Today Kartell is well-known for its industrial production of design objects made of high-quality materials, impressive technological development, and certified 100% Made in Italy. These characteristics have guaranteed their legacy through time and helped gain international recognition and success. Synthesizing the ten most interesting facts to know about this brand, let’s dive in together:
1/ 70 years of history, of family, culture, and design, of industrial products, new materials, and cutting-edge technologies. Founded by Giulio Castelli in 1949, a young chemical engineer, and his wife, a promising architect Anna Ferriere.
The turning point came when, after years of research and thanks to a revolutionary innovation, in 1999, Kartell became the first company in the world to use polycarbonate to produce furnishing items. Kartell has gained a reputation for being a pioneer in the application of new materials and technologies.
The result was La Marie, a completely transparent chair with a modern, minimalist design that paved the way for Louis Ghost, still one of Kartell’s bestsellers today. From this moment on, the company has developed and explored the theme of transparency. It has made it unique and original, continuing its research into the study of surfaces and shapes, starting with the use of new technologies and high-performance materials that have made it possible to create products like nothing ever created before.
2/ In 1988, the company was acquired by Claudio Luti, the son-in-law of Giulio and Anna Castelli, with a background in fashion. The sensibility that Luti had developed at the Versace fashion house, with a love for perfection and tasteful design, he implemented into developing great new objects of design. He started collaborating with talented designers and architects from the industry like Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Antonio Citterio, Ferruccio Laviani, Piero Lissoni, Patricia Urquiola, Mario Bellini, Alberto Meda, and Vico Magistretti. These collaborations gained more power and love for the products of Kartell and took the brand to the next level, with clients all over the world.
3/ The high level of stability and repeatability of the processes, allow the minimization of inefficiencies and waste, favoring productions with low polluting residues, fully recyclable.
In 1999, Kartell becomes the first company in the world to use polycarbonate in the realization of furnishing pieces for the home. Philippe Starck’s La Marie chair was the first clear polycarbonate chair in the world. Made in a single mold, it brought the concept of transparency to the world of furnishings. Plastic became precious and entered every living space. Following, the Louis Ghost (2002), the Victoria Ghost chair (2005), and the Lou Lou Ghost children's chair (2008).
4/ Since 1997, Kartell has been part of the Altagamma Association, of which Claudio Luti was President in 2012. Altagamma was founded in 1992 to bring at one table the best producers and creative minds from all over Italy, which are the ambassadors of the Italian style in the world. Its mission is to help companies and creative persons to increase their potential and become more competitive. The companies Altagamma work in different sectors, but mainly in fashion, design, jewelry, food, hospitality, and wellness.
5/ Kartell is one of the long-standing companies associated with ADI - Industrial Design Association - of which Giulio Castelli was a co-founder in 1956.
Since 1956 ADI brings together designers, enterprises, researchers, teachers, critics, and journalists around design thematic: project, consumption, recycling, and training. In Italy, this association unites over 1.000 partners, residents from every place on the national territory. Another essential aspect, regulated since 1958, is the assignation of the Prize Compasso d'Oro – the most important European recognition in the world of design. At an international level, ADI was among the founders of other three associations: the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (today WDO - World Design Organization), the Bureau of European Design Associations, and the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (today ICO-D - International Council of Design).
6/ The company has expanded its horizons with new divisions and new product families. It introduced lines ranging from the soft line to products specifically designed for outdoors, lighting, home and office complements, employing plastic and non-plastic materials, and experimenting with new technologies.
7/ Kartell is known for its industrial production of the finest quality design objects, with remarkable technological content, 100% made in Italy. From the choice of innovative and certified materials to the use of advanced technologies, Kartell can guarantee users of its products a collection in which technology, quality, resistance, and durability are part of its DNA.
8/ The company’s retail network of directly owned and franchise stores are constantly expanding. Currently, it counts over 150 flagship stores, 850 Kartell spaces, and 1500 clients throughout the world. The company provides constant marking through special displays that change four-six times per year and participating in dedicated events staged during the week of the Salone del Mobile fair.
9/ Over the years, Kartell has won a series of important international awards, including nine prizes Compassi d'Oro:
- The covered round bucket KS 1146 designed by Gino Colombini, wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1955
- The rectangular basin KS 1065 designed by Gino Colombini wins the Compasso d’Oro 1957
- The drying rack KS 1171 wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1960
- The high-chair K 1340 (then K 4999) designed by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1964
- The School System designed by Centrokappa Team wins the award Compasso d’Oro to the Company in 1979
- The stackable chair 4870 designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1987
- The drawer units from the "Mobil" series designed by Antonio Citterio in collaboration with Glen Oliver Löw won the Compasso d'Oro award in 1994
- The sofa "Bubble Club" won the Compasso d'Oro award in 2001.
10/ Founded in 1999, the Kartell Museum, keeper of the brand's history, won the Guggenheim Enterprise & Culture Award for the best business museum in 2000.
Kartell Museo was established in 1999 on the occasion of the company’s fiftieth anniversary by President Claudio Luti to conserve, promote, and enhance the company’s value and intangible cultural heritage. Its collections, always in progress, consist today of more than 8,000 objects, 5,000 designs and 15,000 photographs, that together recreate a precise picture of Kartell’s history and production, the plastic materials adopted, the production technologies, and the communication and distribution strategies. All displayed on more than 2,000 square meters of constant exposition. The Kartell Museum is housed in the Kartell factory in Naviglio, at the gates of Milan, at the company’s general headquarters. Standouts include car accessories, household items, lamps, laboratory items, furniture, and accessories, which have contributed to changing the domestic landscape and became iconic objects of Italian design.
THE HYSTORY THROUGH DECADES:
THE FIFTIES: It was the year 1949, when a young chemical engineer by the name of Giulio Castelli, together with his wife Anna Castelli Ferriere, founded Kartell. Right from the start, the company is in Milan, focusing the production of its items on technological research and design. In 1950, the Car Accessories Division is born, presenting the first product K101 ski rack, along with other car accessories as a luggage-rack, a ski-rack, a tow rope, a tarpaulin cover, as well as a sunscreen and accessories for interior decoration. In 1953 is born the Household Products Division, and Kartell starts the production of plastic articles using industrial molds. The covered round bucket KS 1146 designed by Gino Colombini, wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1955, the first of a long series of awards obtained by Kartell over the years. In 1956 was published the first issue of the magazine “Qualità”, which will be published in 1960 and will addresses topics related to plastic materials as applied in architecture and design. In 1957 the KS 1065 rectangular basin designed always by Gino Colombini wins the Compasso d’Oro 1957. In 1958, the Labware Division is born, a sector dedicated to laboratory articles. In 1959 was created another division, the Lighting Division, where Kartell develops new functional and environmental solutions for household lighting: the lamp 4006 by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni is the first suspension lamp produced by Kartell.
THE SIXTIES: The new decade begins with another success: the KS 1171 drying rack wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1960. In 1963 was inaugurated the Habitat Division, when Kartell launches production on plastic furnishing products. During the 60s, with the international success of Italian and Milanese design, the company strengthens its identity with outside contributions from designers like Giotto Stoppino, Marco Zanuso, and Joe Colombo. 1964 is the year of change: K 1340 (then K 4999) highchair, designed by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, is the first seat worldwide made of plastic and it wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1964. In 1965, Joe Colombo designs 4801 armchair, made of three pieces with curved plywood grooving, which was the only Kartell product of that period made entirely in wood (today reissued in plastic). In 1967 Kartell makes the 4867 Universale chair designed by Joe Colombo, the first ‘adult-sized’ industrial seat in the world to be internally printed by plastic injection. The same year, the Kartell location in Noviglio opens. In 1969 Anna Castelli Ferrieri designs the round version of the Componibili modular furniture line, meeting demands for lightweight and informal furniture for the young people of the 60s. These collections are among Kartell’s bestsellers until today.
THE SEVENTIES: In 1970, Giotto Stoppino designs the 4032 Tic-Tac lamp with the switch integrated into the shaft, which is activated by pressing the lampshade. In 1972 Kartell participates in the exhibit MoMA “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” bringing the three living modules produced by Kartell according to designs by Ettore Sottsass, Marco Zanuso, and Gae Aulenti, enter the permanent collection of the American museum. In 1973 was created the team Centrokappa, directed by Valerio Castelli, and comprised of another twenty creators (including Michele De Lucchi and Paola Navone) developing the design and communications projects, aimed at promoting Italian design. In 1975 Giulio Polvara designs the 4760/4765 stackable bookcase, the first example of a modular bookcase completely in plastic, which can be expanded and stacked as desired through grooves and joints. In 1976 Kartell decides to create a collection of containers, designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri, a line of food containers that addresses the trend of eliminating the distinction between the dining room and kitchen areas, making it possible to transport food directly from the refrigerator to the table without using serving dishes. In 1979 Centrokappa designs the School System, composed of different furnishings for nursery school, both didactic and playful, chairs, benches, and tables equipped with a series of accessories, to be assembled and disassembled through large screws and a screwdriver-contraption. Wins Compasso d’Oro Awarded to the Company in 1979.
THE EIGHTIES: In 1982, the Art Director Anna Castelli Ferrieri, introduces a new color theme and post-modern ideas in the realization of new and unseen before unique products. In 1986 Kartell creates “INES - la casa terminale” a project by Denis Santachiara, a unique model intended for the exhibition at the Milan Triennial “Domestic project. The house of man,” where INES is a robotic, intended to rebel against the boss’ orders, as it was discovered by the audience during the performance staged (interesting, unexpected, and new at that time). The 4870 chair wins the Compasso d’Oro in 1987, a stackable chair designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri. In 1988 Claudio Luti takes over Kartell and becomes the new President. After reviewing the catalog, and with due respect for Kartell DNA, President Luti focuses his strategy on products and introduces an unprecedented way of understanding material and surfaces, upgrading, once again, the creative team with new collaborations of designers such as Philippe Starck, Antonio Citterio, Vico Magistretti, Ron Arad, Ferruccio Laviani. The same year, Philippe Starck designs Dr. Glob's chair, being the first chair with square-shaped and opaque surfaces, in pastel colors with metal parts.
THE NINETIES: In 1991, Ron Arad, Antonio Citterio, Vico Magistretti, start making new furniture where metal frames were combined with plastic parts, the mechanisms were visible, and the surfaces had sophisticated matte finishes. In 1994, Ron Arad invented Bookworm, the first free-form (not in a straight line) bookshelf, consisting of a flexible plastic band that can be fixed to the wall as desired. Antonio Citterio, in collaboration with Glen Oliver Löw, made his debut in 1991 with two trolleys for the home, "Battista" and "Gastone", followed by the "OXO" trolleys for PCs and TVs and the drawer units from the "Mobil" series which won the Compasso d'Oro award in 1994. In 1996, Vico Magistretti was already a master of Italian design when he met Kartell and created the "Mauna-Kea" and "Maui"; “Maui” being the first single mold chair of polypropylene with no ribbing or metal parts to support the back and each structural and aesthetic detail was marked by innovation. In 1997, Kartell opens the first flagship store in Milan; today Kartell now has over 130 single-brand flagship stores, 250 shop-in-shops, and 2500 retailers in over 130 countries. In 1999, Philippe Starck creates the La Marie chair, being the first clear polycarbonate chair in the world, made in a single mold it brought the concept of transparency to the world of furnishings.
THE 2000s: In 2000, the Kartell Museum has been awarded the Guggenheim Business & Culture Award for Best Company Museum. In 2001 President Luti surrounded himself with new designers, creating alchemy between technology and emotions, presenting a new product the "Bubble Club" sofa which won the Compasso d'Oro award in 2001. The next year 2002 was published the book “Kartell. 150 Items, 150 Artworks” by Skirà, a collection of contributions from 150 photographers and artists, including Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber, Maurizio Cattelan, and Vanessa Beecroft. The artists involved were asked to provide their own interpretations of Kartell objects through a snapshot, work of art, or text. Philippe Starck creates a new best-seller, the chair Louis Ghost, with a clear structure and beautiful baroque forms. Following the Louis Ghost, new products arrived, such as the Victoria Ghost chair (2005) and the Lou Lou Ghost children's chair (2008). In 2006 the team expanded again, embracing the collaboration with Patrick Jouin, Marcel Wanders, Patricia Urquiola, Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, and Tokujin Yoshioka. For the first time in 2008, the lamps designed by Ferruccio Laviani for Kartell are Dolce & Gabbana’s guests of honor. The same year was created a new division for accessories “Kartell à la mode”, designed by big names from the fashion world, like Normaluisa, Moschino, Christian Lacroix, N°21, and Paula Cademartori. 2008 was another winning year: the creation of Mr. Impossible chair, where joining two oval, transparent, polycarbonate shells without any seams, won the Good Design Award in 2008. In 2009 Kartell presents the Master chair, designed by Philippe Starck with Eugeni Quitllet, a silhouette obtained by a fusion between three popular chairs: the “Series 7” by Arne Jacobsen, the “Tulip Armchair” by Eero Saarinen, and the “Eiffel Chair” by Charles Eames. The project won the Good Design Award in 2010 and the Red Dot Design Award in 2013.
THE 2010s: In 2010 Tokujin Yoshioka signs collection “The Invisible”, a series of unique handmade pieces using very wide slabs, winning the Red Dot Design Award Best of the Best 2013.
In 2011, on the 50th Salone del Mobile, Kartell presented a special project to celebrate Milan: an innovative and original collection of Kartell objects revisited, that were afterward auctioned by Sotheby’s at the Rotonda della Besana in Milan with the proceeds going to the Fondazione Umberto Veronesi.
The "7 electric chairs...as you like it!" by Bob Wilson, is a unique collection of seven chair-sculptures that took their inspiration from Jacques' monologue in William Shakespeare's comedy "As You Like It" about the seven ages of man: from infancy to oblivion.
In 2012 Taschen is printing the first monograph dedicated to a design company: “Kartell – The Culture of Plastics”. The volume tells the company’s story in 400 pages, through historical images and critical contributions from historians and curators. Keeping the line of prestigious international collaborations, Kartell has presented the partnership with Lenny Kravitz, which has created a collection of six “Mademoiselle” armchairs (by Philippe Starck), re-imagined combining python, fur, leather, and woven materials, reflecting the wild spirit of the rocker.
In 2014, Kartell celebrates 15 years of transparency, and the sofa Uncle Jack by Philippe Starck renews its technological and aesthetic challenge with record-breaking data: 1.90 m long, 95 cm high, weighing practically 30 kg for the largest piece of transparent polycarbonate ever injected in a single mold, and won the Red Dot Award Best of the Best 2016. The same year, Kartell manufactures collection tableware “Kartell in tavola” with a line of dishes, glasses, and accessories made of plastic and designed by Jean Marie Massaud, Philippe Starck, and Patricia Urquiola.
In 2015, Kartell pays tribute to the Master of Design Ettore Sottsass with a collection of original projects he designed in 2004, one vase and two stools, characterized by Memphis aesthetics. Furthermore, Kartell is collaborating with Alessandro Mendini on two new projects: an injection-molded stool Roy and the Crystal Palace wall clock.
In 2016, the Piuma chair designed by Piero Lissoni is one of the most revolutionary products for Kartell, made of a complex thermoplastic polymer reinforced with numerous fibers, including carbon, to give the structure greater mechanical rigidity and lower weight. It was awarded by Red Dot Award Best of the Best 2017. Moreover, Kartell is expanding further the number of designers exploring the theme of lighting, creating several success stories: Aledin designed by Alberto and Francesco Meda, Lantern lamp designed by Fabio Novembre, Planet designed by Tokujin Yoshioka.
In 2017 Philippe Starck designed Sir Gio, the first table with a central polycarbonate leg, a major technological development guaranteeing excellent performance and stability for the crystal top.
In 2018 Kartell presents several new chairs: Venice designed by Philippe Starck, Catwalk designed by Philippe Starck with Sergio Schito, Be Bop designed by Ludovica and Roberto Palomba, Smatrik designed by Tokujin Yoshioka.
In 2019, as part of Kartell's 70th birthday celebrations, was created an exhibition “The art side of Kartell”, which tells the story of the brand from a new perspective: art. How Kartell design objects have been inspirational for artists and vice versa, how art has influenced their design.
The same year, Kartell Smart Wood Collection was born, a creative concept developed by Philippe Starck, choosing wood as the noblest material, and transformed by Kartell into an industrial product. Using patented technology, the wood is worked with a mold designed to bring the curvature of the panel to the very edges, creating a seat with sinuous roundness.
Moreover, Kartell brings the first design object conceived by artificial intelligence, born in response to an input received from the designer Philippe Starck for Kartell, collaborating with American firm Autodesk, the leading producer of 3D engineering and entertainment software, was born the A.I. series.
Kartell loves the planet emphasizing its commitment to sustainability and environmental friendliness. With a passion for excellence, guiding Kartell through all the steps has led the company to focus on environmental responsibility and good sustainability practices, creating recyclable products with minimum production waste. In its 70 years of history, Kartell has interacted with mechanics in the implementation of industrial processes aimed at transforming a design into a product that can be reproduced on a large scale, using increasingly sophisticated molds.
In the next future, I am sure we will continue to be impressed by the release of new creative products made by Kartell. So, let’s keep looking at the brand, and in the meantime enjoy its products brought into our homes.