows of Kartell’s 270 stores worldwide are changed often, just as in fashion.

“One time the theme is color, then it’s design or function,” Luti said. “We want people to change their decor without waiting for a divorce,” he chuckled.

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