When describing their sensibility, Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto of the Milan-based Studiopepe invoke the versatility of classic white shirt: “You can wear it anytime, to go to the supermarket or to a soirée. The same is for design. Good design — whether a masterpiece or anonymous — goes with everything.” Their evocative aesthetic, though, is anything but simple. “Eclecticism and curiosity” are important starting points for them, and their output is rich with visual references, ranging from the harmony of classical forms to the glamour of Italian cinema in the ‘60s. But they don’t merely quote their source material, they transform it.
Di Pinto and Lelli Mami met as students at the Politecnico di Milano, where they both majored in design. It wasn’t until they encountered each other by chance on a beach vacation in Mexico — “where there wasn’t really anything but the hammocks” — that they bonded and decided to collaborate, opening Studiopepe in 2006. Their first joint project “was commissioned by Casa da Abitare, a beautiful magazine that doesn’t exist anymore. The story was a very iconographic shoot on the theme of Surrealism and nonsense and was chosen for the cover. Not bad for two beginners!” More editorial styling gigs followed, for various international editions of Elle Décor, and T Magazine, among others. And they began consulting for design and fashion brands, as well as doing interiors, installations, and eventually, their own product design. (We remain obsessed with their Kora vase from a few years ago). It’s a satisfying mix: they can go dreamlike and mysterious in print and then puzzle out the practicalities necessary to make lasting, functional objects. They’ve expanded their team and this year they plan to open a new branch of the studio dedicated to interior architecture. Though they’re growing, Lelli Mami and Di Pinto continue to provide the “strong creative direction.”
“Being part of a duo, it’s always like a dialogue where we each add a little piece in the creative process and the result is like 1+1=3!” Adding up to more than the sum of its parts, their method results in striking work that is also conversational, inviting, human. “We don’t like an ambiance full of iconic pieces but without a story between them.” They’re more about placing objects in relation to one another so that “a design masterpiece can talk with a flea market chair.” Their eye is as inclusive as it is refined, and when it comes to influences, we suspect these multi-talented women had a hard time narrowing it down to just eight. So consider this a start.
As a high school student in Vienna, Thomas Traxler followed a course of study fairly typical for Austrian teens. Having had the choice to either study liberal arts — as his future partner Katharina Mischer was doing — or to specialize, he chose to immerse himself in the world of automation techniques. Typical school projects included constructing a kind of assembly-line handling system to transfer goods from one conveyor belt to the other. “It prepares you to work in an engineering office constructing machines that eliminate the need for people,” Traxler, now 29, explains. “It wasn’t creative at all; you had to make things the cheapest, fastest, most durable, and easiest way. After the third year, I knew I didn’t want to continue.” When he ended up at design school as an undergrad, where he met Mischer, the pair were pretty much coming from opposite worlds: She was interested in art, nature, and the unexpected, and he was still learning how to reconcile those things with his inclination for the mechanical. So in a way, their collaboration was both perfect and inevitable. “In technical school you’re trained as a technical idiot — you’re not meant to think out of the box,” he says. “So it’s important to have the perspective of someone who’s not in the box.”
Australian wine capital Adelaide has a population of 1.3 million, putting it on par with Dallas or San Diego. But as native Daniel To sees it, it’s a big city with a small-town mentality — one that nearly consigned him and his wife Emma Aiston to a life designing laundry lines. “We met at the University of South Australia, where our design program was heavily engineering based and suited to what’s required for the city's industry,” explains To. “Adelaide has three main manufacturing companies: one making garden sheds, one light switches, and a third clothes-drying lines.” Rather than learning about mid-century modern, Memphis, or the Bauhaus — all of which would later inform their work as the independent studio Daniel Emma — the pair were taught to perfect their technical-drawing skills and gear up to become cogs in the local wheel. Just as they were starting their final projects in 2006, though, they had a kind of mutual awakening.
In some ways, Marc Jacobs is a bit like Oprah. With a flick of his influential magic wand, Posh Spice can suddenly be considered cool, Bleecker Street can become the place you simply must open your New York shop, and a Madrid-based, husband-and-wife graphic-design duo can go from virtual unknowns to the toast of magazines and blogs around the world. That’s what happened two years ago to Julia Vergara and Javier G. Bayo, co-principals of the print and pattern design shop SuTurno, whose Bolsaco tote — a simple canvas bag made from vintage stock found in an old warehouse in Spain — was spied by two of Jacobs’ buyers at the Madrid shop Peseta. “It was the first product we ever made with the SuTurno label on it, and it actually became our most hyped design to date,” says Bayo. The two were asked to produce a limited edition of bags for the Marc by Marc Jacobs stores in the States, and they promptly sold out within a few days.