To my memory, Flos has always existed. Or at least it has existed since I began to appreciate the difference between an invention and something that originates from the repetition of something else, which has already been seen, certified and recognised (such as the Louis XV style or Chippendale). When I learnt to read, in certain old Disney comics I may well have come across a light bulb: one of Gyro Gearloose’s dreams, or a neat metaphor for the idea lying at the origins of everything created by genius. At the origins of Flos, likewise, one firstly discovers a shining idea, the notion that a light bulb – or rather a new idea about how to design artificial light – could give rise to objects that were fit to bring a breath of change to the Italians’ way of living, a population spoilt by being born, raised and immersed in a land where you bump into something related to art with every step.
In this land of inventions with an infinity of ideas, but still heavily damaged by the war, a key decision was taken one day in the late ’50s by a man named Dino Gavina, a firm individualist who was all but obsessed with the idea that Italy should become the homeland of a new interior design culture. After meeting the inventor and small-scale producer Arturo Eisenkeil from Merano, and having created many new pieces of furniture (with Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Ignazio Gardella, Carlo and Tobia Scarpa and other geniuses of Italian architecture), Gavina resolved that it was also time to create new lamps. The cocoon technique used by Eisenkeil – a resin sprayed onto a metal frame – seemed an ideal starting point. Rather than decorating a light bulb, the aim was to give a sense of magic to the light it emanated, filtering it through an enchantingly nebulous material that was captivating precisely thanks to its cloud-like quality.
What followed could be described as the prehistory of Flos. Before long the cocoon method was taken up by the Castiglioni brothers (who had already started making their own prototypes of fantastic bright ideas, like the one that would become the legendary Arco floor lamp). Tobia Scarpa also adopted the technique, spurred by Gavina who had dragged Eisenkeil and Sergio Biliotti down the fascinating and risky road of experimentation. Cocoon was soon followed by many other beautiful techniques that were still surprising for a country like Italy with such close ties to old ideas of interior design. Therefore, right from its prehistory, Flos (i.e. the company that succeeded Eisenkeil and whose name was invented by Pier Giacomo Castiglioni) was cast in the interesting yet sometimes awkward position of being obliged to produce a constant stream of object-inventions.
I use the word object because it is very different to a simple product that, for better or worse, just about anyone can make and perhaps even sell. Knowing how to invent an object, meanwhile, and even more so a new lamp, is a far more exceptional skill. Nonetheless, this skill was possessed by the people whose thin and often smiling faces – if not sometimes slightly amazed and faintly unsure about what to do – can be found in the almost countless images and documents that Piera Gandini has collected over many years, and that now form the basis of any investigation, research or project regarding Flos’s history. The faces of those Italians are the expression of a period and an existence that was strewn with many difficulties. But precisely through the love of inventing new things endowed with their own unique beauty, in those years the foundations were laid for a design identity that many now think they can recognise, perhaps even too well. Yet without those Italians, their hopes, aspirations and the odd illusion, that identity wouldn’t exist today.