Adele Cassina: at home with the history of design

She has her father Cesare’s authoritative name, the same name of one of the brands he founded (the others are Flos and C&B, now known as B&B). Adele Cassina grew up around the most famed names of Italian design – from Vico Magistretti to Giò Ponti, from Franco Albini to Tobia Scarpa – at a time when design was just emerging from the country’s cultural scene, and the word “design” itself was not used yet.

After spending her whole life at the side of her father – a groundbreaking, brilliant entrepreneur – at the age of seventy she decided to leave her own mark in history. In 2009, she founded design brand Adele-C with professional partner Janzhong Yang, an entrepreneur with a penchant for Italian design and the founder of the Panamerica Group in Shanghai, source of the company’s internationalization.
Closing the circle, Adele-C now manufactures an “adult” version of the “Zarina” armchair that Cesare designed for his daughter Adele.
We asked her about this and much more, and here is what she told us...

What was being Cesare Cassina’s daughter like, growing up? And what kind of man was he, at home?
I need to paraphrase Leopardi to answer your first question: “foundering is hard in such a sea”. He was shy, mysterious. Reserved like a real gentleman. Although he was emotionally immature, he had great empathy and intuition, both at work and in friendships.

Franco Albini, Giò Ponti, Vico Magistretti, the Archizoom, Tobia Scarpa, Alessandro Mendini, Gaetano Pesce: Cassina collaborated with the greatest names in Italian design, and they were family friends to you. What do you remember about them? 
Except for Franco Albini, whom I didn’t have the chance to meet (I was too little when he worked for Cassina), I have a precise memory of each one of them. A memory of affection, admiration, and even a sort of awe. Unfortunately, this stopped me from fully enjoying the friendliness, tenderness and great benevolence they all showed towards me.

Can you tell us one anecdote about your father that you’ve never shared before?
On a very rare visit to my boarding school in Porlezza, he told me to sit in his car’s driver’s seat (I was twelve and 170 centimeters tall) and “guided me” with hand gestures, words, encouragement and a few screams all the way to Lugano. Exhausted but victorious, I got my first “father approved” driver’s license, which I kept with pride in my heart and mind until I turned eighteen and got an official one.

What would your father say about your new role as a businesswoman in the world of design?
He was proud and grumpy, but would be proud to see me give continuity to his work.

What is the Cassina product you are the most attached to?
Ponti’s “Superleggera” and Toshiyuki Kita’s “Wink”: the first product and the last product made by Cassina while I worked there.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when starting Adele-C?
There have been many challenges, but the hardest of all is solitude.

How do you choose which designers work for you company?
Choosing is not easy, because I actually have no rules, precedents, or particular beliefs to hold on to. Something clicks when I feel a sense of “already... but not yet” – the thrill of a prophetic vision that foretells the actual outcome of an idea.

Your first Adele-C product was an armchair your father designed for you. Did you want to pay homage to him, or was it just a great product to make?
Both.

What was the biggest lesson your learned from your father?
To grasp and to embrace people’s value, and to graft it to my own. He taught me to be extremely respectful of the stature of people next to me, and that creativity and wealth – both human and material – are the outcome of a mix of individual skills that mingle and intertwine.

What is your advice to young designers who dream of a future in this field?
I have to say I myself am the type of person who always needs advice... but I would tell them to believe in the future and try to do their part with profound preparation and honesty.

What is Adele-C’s mission?
To add a voice to the world of Italian design in interior decor, treasuring everything I’ve learned from my father Cesare. And to offer the market products that express ideas that are far from trends, and instead convey a discreet identity you will love forever.

How did you start collaborating with Janzhong Yang?
It was by chance... “chance” with a capital C. It was just a moment in which Adele-C really needed an entrepreneur... that I cannot be.

You saw the world of design being born from a vantage point. What changes do you see in it now, as an entrepreneur?
I don’t feel like a real entrepreneur – more like a person who worked in the family business behind the frontline, without being too involved and without responsibilities over its governance. Over the past sixty years, the evolutions in furniture design – and in the whole world – have been so fast and deep that they have left no traces. But “good” roots are crucial for growth, and “Made in Milano” design is doing great. Just listening to Paola Antonelli’s incredible presentation for the XXII Triennale – which she will curate – filled me with hope and great thoughts for the future. A “future” I pursue with expertise and enthusiasm. And, I should add, most importantly with humbleness. For me, that is the virtue of the great, of people who operate with deep knowledge, intelligence, honesty, strength and generosity, in harmony with themselves and with others.

Interview by Barbara Palladino

© Adele-C

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