It wasn’t easy to walk out of the Benetton Group’s Milan showroom last April without feeling pangs of hunger. Inside, under the direction of industrial-design department chair Sam Baron, residents at Fabrica, the Benetton-sponsored Italian design-and-research institute, had created a series of rooms filled with designs for an imaginary dinner party. There were serving pieces, tableware, place mats, a custom soundtrack—all that was missing was the feast itself.
For the installation, titled “Cordially Invited,” Fabrica reconsidered ordinary kitchen items. Each “dining” table was set with incongruous pieces that had been given artful or humorous tweaks. Most of the glassware, conceived by Baron’s design team for Rome’s Secondome Gallery, was easy to read: a roasted-fowl–shaped dome sat atop a wooden cheese board, a headless one-legged rooster decanted wine, a branch formed a delicate vase. But the team left many of the designs up to interpretation. “They’re more freestyle and dreamy,” Baron notes, referring, for example, to a tall, vaguely gourd-like decanter and a second dome crowned with an upended wine glass.
To accompany these objects, the team printed place mats with silhouettes of both utensils and items used outside the kitchen—
a screwdriver, a trowel—making a cheeky comparison between the tools used to cultivate our meals and those used to consume them. When a table is set, each guest sees only the usual forks and knives, but removing a plate reveals, in one instance, illustrations of dental tools—
a distant coda of the digestive process itself.
The designers took the cultivation reference a step further with a “garden” consisting of produce-shaped white ceramic vessels (a squash-turned–sugar shaker, bananas as bonbonnieres) sown atop bags of potting soil that had been slit open and transformed into vegetable patches. Despite the line’s china-cabinet aesthetic, Baron says the students “thought about nature and designed shapes in the context of the evolution of transgenic culture,” a culture in which plants are being genetically manipulated to create new species, while designers are using similar tricks to create revolutions in form, material, and function. Fabrica’s garden, like the show itself, served as an homage to nature as the most inventive designer—and to man as nature’s most inventive imitator. Contact Fabrica for prices.