Achille is Watching Us

There were thousands of exhibitions going on in Milan two weeks ago, when the annual furniture fair took over the city, stuffing its subway cars and panini shops full of hungover design tourists. But in terms of sheer number of designers represented per square foot, one emerged a clear winner: “Achille is Watching Us,” for which the young Maastricht-based designer and journalist Matylda Krzykowski and architect Marco Gabriele Lorusso managed to corral no less than 32 marquis names — Nacho Carbonell, Peter Marigold, and Bless among them — into an empty shopfront no larger than the average New Yorker’s bedroom. That’s because the pair, after being offered the space for free by the building’s wealthy and culturally savvy owner, decided not to show any design inside it all. Instead, they asked the talents Krzykowski had befriended through her blog, Mat&Me, to each contribute one small personal belonging and tell the story behind it. “Milan is so commercial — it’s about retailing and selling,” Krzykowski explains. “You get so caught up in looking at what’s new that you get lost in it. This year we decided to turn it around, to look at the things that are really important.”

It was Krzykowski’s experience visiting designers’ studios for Mat&Me that gave her insight into just how important everyday objects can be to designers, who not only cherish them and look to them for inspiration, but tend to jump at the chance to wax poetic about them. “Whenever I see one of these meaningful items in a designer’s studio and ask about it, they always tell me a nice precious story about why they got it, why they kept it, and why they have it on display.” When she and Lorusso realized that everyday objects were just as pivotal to the practice of legendary Milan-based designer Achille Castiglione, whose collection-filled studio is now a museum not far from the space they were invited to show in, the curators contacted Castiglione’s daughter Giovanna for permission to name their project in his honor.

That turned out to be the easy part; she said yes almost immediately. Much harder was getting the designers involved to actually pony up an object for the show. Though they were surrounded by personal possessions in their homes and studios, some of them felt they had begun to take them for granted and couldn’t quite see them clearly anymore, and others were simply overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing just one personal story to tell. “I visited Chris Kabel in his studio, and even though he knew I was coming two days before, he still said he didn’t have anything yet because he had to think about it so hard,” Krzykowski recalls. “The two girls from Bless said they’re not really attached to objects, even if they design shitloads of them” — and yet their selections, posted at right along with 13 others from the exhibition, were among the most intriguing of the bunch.

Then there was the collective nervousness everyone involved felt about the vulnerability of the items on display, which were tied down with fishing wire over the course of the show. Some of the designers called Krzykowski wondering if they would ever get their treasured possessions back. “I was so worried in the beginning that I told Marco I wanted to sleep in the exhibition,” she says, though luckily, her worries ultimately proved unfounded. “You can’t replace these things with money. It’s memories.”