Est. 1960


After collaboration with designers in Russia and America, internationally acclaimed Italian furniture company Promemoria turned its attention to Britain

Event photos courtesy ©PIERS ALLARDYCE

Bilou Bilou,

so British

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...

Romeo Sozzi with sketch pad. Photographer ©DANIELE CORTESE Mark Lee with Romeo Sozzi at the British Bilou Bilou event

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.

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."

Tray Close up on Mark Lee concept chair