HANDMADE ITALY. Davide Rampello is an Italian television presenter, the Artistic Director of Davide Rampello & Partners creative studio, a university professor and a former president of the Milan Triennial.

Davide Rampello, in your book “Handmade Italy. Living Cultural Assets” (“L’Italia Fatta a Mano. Bene Culturali Viventi” published by Skira) one is struck by this idea of “Handmade Italy”. What does it mean?

It doesn’t just mean craftsmanship, it is anything created with skill and awareness. Italy creates quality, and by quality I mean researching and narrating differences. The subtitle is “Living Cultural Assets” because Italy is a country of cultural assets, but to be truly cultural an asset needs not only to be protected on a daily basis but also needs to be understood, interpreted, reinterpreted, and loved. The people I refer to in my book have profound knowledge and savoir-faire, so they are cultural assets for us to protect and to interpret.

This heritage includes tradespeople and knowledge that struggle to get recognition. Is this is part of your mission? 

Yes, so that they become role models and young people can look up to them. Ten years ago the profession of being a chef was nothing special. Today it is something that young people – men and women alike – aspire to. Now is the time to put the focus on the role models that work in breeding animals, in agriculture, in craftsmanship, in all different kinds of trades. Italy is very rich in this, as the many examples in the book show.

Davide Rampello, what induced you to write this book?  

I find that today we need to focus on what is our “memory”, the reinterpretation of the past. We are losing this memory. It is an in-depth look at a series of themes that have led me to my present work at the university with the course I created on local trades. What I referenced in the book should serve as the inspiration and the tools that, in my opinion, are necessary to take on the big themes of modernity. It reflects the work I’ve done over the last few years, from being the president of the relaunched Milan Triennal with all types of design, fashion and furnishings, and also the work done for Expo Milano 2015 with Pavilion Zero. I even founded the company Rampello and Partners to bring together those who worked with me, so as to make sure the experience I’d gained over ten years was not lost. For example, we came up with the concept design that was used to plan the Italian pavilion in the Dubai 2020 World Expo.

In your book there is a sentence that struck me: “Wherever I put my chair, that place becomes my home.”

That is a reference to the feature that I have done for the Striscia La Notizia television programme for six years now, called “Paesi e Paesaggi” (“Towns and Landscapes”). I walk around Italy on foot with a chair on my back. When I feel I’ve found the right place I put the chair down, and I say these words: “I feel like I’m at home here.” The concept is to “domesticate” the place, looking for my “domus” (meaning “home” from the Latin) in that place. It is the representation of the genius loci cited by Servius as part of Roman culture. The chair, more than any other object, gives an idea of staying still, of sitting, at repose.

What have you discovered walking around Italy?

The truly infinite variety of landscapes, cultures, and interpretations of life. The place is the actual landscape, and people create and determine the landscape, interpreting what is around us.

For example?

There are people who have changed their lives by starting to make cheese. One gentleman not only began making a type of cheese called Castelmagno, he makes the best Castelmagno you could ever imagine. He learned this art with intelligence and a sensibility that has taken him to a truly higher level.

“You need to keep walking in life. This means evolving, changing yourself.”

In the feature that Davide Rampello has done for the Striscia La Notizia television programme “Paesi e Paesaggi” (“Towns and Landscapes”) he walks around Italy with a chair on his back. When Rampello feels he has found the right place he puts the chair down and says: “I feel like I’m at home here.”

Italy is full of “provincial geniuses” like Carlo Mollino, Enzo Ferrari and many others who became globally known?

Italians are lucky to come from the country in the middle of the Mediterranean. From the Greeks to the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Etruscans, the Romans, then the Franks, the Goths, the Visigoths, the Lombards, the Normans, the Suebi, and the Arabs, the influence of all these cultures means diversity in architecture, painting, music, and also in an agricultural sense. Italy has the widest range of dairy cows in the world. Our DNA includes an extraordinary creative memory of people who knew how to cultivate diversity and how to interpret it in all fields, in arts and trades. Our wonderful young country isn’t homogenous. Up to 150 years ago, there wasn’t Italian painting. There was Roman style, Neapolitan style, and Bolognese style.

Davide Rampello, what is your own diversity?

Constantly seeking my truth, which I still don’t know. To have the courage not to fall into the trap of cliché. There is a wonderful line in the gospel of Matthew that says: “The son of man has no place to lay his head.” You need to keep walking in life. This means evolving, changing yourself.

How do you define yourself?

First and foremost, I am a person who works with creativity, design, exhibitions. Sharing knowledge with young people at the university is fundamental because when I teach, the first person I’m teaching is myself.

Davide Rampello, where do you teach?

I was at Politecnico up to last year, and now I’m at IULM University.

“Italy is the country of great imagination, which is a powerful way to understand reality.”

Davide Rampello, what is the current situation with Italian culture?

Italian education is depressing and true attention isn’t being paid to it. Education is the first sign of culture. Italy is a country with many cultural activities and initiatives, but they aren’t always a representation of culture.

Where is Italy going?

Italy is one thing, but Italians are much more. Italians are going all over the world, taking their Italian lifestyle with them. People love the way we live, our love of life, a certain style.

Which style?

It differs from place to place, but we all have Italian vitality, that layer of culture that goes way back and has never remained the same. It continuously changes, is constantly stimulated.

Davide Rampello and Partners: Tania di Bernardo, Greta Carandini and Erika Bignami. Photo by Giorgia Benazzo.

The exterior of Pavilion Zero at Expo 2015 Milan

“L’Italia Fatta a Mano” by Davide Rampello

Design backstage at the Brera Academy

The lacquer box or the emotion of the design by Davide Rampello

Digital entrance curtains at Expo 2020 Dubai

“Now is the time to put the focus on the role models that work in breeding animals, in agriculture, in craftsmanship, in all different kinds of trades.”

Davide Rampello, will the new world of the Internet, of artificial intelligence and cars that drive themselves, transform the country?

In my opinion, there will not be a traumatic transformation but an aware evolution. Italians have too much in their DNA. A Roman is the result of the court of Caesar and the court of the popes. A Roman has too much ironic cynicism, is too hardened to be conditioned by this. Not to mention the Neapolitans or the Ventians, who are philosophers par excellence.

Italians speak poorly about their country, but you defend it?

Despite everything it is a wise country with a great imagination. An Italian went to the moon before anyone else, at least according to Ludovico Ariosto, the epic poet whose hero went to the moon. This is the country of great imagination, which is a powerful way to understand reality. There isn’t just science for knowing things.

You write a lot about Venice and Sicily in your book, but you live in Milan. Why?

I speak excellent Venetian dialect and I adore Venice but I am happy to live in Milan which I have always felt was an optimistic and welcoming city.

What is the culture of design in your opinion?

Design is the culture of creation, and is incredibly ancient. For instance Columella’s writing “On Agriculture” (“De Re Rustica”) from 50 A.D. and Vitruvius’ even earlier work “On Architecture” (“De Architectura”). They have shaped both Italy and the rest of the world for centuries. Even in the neoclassical  period in the 18th and 19th centuries people referred back to Vitruvius, and anyone who wanted to write seriously about agriculture referred back to Columella until man decided to apply chemicals and machinery to the land. Now that the idea is to go in the opposite direction and to save the planet by taking away chemicals and machinery when possible, Columella is incredibly topical again.