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Matteo Agati: changing the past with an object

By Marco Cresci
7 min read

As a child, he dreamed of being an inventor, and he actually didn’t get too far. Matteo Agati, young talent of Made in Italy design, tells us about his studio, collaborations and projects in which he reinterprets classic lines from the past with his contemporary vision, breaking the mold. With his studio, Matteo Agati has collaborated with important names such as Versace, Off-White and Cappellini, and has also taught at Marangoni in Milan. We had a chat with him in anticipation of his first personal capsule collection.

Hi Matteo, how are you and where are you? 

Matteo Agati: «Hi! I wanted to thank you for this interview.

I’m currently in Milan and, despite the situation we are living in, I must say that I’m doing well even though I am burdened, like everyone else». 

Tell us how you started your career as a designer? 

Matteo Agati: «I remember that as a child, I wanted to be both a magician and an inventor. I grew up with parents whose creativity was tangible (my father was more pragmatic and a problem solver, while my mom was more artistic). I think that it was this mix that largely influenced me. Growing up, I went to design college, and I found he right combination of creativity and technique in this path, which made my heart vibrate immediately. Since the first years of university, I decided to approach the work world while studying, so I increased my experience in some design studios as a helper, intern, junior designer: I wanted to experience real work. Finally, in 2015, after graduation and a master’s degree, I felt ready to start my own studio».

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You also studied abroad for a while, in Gothenburg (Sweden), what did you learn from a country that has very different habits from ours? 

Matteo Agati: «A life experience abroad enriches you on every front, not only educationally. My stay in Gothenburg was complicated but fascinating: a country like Sweden puts you in front of many extreme conditions, for example, the climate and the imbalance between the hours of day and night. On the other hand, I had the chance to admire breathtaking landscapes and to interact with culture – in its own way – warm and welcoming. Moreover, the Nordic countries have a very deep culture and tradition of design, Scandinavian Design, which I appreciate very much, and which has undoubtedly contributed to the formation of my design process and was the real reason why I chose to undertake such an experience». 

In 2015 you won Sit Down!, the international competition launched by Istituto Marangoni and the design brand Cappellini. You won with the Pagh lounge chair that takes its inspiration from the art of meditation. What was the experience like?

Matteo Agati: «I must say that I really enjoyed designing Pagh. In that project, I wanted to find a meeting point between Eastern and Western culture: from the former, I sought the starting inspiration, the concept of meditation and, taking it to extremes, levitation; from the West, on the other hand, I took the essentiality of shapes and chromatic nuances.

Matteo Agati

The result is a seat that comes from the study of the typical posture used in the art of meditation: sitting with crossed legs. Hence the idea of using the concept of meditation, levitation and lightness in the form. Pagh consists of a wooden structure and two large cushions, placed one on top of the other, which seem to float in the air as if they were levitating. The cushions are supported by a folded metal sheet and not by a wooden structure».

Who inspired you to pursue this path? 

Matteo Agati: «I actually don’t have anyone specific in my head: many people have inspired and supported me in pursuing my goals in their own way and at different times. What pushes me forward the most is the passion I recognize I have for this work.

Seeing something come to life, something that a few months earlier was only in your head, is an indescribable feeling, a mix of pride, satisfaction and a sense of victory. But it’s also the starting point for the next challenge, to continue to do better and improve and go beyond your limits». 

Matteo Agati

Who are your reference points in the world of design? 

Mateo Agati: «I have many, both contemporaries who are still working in the field and figures who are no longer there. If I had to say two names, they would certainly be Jasper Morrison and Marco Zanuso: I really appreciate the conceptual minimalism of one of them and the boldness – linked to the historical context – of his thinking of the other. But, as I said, they are not the only ones: Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus school, Soviet Brutalism…»

With your studio, you have worked as a designer for brands such as Off-White Home, Versace, and Campari, with whom you still collaborate. What is it like working with such big names? 

Matteo Agati

Matteo Agati: «This job allows you to range in sectors and areas very different from each other. From biomedical devices to the collection of furniture for a fashion brand, which is very exciting, which is why you never get bored. Working for important and well-known brands is undoubtedly a source of great pride on the one hand and of many responsibilities on the other. But they are also opportunities to get in touch with admirable and experienced professionals. After each project, I become enriched with experience and – I believe – more professionally mature». 

I like the way you take classic elements and rework them in a modern key; I am thinking of the Corolla capsule inspired by the art of mosaics or the Arc tray that draws from the arenas of ancient Rome. How important is the past for you to create something contemporary and innovative? 
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I believe that every project should tell a bit of our history; otherwise, it would be a beautiful form without personality. Like everyone else, I have a history, experiences, passions, and interests, which I want to be reflected in what I do. The past from which I draw inspiration is that portion of the past that I feel in some way close to me; a starting point to be reinterpreted in a personal rather than contemporary way. In addition to the products you mentioned, an interesting example, in my opinion, is the Me2 vase for which I won the first prize of the Elle Decor + TID award.

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The project is inspired by my origins: to create a vase that would reflect the archetype of the society I come from. With a Sicilian father and a Swiss-German mother, I worked on the contrasts of these two cultures. So each vase is divided into two parts: one in lava stone, warm and organic shapes, the other in wood, more angular and “rational” in shape. Despite these differences, the two halves, once joined, create a single vase in a harmonious and complete way. The project was also developed in a lava stone + white marble version for a collaborative project at Salone del Mobile 2017». 

If you could choose to collaborate with a name in international design, who would you choose and why?

Matteo Agati: «The first name that comes to mind without delay is Jasper Morrison, and that’s because, as I said before, since the years when I was in university, he has always been one of the role models I was inspired by. I love how he manages to “make the details of an object speak.” Two other names I would like to collaborate with are Nendo and Patricia Urquiola. They are two very different realities with relatively different aesthetics and languages, but in both cases, I am very fascinated by their design approach, that “wonder” effect of surprise that you get when you look at their projects and that both, in different ways, manage to achieve». 

Upcoming projects? 

Matteo Agati: «There are several interesting projects in the pipeline, some of them for brands with a strong historical value, but unfortunately, I cannot anticipate much. I’m also working on my first personal capsule collection: a small collection of objects that will gradually come out a little at a time and that I like to think of as the result of my journey so far».

Matteo Agati

Which is the song with which you design the best?

Matteo Agati: «The hardest question of the interview! Music is a fundamental project tool as far as I’m concerned, and it depends so much on the period and the mood. I really like to listen to Max Richter, Yann Tiersen, Mashrou’ Leila, Röyksopp. The first song that came to my mind while reading this question, though, was “Bird Set Free” by Sia».

7 min read


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