MILAN — Upon accepting the role as creative counsel for historic Austrian furniture maker Wittmann Möbelwerkstätten, Vienna-born fashion designer Arthur Arbesser made it very clear that he has no idea how to design furniture.
Textiles, yes, and colors, he knows well, he said.
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“Fashion designers have a really good understanding when it comes to craftsmanship and quality and colors, and the world is becoming more daring when it comes to color at home… but I would never dare to pretend that I know how to construct a sofa,” he added, noting that the firm was attracted by his Austrian heritage, as well as the sort of outside vision and experience he has garnered as a Milan-based fashion designer. Arbesser founded his eponymous brand in 2013 and later qualified as a finalist in the LVMH Prize in 2015.
It was Venice-Stockholm-based designer, Wittmann’s former art director, Luca Nichetto, who first asked him to come on board to design fabrics and carpets, he said.
Arbesser plans to build on the work of Nichetto, who laid out a multiyear design roadmap for the new branding of the company, before stepping down from his role. The fifth-generation family-run company, which was founded in 1896 as a saddlery, affirmed that Nichetto remains closely associated with the business as one of the company’s main designers.
Wittmann saw its name rise internationally in the ’50s as a manufacturer of upholstered furnishings, and later collaborated with of some of the biggest names in design — Italian architects and designers Matteo Thun and the late Paolo Piva among them. Arbesser, who remembers peering into the windows of the Wittmann showroom in front of Vienna’s Secession building as as a child, is certainly the most fashion-forward among the firm’s roster of creative collaborators. He added that he is looking forward to exploring the company’s archives, particularly designs from the ’60s and ’70s.
“With Arthur Arbesser, we are fortunate to have someone at our side who shares our understanding of aesthetics and our dedication to quality. As a family business, the person behind the creative mind is particularly important to us. Arthur Arbesser understands our roots and is a perfect addition to the team,” said co-owner Alice Wittmann in a statement.
While his line is still his focus, Arbesser has been diversifying outside of the fashion world in recent years. He made a statement at this year’s Salone del Mobile with a roster of collaborations, including a second fabric collection with Wittmann, created with traditional Italian manufacturer Rubelli. The aesthete also teamed up with Denmark-based firm Gubi for his Oca chair, made in collaboration with Italian artisan Alan Zinchi.
Arbesser joins a roster of designers making their foray into the world of home and interiors. Lars Nilsson, the Swedish-born designer whose fashion career included top positions at Bill Blass, Nina Ricci and Gianfranco Ferré, as well as behind-the-scenes roles at Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix, made news with his 2018 textile collection with Svenskt Tenn, and a Vandra Rugs collaboration before that. Last month, Dirk Schönberger, best known for his time as creative director at Adidas from 2010 until 2018 and later global creative officer of luxury brand MCM, made a leap into furnishings with next-gen, comfort-centric brand Vetsak. Also in September, Ozwald Boateng, the veteran Savile Row tailor known for his colorful bespoke patterns and intricate designs, presented his first furnishings and interiors collaboration with Poltrona Frau.
In response to so many designers taking the plunge, Arbesser said the COVID-19 pandemic had a lot to do with it.
“The furniture business just feels lighter and the focus on where we live and what surrounds us has become so important.”
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