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Triennale Milano
La tradizione del nuovo, 2022, Triennale Milano, ph. DSL Studio

Elastic Design: Munari and His Falkland

November 9 2022
The legendary "hosiery lamp", the brainchild of Bruno Munari, sprung from an idea: to exploit the elasticity and light permeability of a material that until then had mainly been used for the production of sweaters and tights. These properties continue to arouse the interest of designers today.
What makes a design object likely to become an icon? It is not easy to answer this question, just as it is not easy to identify a precise ‘recipe’ for a product’s success: in most cases, what works is the fruitful coexistence of a number of factors ranging from sleek shapes to the use of the most suitable materials and the ability to interpret the spirit of the times by meeting unexpressed needs and desires. Sometimes, as in the case of the Falkland Lamp designed by Bruno Munari (1907-1998) for Danese Milano, featured in the exhibition La tradizione del nuovo curated by Marco Sammicheli, Director of the Museo del Design Italiano at Triennale Milano, the history of an icon begins with a ‘disciplinary robbery’ – with the idea, that is, that a material commonly used in a certain sphere may prove ideal for designing something completely different, something unthought of.
Bruno Munari, Falkland, hanging lamp, Danese Milano, ph. Amendolagine Barracchia, © Triennale Milano
In 1964, Bruno Danese asked Munari to create a lamp that might be at the same time practical, durable and economical, that would give off a soft light and could be sold in a compact and easy-to-carry package—a typical Munari object, in short. The designer’s mind turned to Japan—a country which he loved and had visited many times —and to its traditional rice paper lanterns. This material posed some problems, however, as it was fragile and tended to yellow over time; besides, it was rather expensive in Europe. A solution, both ingenious and bewildering, was found in the world of hosiery. Stretch nylon, an industrially produced synthetic fibre which is mainly used to produce women’s tights and which was all the rage at the time, had all the qualities required by this design project: it was permeable to light, cheap, washable, and resistant to both heat and yellowing.
Portrait of Bruno Munari, courtesy Danese Milano
In his book Fantasia, the designer recounts the workers’ amazement in the factories producing elastic fabric tights that he had visited, wishing to test the material’s behavior and experiment with the possible shapes it could take in relation to other elements.

One day I went to a hosiery factory to see if they could make me a lamp. We don’t make lamps, they answered me. And I said: you’ll see, you will make them.
The result of this work, the one we are all familiar with, is an object with a shape that is spontaneous, so to speak: it is not the result of a technical design, but derives from the elasticity of the stretch nylon tube and the action of metal rings of different diameters that, inserted at regular intervals through a series of ‘buttonholes’, enlarge it. “It is a lamp that has a natural appearance, like a bamboo reed, and that is why it is welcomed by the public,” Munari again explained to the students of the IUAV in Venice in a famous lecture given in March 1992. What also comes into play is the force of gravity, since this product—which was created in a hanging version and sold folded in a package only a few centimetres high—acquires its elongated shape once it is hung from the ceiling.

Lanzavecchia+Wai, Fragmented Cabinet, 2011
Lanzavecchia+Wai, Fragmented Cabinet, 2011, detail
Lanzavecchia+Wai, Spaziale Series, Shelves, 2010, ph. Davide Farabegoli
Lanzavecchia+Wai, Spaziale Series, Commode, 2010, ph. Davide Farabegoli
Today, women’s hosiery is mainly made from Lycra, a polyurethane fibre also known as elastane or spandex, and this elastic material continues to make forays into the domestic environment from time to time. At the beginning of the 2010s, for example, it was at the centre of two projects by Lanzavecchia + Wai, the creative duo formed by Francesca Lanzavecchia (1983) and Hunn Wai (1980), who trained at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and specializes in an unconventional use of textiles. In the Spaziale Series, presented in 2010, the two designers used simple wooden structures—made with the help of a master cabinet-maker—that were covered with Lycra skin to create a series of bizarre ‘domestic creatures’ capable of fitting the shape of their contents: a chair-cocoon that makes it possible to isolate oneself from the surrounding environment, a variable-geometry bookcase, and a dresser with an elastic mouth instead of drawers. In 2011, they presented Fragmented Cabinets 01 and 02, modular and multifunctional pieces of furniture in which the side panels and doors are replaced by bands of elastic fabric that allow them to be opened at any point.
The same material is at the centre of the Santapouf designed by Denis Santachiara (1950) for Campeggi, again in 2011: an innovative hybrid characterized by a sinuous, multi-layered profile and combining the functions of a small chair, a small table, and an inflatable bed.

Denis Santachiara, Santapouf, 2011. Courtesy Campeggi
Serena Confalonieri, Venus, Servomuto, 2022, installazione Venus in Fur per Alcova
Teaser per Venus di Serena Confalonieri, Servomuto, 2022, ph. Guido Barbagelata
Serena Confalonieri, Venus, Servomuto, 2022, installazione Venus in Fur per Alcova
Finally, last June, designer Serena Confalonieri (1980) presented to the Fuorisalone public a lamp produced by Servomuto that is reminiscent of the Falkland in its use of a Lycra diffuser set on a metal frame. In Venus, however, the choice of elastic material responds to the need to ‘dress’ and ‘undress’ the lamp in different nuances: sandy beige, powder blue, lilac, bright orange or burgundy (Munari saw this as frivolous: when asked why his creation only existed in one colour, white, he replied that it was enough to insert a coloured light bulb to change the chromatic situation; but contemporary sensibility is very different from that of the 1960s and polychromy is of great scenic effect). The reference to the female body and seduction is evident in the very name of the product, which evokes the film Venus in Fur by Roman Polanski and its murky atmosphere.