by Heather Stewart Feldman
When artist, ceramist and fabric and fashion designer Giuseppe Picone passed away in 2008, he left behind a precious gift to Italian craft history. Picone's invaluable artistic legacy and many contributions were key in defining the "Made in Italy" generation.
The three leading ladies of his life—his wife, Dominique Giroud Picone; his stepdaughter, Sophie Morichi; and his granddaughter, Martina Bersani—recently re-opened the Studio Picone Roma archives and pieced together a book of his work. Since 2008, the trio has turned to his past to design the future of the brand that they so value and respect—focusing on finding forms for reinterpreting the designs and prints produced by Picone over the span of his 50-year career, and do so in modern ways that will mimic the original aesthetic of Studio Picone Roma.
Today the brand is called Archivio Picone and, using Milan’s international furniture fair Salone del Mobile in April from which to launch, the women opened the doors to the new physical Archivio Picone space and presented their book "Archivio Studio Picone Roma." We got to visit the new studio and archive, and talk with Morichi, Bersani and designer Andrea Flagosa about their history and new beginnings: a shoe line set to launch in SS14, a clothing line designed and created using the original fabric prints from the archive and a flatware collection inspired by original Picone ceramics.
What made you decide to open Archivio Picone in Milan?
Milan is the city I live in, but it's also where Giuseppe first exhibited his ceramics with Gio Ponti at the Triennale di Milano museum in 1954. It's here that he made his most important contacts Adriano Olivetti and critic Roberto Pane, and found the best career opportunities.
Can you give us some insight into Giuseppe Picone’s career and the history of his brand Studio Picone Roma?
It all started in Milan. The magazine Domus published his earliest ceramics in 1954, and Olivetti invited him to participate in the Freedom Movement. Following that, he presented his first solo exhibition in Ivrea. His work was highly regarded, first in northern Europe and then in the US and Latin America, so he began to travel, show and sell his pieces in all of these places. In Capri in 1958, he met Regina Relang, a fashion photographer and avid collector of his ceramics. She suggested to him to move his patterns from ceramics to fabrics to create a line of clothing. This encounter was fundamental to his career—with this switch he began to really feel the movement of color for the first time; creating with it freely, far from the rigidity of working with ceramics.
He decided to move from Naples to Rome, painting first on canvas and then with silkscreen printing patterns that he had drawn onto fabrics. Initially, he designed for Krizia, Cole of California and other brands, and then he decided to open Studio Picone Roma in order to create his own brand. The materials he used were only of the highest quality and his assistant expressed exasperation with Giuseppe’s perfectionism. It's in this way, however, that he was able to distinguish himself as one of the creators of Haute Couture in the early '60s. He became so well-known in those years that in the early '70s he was contacted by a Japanese retail group that began importing his clothing in Japan, and with this venture he aided the genesis of "Made in Italy." But it was different in Italy, where Studio Picone Roma remained an artisan reality for a refined niche of consumers.
During this time, Biki Japan acquired the license to the brand. We are now in the '80s–the world of fashion was laying golden eggs and this allowed Giuseppe to have his fabric printing workshop, store and showroom all within a 1,500 ft. radius in the center of Rome—producing limited amounts of garments made with customized colors. An anomaly within the world of fashion, for him the word "marketing" was derogatory. Relieved of production agreements with the Japanese group, in the '90s he picked up ceramics again, putting on exhibits at the Gabbiano and the Spazio Sette in Rome, and drew an endless array of sketches, where the little priest becomes a character with a life of its own.
You recently wrote a book with your mother about the projects and life of the artist–how was the experience of completing that project? Did you discover things about him that you didn’t know before?
At first it seemed like an act of duty. At home I have some catalogs that Giuseppe had given me as examples of what to include in a book about his work. After his death in 2008, when going through boxes, we found some drawings on paper that we had never seen before. They're incredibly beautiful. For the book, we rebuilt pieces of his life story from before my mother met him in 1970, through stories from friends and the thousands of notes he had written over the course of 50 years. Little by little, what seemed destined to be a book for just a few close friends and family members turned into the first volume of the Studio Picone Roma Archive.
Who was Giuseppe Picone for you? Did you ever work with him?
Giuseppe was the husband of my mother, a second father. His creativity molded who I have become and he taught me how to overcome my own limitations. We collaborated on something years ago, but we never actually worked together, he worked alone. It's only now that I'm working with him after he's gone.
How would you describe his creativity and artistic style?
There is an anecdote that is representative of his way of conceiving reality: I was little and we were moving from one house in Rome to another. I was angry and complaining because there weren’t any pieces of paper to draw on. I had found a box of markers, but no paper. So he took out a bedsheet, laid it on the ground and said, "What's the problem, no paper? Draw on this sheet."
What or who were his main artistic influences?
In the beginning it was northern Europe, with the clean shapes and primary colors in the '50s. The inspiration he got from Marimekko evoked spontaneity, but then Giuseppe would add creative Mediterranean and Neapolitan touches. We have kept the catalogs from exhibitions and shows during those years and the influences notably prevail from northern Europe.
He made ceramics, painted fabrics and designed clothes—all by hand? Which of these was his true passion?
There are different series of ceramics and fabrics, hand-painted ones and those produced using screen-printing. Ceramics and fabrics were the support for a line and a color for him; it wasn’t so much about the materials themselves. He wanted clean shapes and canvases for displaying his messages. Many fabrics were printed in Como. The colors research and the light they emanated was his biggest challenge.
Is there a story behind the logo of the "little priest?"
He was born by chance—as Giuseppe himself used to say—between 1955-1958 when he was looking for a signature for his works; today we would call this a logo. One afternoon, while walking in Posillipo, he saw students in robes leaving from a Jesuit college, and all of these dots and black lines stood out graphically against the white square they were in. The young priest is a pretext, it was simply about the design for him. Then it became a personal challenge to see how many ways he could represent him, give him life, but also give him a solid space for portraying his overflowing creativity. With this logo, Giuseppe performed an interesting operation, something self-referential: creating a brand that doesn't need a brand name since it already subtly contains this design.
What are three adjectives that describe Picone for you?
Volcanic, brilliant and profound. I'd also say undervalued.
You say he contributed to the definition of "Made in Italy"—why do you think he is undervalued in the world of Italian fashion and art? Could opening the archive studio change this?
Giuseppe remained "marginal" in the fashion world because he wanted to remain independent and free from the traditional logic of the market. In the '80s many things changed, and he remained in his own world, aided by the contract with Biki Japan. The Archive is a means for finding new opportunities to make his work known today. Right now we are looking for a suitable location in Rome for presenting an exhibit of the Archives.
What project of his is your favorite?
The series of tempera paintings on A4 paper—the only ones that don’t contain the little priest. For these, if he couldn’t find a brush fine enough for the line he wanted to make, he would cut strands of his hair and attach them to a wooden handle and used that to paint. These are more mysterious, we found hundreds of them, but unfortunately we’ll never know their exact story. Also, the high-fashion garments in silk from the '70s—they're so refined in their graphics that they seem like they could have been designed today. Pieces of silkscreened wool from Como that are made using a corrosion technique (that is no longer used) make the vibrations of color razor-sharp.
What are the future plans for Archivio Picone?
My daughter Martina and I are working on several fronts: clothing, furniture fabrics and ceramics for the home. For our clothing line we are working with designer Andrea Folgosa who has chosen some all-over patterns that have inspired the cut of the various garments. The collection "0" of Archivio Picone—15 season-less garments in silk and cotton of excellent quality and made in Italy—will be entitled “La Cimosa Parlata,” of "The Selvage Speaks." The same prints will also be proposed for the decor fabrics or wallpaper, and new digital printing techniques now allow for significantly reduced production costs and therefore we can remain independent—our ultimate goal. Same for the ceramics, we found laboratories in Sesto Fiorentino and we are redesigning some ceramics for the home. Our goal is to produce all of the pieces of our collections in Italy. It’s important to recuperate the value of "Made in Italy"—this is a country with thousands of resources, made up of local small businesses that possess the knowledge that is essential for creativity. It’s the interactions with these craft realities that make Italian creativity unique.
Ceramic archive images courtesy of Archivio Picone, all other images by Heather Stewart Feldman