Rossana Orlandi, a global icon with a nose for the future

Fittingly friends with Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, who is also the director of the School of Form in Poland, Milan-based Rossana Orlandi is another global icon with a nose for the future.

Curious and instinctive, Orlandi has become a launching pad for some of the most exciting emerging designers working around the world such as Eindhoven-based storyteller Nacho Carbonell, the Dutch scrap-wood specialist Piet Hein Eek, Spanish craft-challenger Jaime Hayon and Swedish group Front Design, showcasing them in an environment that functions beyond a gallery space. 

She has also opened up a neighbouring eatery called Pane e Acqua where some of the pieces from the space get to live.

Instantly recognisable by her distinctive silver hair pulled back into a bun and saucer-sized round glasses,  Orlandi was born to textile industrialists, starting out as a fashion designer. 

Later she became intrigued with curating design and converted an abandoned tie and foulard factory into an arresting living area for limited edition design art. 

Since then she has become both taste-shaper and an unofficial cultural ambassador for Milan. Spazio Rossana Orlandi in the Magenta district has become one of the hippest destinations for design worldwide.

With a lush, wide courtyard that welcomes you into a magical space that works as a store and an exhibition area, unique and surprising pieces drop down from leafy ceilings, pop out from cobbled corridors and neatly wind their way around your eye's travels. 

You are a launching pad for young designers. What compelled you? 
It happened naturally. I do like to take designers at their "birth" and help them to grow and to build their path. I am always open to discussing ideas with them and to help to guide their decisions, as I am aware that a commercial success is a key feature to permit them to grow.

How do you choose who to bring into your space? 
I love to work with people who self-produce products that keep the charm and fascination of a handmade creation without any of the limitations that industrial production tends to give original prototypes. I choose work that I love and at the same time I feel can be commercially successful. I enjoy getting the chance to help the designers in the process and to discuss different options with them.

Nacho Carbonell is one of the designers you work with. You both also have similar ideas about sharing and eating. What influence did that philosophy have on extending your brand? 
Since I consider the table the most important place in a house, and in our life at a certain moment, I felt the need to have a place close to my gallery where I could meet with friends or clients. A place to feel good. That is how Pane e Acqua came about.

Your parents were textile industrialists. Describe their impact on your choices. 
I have been working with threads and fabrics for a long time and it definitely helped to improve my "eye" and also to be receptive to completely different influences. In fashion there are so many challenges that improve your way of solving problems.

Have you always been assured about your sense of aesthetics and style? 
I think my style is eclectic, curious and decisive and it also reflects my choices in design. I consider myself cosmopolitan, and I have been influenced by the lifestyles of the various cities I get a chance to visit. The most important thing is being receptive to whatever I see in the street, in the people around me, in someone else's house or even in magazines. This is something I learnt from the years I worked in fashion.

What are your thoughts on Cape Town as this year's world design capital? 
I love Cape Town. I used to spend my Christmas holidays there but during that time most of the ateliers were closed, so I am really happy to come back in a different time and have the chance to see more. The artisans in South Africa are so good and full of creativity that often the results become more than design, almost a piece of art.

What do you hope to discover from your time here and what do you hope to leave behind? 
I like the idea of being confronted by a different world, with different people and a different market. More than to teach I hope to be able to have been taught by the people here. 

What do you think design's biggest legacy or power for social change can be? 
Design surrounds and sometimes supports us. In that way, a good piece of design can really have a positive influence on our daily lives.

Is there a difference between art and design? 
That is a really common question nowadays and it's maybe even not necessary to answer it anymore. What I am interested in is the creativity. It doesn't matter if it is also functional.

What is the most overrated and the most underrated design trend? 
I think today the most overrated trend is this urge and obsession to always present new things and the most underrated is to produce less, with more responsibility and efficiency. 

Zanele Kumalo is the features editor of Marie Claire magazine and the M&G arts editor's sister.

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