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Product designers, Amsterdam

Italian-born Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin are the creative brains behind Formafantasma, a product design studio based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Partners both inside and out of the studio, the duo began working together during their studies at the notorious Design Academy Eindhoven, before setting up studio together in 2009.

With a playful fascination for raw, naturally-occurring materials and their transformative abilities, Formafantasma have since experienced some incredible success, with world-renowned museums including New York’s MoMA and London’s V&A now proud owners of the duo’s work.

We chatted with the couple to discuss their relationship with their Italian heritage, with their work and with each other.

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Tell me a bit about yourselves and your journey into design.

SIMONE: My school teacher introduced me to design when I was 16 and from then on I became a total design freak. I remember having a poster of the exhibition il Lavoro al Centro by the Italian designer Enzo Mari in my bedroom!

ANDREA: I’m originally from Sicily, Italy. When I was a kid nobody in Sicily even knew design existed. I’ve always been interested in craft but it was only when I moved to Florence that I discovered industrial design.

Simone and I met during our B.A. in Florence. We started working together from the start, graduated with a joint project and eventually applied to the Masters program at Design Academy in Eindhoven as a team. It was the first time anyone had applied as a design duo but luckily the head of the IM Masters Gijs Bakker, was really open minded and understood how it could work.

Your recent project
De Natura Fossillium saw you create a range of design pieces based on your research into the cultures of lava at Mt Etna, Sicily. Talk us through your design process, from conception to finished product.

A: Our fascination for objects lays in their ability to represent human history and even possible futures. We see design as a discipline that should both question and contribute to social, cultural and even political changes.

Despite this, our projects always start from our own personal fascinations. We, as designers, work almost as filters – our projects are the result of a process of distillation. We always know where we start but never where we are going to end.

Every time we start a new project or investigate a new material, our first intention is to question the stereotypes and clichés associated with it. Rather than giving solutions, we’ll often propose questions or possible alternatives. To give you an example, with our project Botanica (commissioned by Plart Foundation) we investigated pre-industrial polymers and translated them into a collection of handmade vessels. While plastics are usually considered as modern or contemporary, with Botanica we highlighted the historical background of the materials.

De Natura Fossilium started very intuitively. When we visited Mount Etna in Sicily we thought it was amazing how the landscape is changing daily due to the constant eruptions. We were really intrigued by the idea of nature acting as a miner, extracting material without human intervention. In a way, the project is about using a destructive force as an advantage.

Eruption of Mount Etna, 20 November 2013

Mt Etna, Sicily

Basalt rocks mining in Catania, Sicily

Mt Etna, Sicily

Lava through the lens of a pethrographic microscope

Small Pillar, 2014. Basalt, Occhio di pernice basalt, brass, textile.

Monti Silvestri, 2014. Basalt, brass, electrical components, lava sand.

Iddu, 2014. Obsidian mirror, lava rock, brass.

Efesto, 2014. Basalt fibre and cotton.

Lipari, 2014. Occhio di pernice basalt, lava rocks, brass, textile.

How does your Italian heritage influence the work you create in The Netherlands?

A: The geography of culture is constantly changing, and we really enjoy it. Although we are living in The Netherlands, our design references are often locally-inspired by Italian culture, but the issues we explore have a contemporary, globally-understandable relevance.

With works like Moulding Tradition or Colony, we investigated the complex relationship between Italy and the northern regions of Africa. This was a way to explore ideas like cultural heritage, national identity and colonialism. We do not feel our work specifically belongs to an Italian design context nor a Dutch one. Too often national identity is used to categorise design.

Tell me about your childhood homes. Where did you both grow up and how did you find your experiences there?

S: I grew up in north east Italy close to Vicenza. I hated it. It was soooo boring! My father was a farmer and back then I did not enjoy living in the countryside. I was starving for the city. I have this vivid memory of the intense green of the fields and trees when it was raining…I couldn’t stand it. It was so oppressive. But now that I’ve grown up, I can appreciate my time there and how lucky I was to be there with my family.

A: My experience was exactly the opposite! Sicily a few decade ago was really remote and badly connected with the rest of the world but equally charming for its rural lifestyle. I grew up in a really small fishing village completely free and a bit too wild. I would spending most of my time on the beach, strolling in the sun. My family is large so a lot of our time was spent together eating. Let’s say I have been forced to abandon the south of Italy because a shameful luck of work and consideration from the Central government. I regret this but when I can I take a flight to be there.

How long have you lived in Amsterdam? What brought you to the city and how did you find the adjustment?

A: We’ve been here for one year now. Amsterdam is a wonderful city and we are really happy to be here. We live and work in Amsterdam Noord, an industrial area north of the city. Our studio is located in a former stoves factory. We love this area because is totally free of tourists and despite being very close to the centre, it has always been considered too ugly by most Amsterdammers.

You are partners both inside and outside of the design studio. How did your creative and personal relationships evolve?

S: This question is always so difficult to answer! We have no idea how it evolved to be honest – it was totally intuitive. We very rarely think about it. We are very analytical with our work but much less so with our relationship. It is just like breathing.

A: Now we are living AND working in the same space so in the long run this may drive us a bit crazy! Haha, I’m kidding really.

How do you find living and working together? Do you have certain roles in the design process?

S: Nope, no roles as such. But in general I am the wandering one and Andrea is the decision maker!

A: For several years we tried to separate our working and personal lives, but now we’ve decided to embrace everything as a whole. Our working relationship is actually really good because of this; we never have to explain to each other what we mean when we work on an idea. Our goals are shared, our intentions are the same and our intuitions float on top of our heads, like a shared cloud.

We’ve still probably not found a perfect way of working. Everything is really organic and often there are a lot of discussions. But that is also the nice part. When we work together we can communicate between us using really abstract or undefined descriptions. We understand and trust each other. Working in a couple gives you the possibility to look at your work with much more objectivity.

Our goals are shared, our intentions are the same and our intuitions float on top of our heads, like a shared cloud.

‐ Andrea Trimarchi, Formafantasma

What are some of your favourite places to go in Amsterdam to be creatively inspired?

A: We like to go to Durgerdam, a village close to the polders near where we live. Then of course the Stedelijk Museum which has great art exhibitions. Another place we like is Mediamatic, a centre for art, design and new technologies. Oh, and we love the bar Ceuvel.

What are your future aspirations? Any new projects in the pipeline?

A: Yes, a lot actually! We’re currently working on a new collection called Delta for a gallery in Rome. We’re also designing pieces for Max Mara’s fashion show Sportmax and many other projects we can’t tell you about!

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