BILOU BILOU, SO BRITISH / AUTUMN/WINTER 2016 / ISSUE FIVE / NOTES MAGAZINE
After collaboration with designers in Russia and America, internationally acclaimed Italian furniture company Promemoria turned its attention to Britain
Event photos courtesy ©PIERS ALLARDYCE
What started when he spotted a rather beautiful piece of furniture in a shop window in Gstaad whilst on a skiing trip, culminated in ONE17’s own Mark Lee admiring his personal chair design in the front window of luxury furniture maker Promemoria’s London showroom in Pimlico.
Promemoria – the epitome of the Italian hand-crafted luxury cabinet and furniture business – began life in the 19th century on the banks of Lake Como restoring and repairing carriages for the local aristocracy. As the need for carriage restoration declined, the skills of the Sozzi family working with the finest materials and demanding clients developed through four generations into a cabinet making atelier operating at the cutting edge of craftsmanship, design and cultural sensibility. Today their showrooms can be found in Milan, Moscow, Paris, New York and of course London.
As part of their contribution to the development of furniture design, the company has in recent years offered key designers in different countries the opportunity to develop individual pieces based on Promemoria’s celebrated Bilou Bilou chair. In 2016 the opportunity fell to British designers. Having worked with Promemoria on various projects since that auspicious day in Gstaad, Mark Lee was an obvious choice for an invitation to take part in the British Bilou Bilou event.
Which is how Mark came to be looking at his own beautifully crafted design in one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods...
On September 2016, at the London showroom in Pimlico Road, Promemoria presented six brand new interpretations of the chair Bilou Bilou, an iconic piece from the company’s range which has been revisited by six different British architects and designers.
Designed in 1999 by Romeo Sozzi, the creative spirit of Promemoria, the chair has become one of the bestseller of the collection. The Bilou Bilou, that recalls the classic Luigi Filippo chair, dated back to C1800, is the renaissance of a simple chair, gloriously enriched by a precious upholstery. Completely made by hand at the Promemoria ateliers on the Como lakeshore factory, this versatile chair comes in a variety of colours.
Alexander Purcell Rodrigues, Ashley Hicks, Mark Lee, Martin Waller, Steven Payne, Weeks & Cowling were invited by Promemoria to design their own personal vision of Bilou Bilou.
This international initiative which was held for the first time in Los Angeles in 2015, was subsequently repeated at the Promemoria showrooms in Moscow and New York where local designers and architects were invited to offer their own personal interpretations of the chair.
The six British designs, produced by Promemoria craftsmen at the facility in Valmadrera were exhibited on the occasion of the London Design Festival 2016.
The great variety of designs and finishings show the high levels of creativity and skill of all those involved in the project, as well as the versatility of Bilou Bilou – a decisive and original chair, capable of a thousand transformations.
Designed in 1999 by Romeo Sozzi, the creative spirit of Promemoria, the chair has become one of the bestsellers of the collection.
These illustrations take us from early concept sketches through the development of the design and on to production of the final bench.
Lacquered timber, leather and bronze – noble materials that feature heavily in Promemoria’s designs – form the structure. The company’s frog logo is subtly incorporated into the details of the bench, where buttoned leather and integral side tables (perfect for holding a tumbler of whisky) evoke the very British world of London’s clubland.
Bilou Bilou – a decisive and original chair, capable of a thousand transformations.
ONE17 Architects & Interior Designers
“Taking inspiration from the scale, materials and culture of the English country house and London’s renowned gentlemen’s clubs, Bilou Bilou combines Italian flair and craftsmanship with a very British twist. The bench seat and integral side tables, exquisitely crafted in noble materials, show how a contemporary piece can be adapted and extended to sit comfortably in the most traditional of settings.”
WEEKS & COWLING
Weeks & Cowling Design Studio
“ A playful homage to the Queen’s 90th year, (not forgetting her Corgis), our interpretation of the Bilou Bilou chair – love it or loath it – offers a satirical distraction from Britain’s current political standing.
The perfect piece for any theatrical occasion.”
“When I was asked to design this chair it was shortly after the Brexit vote. The vote and the prevailing air of mistrust in government led me back to my youth. I assumed many guises since my teen years and punk was one. In 1976-77 the punk movement was fed by the frustration with government and establishment etc.
I liked being non conformist at the time and I am probably still one at heart! I like the music and the clothes and wanted to incorporate some of those aspects and that energy into the design. With this design I hope to express that flavour of rebellion with this moment in time for Britain and for what is happening in the world.”
Director and Founder
Maison AD ltd.
“My Bilou Bilou chair has a simple elegance in black lacquer, with faux sabots in gold leaf and brass nails finishing the ‘Ragged Sultan’ fabric from my own Ashley Hicks ‘Textures’ collection of printed linen.”
Interior Designer based in London
Andrew Martin International Limited
“ The seat cover is made from cigarette silks. The silks were given with cigarette packs after the First World War.
The stitching together of flags represents the union of nations and the coming together of peoples.”
ALEXANDER PURCELL RODRIGUES
Interior Designer based in London
“Our point of departure was to re-envision the iconic silhouette of the Bilou Bilou chair within the context of a paired down contemporary aesthetic. Taking reference from the sensibility of the original chairs tactile form and full body upholstery, we re-envisioned it with a language equally tactile, yet a polar opposite harmony of polished marble and hammered bronze.
By digitizing our design, we could utilise cutting edge multi-axis fabrication techniques to realise Bilou Bilou’s profile in solid Calacatta Oro.”
Asked how he had enjoyed the process Mark said “Enormously. Whilst I’m used to designing pieces for our projects or, more recently, pieces for our Dyehouse range, this was something very different.
I was genuinely excited to think that a company like Promemoria, with an international reach and reputation, should want to work with a relatively unknown design office in West Yorkshire.
The original Bilou Bilou chair is a great piece of design and there was always a risk that you might do something that did not stand comparison. I wanted to do more than just change materials and ‘decorate’ the chair. When I thought about looking beyond the limitation of a single seat, ideas really began to form.
Perhaps it’s something to do with my architectural training but I began to think in terms of developing the structure to build something radically different. The challenge was to retain the essence of the original whilst designing something not seen before.
My experience of the craftsmanship that Promemoria can produce and the very high quality materials they use persuaded me that the design should have presence and gravitas, but bearing in mind this was an opportunity to experiment and celebrate, I didn’t want the design to take itself too seriously. That’s why I’m so pleased with the end result: a rigorous item of high quality furniture that can also make people smile."