ONE WEEK ABOUT Ten years Dutch designers in Milan by curator David Heldt (Connecting the Dots), interviews by Viveka van de Vliet
Jacco Bregonje feels like a cosmopolitan.The Dutch industrial designer lives since 1992 in Italy and has a home in the Netherlands, works for international companies, and travels around the world. Every year, he watches Dutch designers descending on Milan. ‘They conquer the world in one week with their pop-up catwalk’.
Ten years ago, Industrial designer Jacco Bregonje exhibited already in Zona Tortona together with Marko Macura and Italian furniture label Felicerossi. A few days before the opening, the Dutch arrived. With their subsidized trucks and construction teams, they entered the Zona Tortona, Jacco says. ‘It was somewhat frustrating, because we had to finance and build everything ourselves.’
The Dutch work together and move in groups. Italians don’t act like that. The design world is very protective in Italy; the designers of the older generation often stay working until a later age and do not hand over the profession to the young generation. A lot has changed in recent years, Jacco knows. Currently he works with Dutch designers like Lex Pott and Dick van Hoff for German brand Hartweil. ‘They are down-to-earth designers who have become entrepreneurs and establish contacts with the industry. These designers seem not to be interested in the Milan fair and don’t think that circus is all that important’.
For Bregonje, this fair is a ‘proof of concept’, which he uses to launch products such as the innovative stove for Boretti. ‘It is a fantastic test case because the whole world is passing by and you can see what the response is, as was also the case with his experiments with 3D knitted furniture, an innovation deriving from the fashion industry. There are more brands, such as Vitra, Lexus, and Hermes, that collaborate with artists and designers to create a total experience for their brand, as Jacco is doing with Boretti or Hartweil. For him, Milan certainly remains the perfect place for informal encounters and the exchange of experiences. ‘Human contact is inspiring’.
As a young designer today, it is perhaps more difficult to distinguish yourself and build a future, he thinks. ‘But the profession has become broader and more integrated, and designers develop a responsibility as creative minds that can contribute to solving problems throughout the world’.
For many it seems like Dutch Design was put on the map in 1993 with Droog Design. Jacco sees this differently. For him, Dutch Design started back with designers like Aldo van den Nieuwelaar, Bruno Ninaber van Eyben, and Friso Kramer. In any case, he left for Italy a year before his Dutch contemporaries would settle there with Droog. He knew ‘that’s where it was happening’. He did an internship at Maarten Kusters’ studio. There was a click. What started out as a short stay resulted in a successful ten year career at Whirlpool Corporation. Initially, Bregonje felt like an expat who looked at Italy through rose-coloured glasses. But as time passed, he became a Dutch designer working with major Italian companies. He still lives with his son and wife – fashion stylist Mirjam Breukers – near Lago Maggiore.
‘In those days, we followed the Dutch designers with amazement’, he says. ‘As a designer in Italy, you have to take on everything to stay upright. The engine of the design profession is the industry and the government has no cultural agenda. In the Netherlands, there is hardly a manufacturing industry to speak of, the government has become the engine that supports the profession. Of course, it’s fantastic that designers are supported by the government. Many good designers were able to break through internationally and were given the opportunity to experiment with government money’, Bregonje says. This creates a difference in the type of work and the type of designer, he believes. ‘But because Dutch designers have become more entrepreneurial and are seeking contact with the industry, and Italian designers have looked at Dutch design, they are growing closer. That makes it easy for me to work in both countries’, he says.
As a nomad, Bregonje travels the world, He absorbs his experiences like a sponge and squeezes them out into new projects. As an independent designer, he develops brands, designs interiors, and is a creative director and co-owner of Italian furniture label Felicerossi (which he and Marco Macura work for, as do Karim Rashid, Matali Crasset, Maarten Kusters, and Toshiyuki Kita). He is also creative director of German technical ceramics brand Hartweil and lead designer for Boretti, the Dutch-Italian kitchen brand. ‘Italy has the industry that hardly exists anymore in the Netherlands. It’s all about quality here, it’s in the genes of the proud Italians and meanwhile also a bit in me’.
Thanks to Connecting the Dots
Interview: Viveka van de Vliet
Portrait photo: Boudewijn Bollmann