Luca Nichetto has designed for some of the worlds most famous brands, continuing an international legacy left by the generations of Italian designers and craftspeople that have come before him. Today, he is championing a different cause–by partnering with up-and-coming Chinese furniture and homewares company, ZaoZuo, he is contributing to the much-anticipated rise of the sophisticated Chinese brand.
The approach from ZaoZuo came out of the blue as an email arriving in Nichetto’s inbox. “Every week I receive tons of emails from China, and to be honest, not having so much time at hand, I quickly go through them without dwelling too much on them.” Luckily, he had a rare bit of free time on his hands that day, and something about the email, which was sent from Shu Wei, who is the pioneering founder of ZaoZuo, caught his eye.
“Shu was explaining her vision for ZaoZuo–what they wanted to do, the different distribution channels they wanted to tackle–and what was especially interesting for me was that she mentioned something I consider very important, she wanted to get to the new Chinese middle class, young people that have worked and studied overseas and come back home,” Nichetto notes. “What she mentioned in her email is exactly what, for me, is the mission of design.”
Today, as Nichetto explains, all the big Scandinavian and Italian brands like Cassina, B&B Italia, and Flos produce and sell high-end products for reflectively high prices. While these kinds of companies are very successful in terms of branding, their product turnover is not that large. At the lower end of the market, you have the “copycat” manufacturers and companies like IKEA. Around ten years ago, Scandinavian designers noticed there was a gap in the market for homewares and furniture catering to the upper middle-class. Now, Nichetto sees this trend beginning to take root in China, and it is why he was interested in the approach from ZaoZuo.
At first, Nichetto came on board as a designer, working on a contract basis. It was not long after that he took on the role of consultant, and began reaching out to other well-regarded designers and design firms in Europe to ask them to collaborate with the brand–Claesson Koivisto Rune from Sweden, Noé Duchaufour Lawrance from France, Richard Hutten from Holland, Constance Guisset from France, Philippe Malouin, a Canadian designer living in London, and Sebastian Herkner from Germany. Finally, after the launch of ZaoZuo’s first project at the Beijing Design Week in September 2015, Shu Wei, the company’s founder, asked him to become partner in and creative director of the brand.
The experience of working for a Chinese brand is completely different for Nichetto when compared to his work for other international brands, “but it is also true that the passion, the energy, and the achievement you can find right now in China is something that is very difficult to find elsewhere in the world,” he says. “All the people working in ZaoZuo are really looking to create a good standard of living. The Chinese market and China itself are, in general, much faster than other countries to produce and develop something, and you can feel that they really want it.”
However, China’s ability to manufacture products at high speed does not always equate to the production of good quality products. “Design is a result of what the society needs and wants,” notes Nichetto. “The industry will take time to develop because the society [in China] is still too young to understand the real value of products. People know that they need these products, but at the same time they don’t know how to evaluate whether they are good or not.”
One of the issues is that China does not have a strong design heritage. Designers right now are delving into the past–the Ming dynasty or before the Cultural Revolution, for example–and reinterpreting that history in their contemporary design work. This is where, in Nichetto’s opinion, a European designer can step in and have an impact. “I know for sure that the idea of quality, or what for me equals quality, is different in China,” he says. “The impact of western designers in the Chinese environment can be very big because our experience, our skills, our know-how, our way to live can offer to improve what for them is nowadays considered quality.”
About Luca Nichetto
Luca Nichetto was born in 1976 in Venice. He studied at the city’s Istituto statale d’arte before undertaking a degree in industrial design at the Università Iuav di Venezia, from which he graduated in 1998. In 1999, Nichetto began his professional career with Murano-based glass maker Salviati, later becoming a product designer and consultant for lighting company Foscarini. In 2006, he founded his eponymous practice in Venice. In 2011, he moved to Stockholm, Sweden, to open a second studio and he continues to live in and work from this city. Over the course of his career, Nichetto has served as art director for many international design brands and he has developed an in-depth knowledge of the design industry.
He has lectured and led workshops at various universities, including serving as a professor of design at the Università Iuav di Venezia, as well as sitting on juries for assorted international design competitions. Nichetto’s work has been exhibited worldwide and has been the subject of retrospectives in cities such as Venice, London, Paris, and Stockholm. He has been awarded numerous international design awards for his highly researched, innovative design projects, which range across products, furniture and accessories, as well as incorporating architecture and exhibition design.