Fabrica’s One & Only Collection is design poetry

Thought Experiments

By Livia Albeck-Ripka

A broken vase can’t hold water. Unless—that is—it’s a vase designed to be broken from the start. Sold with a hammer and chisel, Pascal Hien’s Division Vase only really works once its owner smashes it in two; it’s a counterintuitive but refreshingly playful design that forces one to personally engage the design process. And Division Vase is just one in a series of nine tactile, interactive, and charmingly unexpected one-offs—the One and Only Collection—created specifically for L'ArcoBaleno (Pamono's parent company) by nine separate designers from Fabrica.

“By breaking the piece,” explains Hien, “it actually becomes useful; beforehand, it’s completely nonfunctional. There is a tension between you and the object. It’s quite brutal, but I think also somehow poetic.”

Hien works among the thirty-some emerging designers, artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and writers currently engaged as fellows at the Fabrica Communication Research Centre in Treviso, Italy, near Venice. Here, aspiring creatives take on coveted, yearlong residencies dedicated to unique collaborative projects—like One and Only—as well as lectures and tutorials led by industry leaders, all aimed at exploring the arts as a catalyst for social change.

Conceived over 20 years ago by entrepreneur Luciano Benetton and photographer Oliviero Toscani—who produced some of Benetton’s most well-known and controversial campaigns—Fabrica is part mentoring program, part production studio, and part think-tank. It opened in 1994 in a 17th-century villa, which was later restored and augmented by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. At its heart, Fabrica stands for the conviction that communication, in all its applications, drives progress.

Engaging in both internal and external work, Fabrica’s clients include Benetton, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, governments, and design agencies, with projects ranging from products and installations to publications and films. The centre is internationally acclaimed, having won Academy Awards, Cannes Golden Lions, and Webbys, and the fruits of its labor have been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Triennale di Milano, the Design Museum and V&A in London, and more.

The new collection for L’ArcoBaleno expresses Fabrica’s versatility. “One and Only is not just an assortment of artsy design pieces,” explains Fabrica’s Design Studio Head Sam Baron. “The project was approached as a big challenge around the online design retail market, which is typically rooted in pure visual appeal and industrial production.” Baron says he hopes the functionality of these pieces will be appreciated alongside their individual narratives and true originality. It’s partly for this reason that each of the collection’s pieces is one of a kind, and also why each piece comes with a photograph of itself. Baron and his team wished to emphasize the intellectual leap one makes when purchasing a physical object via an online transaction—as well as the step-by-step path each object makes, from a seed of an idea in the designer’s mind to an image online to a physical object that becomes part of the end user’s personal space.

“You see a picture of a table, but you never touch the table before you buy it. I would love if the buyer hangs the photograph close to where the piece is used, so the story goes full circle,” Baron adds. “The idea was that each of us [designers] transmits a bit of our own personality and passion, either aesthetically or culturally, [into each object]. Some of the pieces are more functional, some more lyrical, and some more material oriented. Sometimes it’s for nothing but for the sake of itself!”

A take on traditional French decoration, Baron’s own piece, Attaches Moi, is a hand-wrought iron bow. “The concept is about twisting the French decorative arts tradition. To take one of these little elements and make it really big in a material that is normally not used for this kind of thing,” he explains. “There is a bit of humor [here], taking something from one context and putting it in another.”

Poster for the Ombre Side Table, part of the One and Only Collection by Fabrica for L'AB Photo © Marco Zanin / Fabrica 2014
Like Baron, the other One and Only designers dug deep into their own interests and experiences for inspiration. Other pieces include a marble lockbox, a tridimensional natura morta, and a wall appliqué inspired by the traditions of Sardinia—made out of bread.

“I observed making of all kinds while living in Italy, which made me consider how automated production might converse with age-old artisanal practices, and what the value might be of bringing these approaches together,” explains Dean Brown, the designer behind the Makeshift Tray. “I'd like to think, in many years to come, it will perplex historians, who will find it hard to define where and when it was made.”

Tomomi Maezawa goes even more philosophical in describing how the optical illusion of her Narcissus Mirror challenges notions of individuality. “Every face is unique. But to know your own uniqueness, you need to see your face and compare it to others. It’s impossible to perceive your real face in a mirror, and my mirror makes this point more apparent.”

While the designers’ own reflections on design and how it’s valued served as the starting point, these nine objects are only finished once the ultimate owners introduce them to their homes. When one designs to communicate, there must be someone to receive and respond to that communication. “I'm always trying to think, when we get a briefing: ‘How can we push it a bit more?’” says Baron. “I think design should make the user come alive in some way.”

  • Images by

    • Mattia Balsamini

      Mattia Balsamini

      After a number of years freelancing while traveling, Mattia moved back to his home town of Pordenone, Italy, where he continues to pursue his passion for photography. He loves bread, apples, warm weather, and fast alpine skiing.
  • Text by

    • Livia Albeck-Ripka

      Livia Albeck-Ripka

      Aussie native Livia is a journalist, editor, and copywriter currently living in Italy on a yearlong fellowship with Fabrica. Formerly the deputy editor of Dumbo Feather, her focus is on the human, beautiful, and revolutionary.