Lighting the way: Daniele Bortotto on the elements of good design

The latest addition to Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades collection is a set of meticulously crafted lanterns by Italian design studio Zanellato/Bortotto. Co-founder Daniele Bortotto tells Tama Lung the story behind their creation and why good design transcends both form and function

When Louis Vuitton unveiled its travel-inspired Objets Nomades collection at Pedder Building a few months back, the bold and colourful display was a welcome contrast to the austerity and asceticism that have defined life amidst the pandemic. It was also the perfect opportunity to preview Treviso-based design duo Zanellato/Bortotto’s Lantern series ahead of its international reveal later this year.

Zanellato/Bortotto’s Lanterns for Objets Nomades come in two sizes (Photo: Louis Vuitton)

“We were super excited about the launch of the lanterns and Louis Vuitton,” says Zanellato/Bortotto co-founder Daniele Bortotto. “The past year was quite tough for us. Even from a creative point of view, it’s difficult to stay in your house and not have the possibility to go outside and [experience] new ideas. We were really waiting for this project to be launched and to share it with the public.”

Bortotto and Giorgia Zanellato founded Zanellato/Bortotto in 2013 after completing their studies at IUAV University in Venice and the Ecal de Lausanne in Switzerland. After presenting their first project at the Salone Satellite in Milan that same year, the design duo kicked off a “longstanding, constant research into the relationship between places and the passing of time, a connection analysed through the reinterpretation of traditional artisanal techniques”.

“ We loved the idea of lanterns because it really gives the feeling of something you share with someone else – this idea of light and shadow, of bringing people around the table for dinner, or being outdoors at night and sharing a moment together”

Daniele Bortotto

“We’ve been working together for almost 10 years and I don’t really know how to describe the way we work and the way we collaborate,” Bortotto admits. “Everything is really spontaneous and it’s really a matter of exchange. You know when you think you have different ideas and then you talk and you realise that in fact it’s the same idea and you have the same thing in mind? It’s always like that between us, like ping-pong. You throw out an idea and then the other adds to it. It’s something that makes us work. It would be really difficult for me to imagine working by myself.”

With projects spanning product design, interior design, art direction and limited editions for galleries, Zanellato/Bortotto has worked with a wide range of Italian and international companies. Its work has also been displayed in several galleries and institutions in Rome, Milan and London. Rather than having a fixed Zanellato/Bortotto aesthetic, the designers tend to start with a topic or point of reference and develop an object through a series of experiments.

Daniele Bortotto and Giorgia Zanellato (Photo: Louis Vuitton)

“I think we’re really interested and passionate about colours,” Bortotto says. “With many designers, everything is black or white, or pure and simple. We like to experiment. Our aesthetic speaks about experimentation, contamination, attention to detail, colours and soft tones combined together.”

Zanellato/Bortotto’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton dates back to 2019, when the studio designed the Mandala screen for that year’s Objets Nomades. The braided leather screen was inspired by the Louis Vuitton monogram with colours that evoked the dappled reflections of sunrise in the waters of the Venetian lagoon.

Watercolour rendering of a lantern (Photo: Louis Vuitton)

The idea for the lanterns – which come in two sizes – emerged from a deeper exploration of the weaving and patterns that went into the Mandala screen. “It started when Louis Vuitton asked us to think about the Petits Nomades collection,” Bortotto explains. “We started thinking about small objects, something you can keep in your home or bring with you. Speaking about weaving, we were always fascinated by these lanterns and crafted objects that we saw in our trips, especially in Asia and South America. We could also see how in Europe and Italy these traditions are being lost and it’s harder to find craftsmen that still do weaving.

“Then this idea of lanterns, we loved it from the first moment because it really gives the feeling of something you share with someone else – this idea of light and shadow, of bringing people around the table for dinner, or being outdoors at night and sharing a moment together.”

Similar to the Mandala screen, the lanterns were crafted out of thin pieces of leather woven into a honeycomb cage and finished with wood, hardware and a rechargeable LED light with a frosted glass bulb. “It’s fascinating for us to make something with solid and empty spaces,” Bortotto says. “It’s really cool to have this pattern that creates light and shadows, and you can do it just by fixing together pieces of leather.”

Mandala screen created for Objets Nomades 2019 (Photo: Louis Vuitton)

Having collaborated with Louis Vuitton and its artisans on two unique pieces, Bortotto and Zanellato have found the luxury house to be a kindred spirit when it comes to design and production. “The reason Louis Vuitton asked us to collaborate with them is because we’re always passionate about craftsmanship and the potential of all the artisan techniques,” Bortotto says. “With commercial products, we always like to create something that links to the craftsmanship. Nowadays clients are searching for something that’s unique, that has a story to tell, that’s not just a standard production where everything is the same.”

And having that story to tell, according to Bortotto, is the essence of good design. “Of course, there’s beauty, functionality, wanting something in your house because it helps make your life better. But there’s something else we want to communicate with what we do,” he says.

“In the case of the lanterns, it was a matter of relating something about travel, about experiences, about sharing. I also think the idea of Objets Nomades is to bring the outside world into your home and make you dream. This is what we did with the lanterns. And it’s why we matched so well with Louis Vuitton, because it truly reflects the way we like to work with our projects.”

See also: Purposeful, adaptable, authentic: Andre Fu on his design identity

In this Story: #PRINT / #art & design