What a year has been! This time last year, the global pandemic was raging. Amongst that uncertainty, we at VHF were just starting to see the results of our hard work. The situation was undoubtedly tumultuous and scary, but amongst the chaos, we found inspiration in the digital revolution that had begun.
I would like to thank everyone who subscribed, shared and supported us after our exciting first launch with Issue Zero. I cannot believe we are now on Issue One. Our revolution is still at the early stages; this is just the beginning. For this issue, I sat down with the team to create another inclusive futuristic experience. With new interactive content, we hope this issue will leave a mark and start a conversation on topics that, as a publication, we feel very strongly about.
‘We want to be looking at emerging ideas in different ways. We want to be the conversation of tomorrow.’
Issue One - Masters edition is the beginning of a new era. We celebrated Italian artistic heritage from the 60s to the 80s and its futuristic approach that shaped generations to come. We analysed the relation from the past to the upcoming Milanese creative movement. We took inspiration from Gaetano Pesce, Archizoom Associati, Andrea Branzi, Adriano Olivetti, Paolo Doganello, and filmmakers Dario Argento, Elio Petri, Mario Bava, Liliana Cavani and Tinto Brass.
This issue is lensed by international artists who were invited to reinterpret the futuristic approach of Italian art, films, and industrial design. We talk directly with the designer Nicola Brognano on the creative processes behind Blumarine, and Luis Sanchis gives us his modern take on soap operas. We have Natasha Voranger, and her futuristic styling approach, directed by Damien Kirsl and returning artist Andy Picci takes a trip into his childhood via NFTs.
That’s just a glimpse of what’s inside. We, as a magazine, want to welcome you and invite you to swipe right.
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Editor in Chief and Creative Director
You don’t need to be a Paris Hilton stan to recognise the impact of Blumarine’s AW21 collection. After almost two years, Creative Director Nicola Brognano has moulded the brand’s identity, on and off the runway, revelling in the early noughties nostalgia of naughty-but-nice icons Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. ‘My first thought was how to express the Blumarine woman in a contemporary way. I didn’t have an initial plan.’ Brognano says. “But it was natural for me to bring the concept of sensual and seductive woman in.’
When he began at the helm of Blumarine, founded in 1977, Brognano started, as most do, in the archives. Looking at collections past, Brognano sought to bring the signature rose motif and the soft, saccharine aesthetic into the now. ‘My goal is to reinterpret Blumarine into a contemporary fashion brand by maintaining the house’s heritage and DNA.’ Adds Brognano. The core of the brand is still present. There’s no shying away from the hyper-feminine romance, but this time around, the Blumarine woman feels both relatable and aspirational; she’s grittier, provocative at times, not afraid to make mistakes.
Brognano is skilled at bringing that flirty charm to casual pieces, his namesake brand was emblematic of that, although less contemporary than his Blumarine offerings. Brognano’s pushing of Blumarine’s new butterfly emblem is a witty move for this new venture too. ‘I think Anna Molinari’s vision is similar to mine, even though we have a different life and we are from different generations.’ Indeed, Brognano has hit the jackpot with generational timings. The TikTok generation is eagerly embracing 00s trends; the most recent Blumarine runway went viral for that very reason. Even though Blumarine pre-Brognano has always riffed on this sense of nostalgia, it’s his layered wit, or sense of irony, that has rejuvenated the house and ‘rebooted with a modern sensibility.’ As Brognano says.
That’s, in part, why he is cited as one of the new voices for Italian fashion. Having previously worked alongside Giambattista Valli, he knows when to bring that tactile, dream-like femininity and how to jar it with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge. 'I think that it was the right moment to talk about the early 2000s because nowadays people need happiness, joyfulness and a sense of lightness more than ever.' Says Brognano. True, we want that levity from the Milan shows and these designs stand out amongst the traditional houses and old guards, but will the Brognano buzz last post-pandemic when we've moved on from this sense of nostalgia?
The answer lies in the evolving scene of Italian fashion. ‘The landscape is definitely changing,’ states Brognano. The new wave of Italian creatives are bringing internationally appealing ideas to the runway while honouring their Italian heritage. It’s the balance of both that’s key. Too traditional or expected and you blend into the sea of the familial, too avant-garde or extreme and you’ve alienated your Italian audience. It’s a hard nut to crack unless you’re an established house. ‘Italian fashion is a balance of craftsmanship, innovation and creativity, it represents our way of life, our history, our cultural roots.’ These are Brognano’s winning ingredients it seems.
‘I think fashion is now taking human need into account too.’ Adds Brognano. Brands carving out their space in the worlds of ethical production, sustainably-sourced fabrics or inclusive ethos are a hit with the forward-thinking generations of activists. Blumarine is working with conscious faux-furs at present. ‘As a Creative Director, I think the creative industry has an important role in society.’ There’s a hunger for design like Brognano’s within Milan Fashion Week. Whether the hype will continue for Brognano’s designs post-pandemic is yet to be seen but the roots of a new, effervescent and aware Blumarine are truly planted.
Interiors are everywhere at the moment; an understandable side effect of time indoors in the past year. We perhaps previously took for granted the impact a well-curated space can offer, the mood it can set. Over the past year, mid-century mood boards, modernist statement pieces, and Made in Italy have peppered our social feeds, saved tabs and magazine front pages. We’re all enamoured with finding that rare Gio Ponti piece, that Kartell collectable or that Alessandro Mendini, to - somewhat ironically - make our space stand out from the crowd. In the world of cinema, these seminal pieces are often chosen or mimicked to do just that: to create that sense of wonder and individuality.
Is that why we are so enamoured with iconic design pieces? Their radical, revolutionary styles, despite their ubiquity now, were entrancing symbols of subversion. ‘There is a certain quality and attention to detail, certain proportions and lines.’ Says set designer Andrea Cellerino. ‘There is a social purpose and passion in creating a beautiful object and an aspect of its functionality.’ Even now, as a reflection of status and class, the design greats still evoke an idea of eccentricity. Alongside the Eames lounger or the Pierre Paulin ribbon chair, we see Italian greats such as Fornasetti, Mario Bellini or Alessi peppered in film sets, used to indicate a sense of self-awareness, quirky personality or creativity. ‘From the 60s to the 90s, Italy, in particular, has had an eclectic and fruitious production of design pieces,’ Adds Cellerino. ‘From Bertone and Pininfarina to Gae Aulenti and Jo Colombo, the warmth is in the design, and it’s inclusive of love, drama, sensualism, politics, religion and family.’ The inimitable Ken Adam is a prime example of a creative who used design classics to imbue idiosyncrasy. Adam was production designer for Dr Strangelove (1964), Diamonds are Forever (1971), and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), to name a few, and used the cantilevered 291 armchairs by Steen Ostergaard, the UP chair by Gaetano Pesce, or Joe Colombo’s Elda chair to create a sense of power and unease amongst his villain’s lairs.
It’s science-fiction that utilises these shapes and revolutionary ideas best. After all, what better to use for your intergalactic adventure than Space Age design? These were the most forward-thinking pieces of their time, representing aspiration and optimism of this bewildering space race. Perhaps it’s that feeling that has us drawn to such pieces outside of the cinema set now. These Space Age shapes add a practical everyday element to the foreign, out-of-this-world scenario; take Joe Colombo’s Boby storage cart, for example, which is on the set of Oblivion (2013) and Space 1999 (1975 to 1977); it’s a neutral that blends into the futuristic scene, while still feeling attainable. ‘There is a social purpose and passion in creating a beautiful object and an aspect of its functionality.’ Adds Cellerino. In the case of modern science-fiction, the presence of vintage design implies that even in the 50 or so years since Space Age design took off, there’s still much unexplored in science, much to learn. That 60s design and practicality are still much needed in the year 2045. That’s why we often see, particularly for the likes of Blade Runner (1982), reference to design from the past that looked to the future (1918 futurist architect Antonio Sant’Elia partly inspired the set for the Ridley Scott classic.)
For films created in the 60s and 70s, the placement of Space Age pieces, such as Jo Colombo’s, seems to give an eerie sense of relatability, as if to imply, ‘this could be your future.’ And oftentimes, it is. Elio Petri’s 1965 classic The 10th Victim brings an Italian lounge sensibility, one that Ken Adam undoubtedly nods to, to high-octane cat-and-mouse science-fiction. Groovy, pop-art Space Age pieces are used not only as fashion-focused styles of the era but to lure the viewer into
Indeed, with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:Space Odyssey (1968), perhaps one of the most recognised and influential sets, the use of design pieces sets the viewer on edge in both a positive and negative sense. Of course, there’s a subliminal foreboding feeling of discomfort seeing your Arne Jacobsen cutlery or George Nelson desk in such an alien situation. How can something from my reality be seen in such a tortuous place? But there’s a sense of wonder imbued too. The bright pink Djinn chairs and sofas by Olivier Morgue (in the lobby scene) make for one of the most iconic design moments on-screen - proven by designers Anthony Masters, Harry Lange and Ernest Archer winning the 1968 Oscar and BAFTA awards for Best Art Direction. It’s the realism yet extraordinarily newfound aesthetic that floors us.
Kubrick’s works revel in the unexpected. Arguably, that progressive aesthetic and attitude propelled the Made In Italy movement in popularity, to begin with. The Memphis group, too, active from 1980 -1987, were anti-establishment, creating pieces that rebelled against the norm. While Memphis style pieces are often used in modern cinema to add a feeling of curated status or zany character in dramas or comedy (Pedro Almodóvar is a fan), their maximalist aesthetic and radical shapes work brilliantly in dystopic science-fiction. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) uses a mixture of 20s (à la Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), futuristic metallics and Memphis-esque shapes to comment on bureaucratic states and dystopic society.
Today, the pieces that symbolised anti-establishment or excitement for the unexpected are seen as symbols of status, wealth or style when in our homes. But in the science-fiction cinematic worlds, even amongst CGI and green screens, they still have the power to frighten, amaze and invite.
Movie By Elio Petri
Stars: Ursula Andress, Marcello Mastroianni, Elsa Martinelli
Asserting itself as an ‘unconventional’ contemporary art gallery, Plan X in Milan possesses a disruptive disposition, characterised by its desire to implant a provocative brand of aesthetics within the traditionally more reserved framework of the founders native Italy. “We have always been strongly attracted to Pop and Street Art,” explain Marcello Polito and Nicolò Stabile, who were collectors prior to becoming gallerists. “Street and Pop Art are, for us, the purest and most genuine mirrors of the human soul – of social dynamics and the issues that characterise particular eras.”
Indeed, the pair’s collaborators – the likes of Thomas Webb and Tyler Shields - are commonly artists who deal in brash colour and noisy aesthetics; artists who embrace virtual mediums and whose work speaks to audiences that delight in digital consumption. “We wanted to create a gallery that could become a projection of our generation, our problems and trends,” they note of the concerns relevant to the artists they work with. This attitude further manifests in the gallery’s community-driven perspective, which sees Polito and Stabile utilising various pockets of the internet to communicate their ideas and engage with their growing community. “Our unconventionality comes from doing things differently and building connections with, typically, the youth that is often cut away from the art system,” they say, referencing the formalities their practice aims to bypass.
“Stuck in my house for almost three months, I went deeper on my emotions and how I relate to others. From that, the idea of a house that represents what we see to others, with a glitch inside, represented by the balaclava guy, was born.”
While the digital arena is invariably one of the gallery’s chief components, their exhibitions operate across two physical spaces, determined by the “two strong souls” of Plan X: Milan is their core space, while a Capri base underscores the atypical nature of their venture. As they describe it, the former represents their dynamism and sense of belonging to a scene bigger than their own, while the latter presents a stage for their love of “life, aesthetics and history of the arts”. Together, the two locations highlight the gravity of what Plan X is about, elsewhere apparent in the gallery’s manifesto which riffs on a message of “power and freedom” – illustrating the scope the pair offer their collaborators – which translates as a way of embracing each artists message. “Discovering those messages, getting to know the artists and helping them reinforce their ideas is what freedom means to us,” they confirm.
The guy in the balaclava is a motif that punctuates much of his recent work, while the houses he describes are full-on exquisite; interiors that wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Cribs, rendered here with painterly strokes. A recent exhibition with Plan X, My Dark Twisted Fantasy, saw DotPigeon combine a physical show with a release of NFTs; here, artworks by famous painters occupied the walls of the houses in the IRL pieces, while the digital works were adorned with works by other NFT artists.
Accompanying this current phase is the tagline ‘We all have a rioter inside our walls’. This phrase taps into the continuous glitch many of us are privy to today, relating to the thoughts we keep inside versus the polite exterior we extend to others. Says DotPigeon, “I think the majority of people who always act nice and smile don’t feel that way inside, they just have to be polite because of social convention.” The artist is currently curating a new show for the gallery, set to open mid-June; their first fully digital outing.
“Our collaboration has been solid for many years,” Polito and Stabile continue of their relationship with DotPigeon, “together we have grown and evolved by exchanging ideas, opinions and plans. For us, it has been very interesting to see the evolution.” Speaking more broadly and with a nod to their continued investment in new talent, the pair stress, “Plan X is not just about artists; Plan X is a community passionate about art, aesthetics, street style. Keeping up with the times and at the same time looking to the future requires dynamic work in the artistic and cultural scene, which we try to apply to every project we create.”
Lausanne-born artist Andy Picci’s work often circles identity and intimacy. He invites us into virtual worlds and fake realities through dream-like filters, challenging us to self-reflect as he has. After a year of no travel, no family visits and limited exploration, who are we now? If we think of life as a series of cause and effects, a continuous ripple ever-growing with each event, what makes us after a year without?
In collaboration with VHF, Picci - after moving away for the first time - has created an interactive artwork that explores his connection with Italy, his home country. The work takes a deep dive into iconic Italian design, with furniture pieces by Ettore Sottsass, Gio Ponti, and Gaetano Pesce reinterpreted. These pieces morph from recognisable shapes to silhouettes more affiliated with Picci’s memory and experiences of the designs, putting our perception of backgrounds and origins into question.
These cult Italian furniture pieces are represented here in a new space and context, reflecting on what it is that makes us who we are. Is it our experiences? Our interactions? Our memories of home and the pieces we affiliate with it?
Picci’s selected artworks are available for purchase at Foundation
We often look to London for emerging, inventive talent, but the usually conservative fashion of Italy has presented dynamic and experimental names of late. Italian style is frequently associated with impeccable craftsmanship, tailoring, and sourcing of the finest materials, often putting tradition on a pedestal. Back in the 80s, Franco Moschino shook up the Italian fashion industry and opened our eyes to what fashion could be with his postmodern, at times surreal, and well-crafted humorous clothing. Now, Italy seems to be once again embracing these progressive outlooks.
Everyone talks about GCDS, founded by Giuliano Calza in 2015, which has seen a growing celebrity following, including Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, and Kylie Jenner. It is the dreamy, retro, and playful aesthetic that has Gen-Z swooning. How about a rainbow embroidered bikini bottom or perhaps a hentai sweatshirt? Similar to Moschino, it is a fashion brand not wanting to take itself too seriously.
Cortese tends to focus on stripping away the philosophy of Italian style and focusing on fluidity and clean structures.
Another fashion brand carving out a new path for Italian fashion is AC9. Having left his PR career behind, Alfredo Cortese set out to explore his creative design potential and debuted a womenswear SS 20 collection that played with radical contrasts; decadent couture, 70s punk and the club kids of the 90s. AC9 inhabits an aesthetic of simplistic opulence with a slight attitude to his design approach. Still, mainly, Cortese tends to focus on stripping away the philosophy of Italian style and focusing on fluidity and clean structures. “I try to combine what I like about the Italian culture with opposite realities that might be colder and more rigid but without forgetting sensuality,” he explains, his inspiration found in the simplistic lines of Italian architecture or the alluring style of emerging young Italian actresses.
A relaxed, defined look is sewn into the DNA of SUNNEI too. Their ‘do more with less’ mantra is at the heart of every collection. Co-founders and creative directors Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo have quickly become one of Italy’s fashion brands to watch with their eccentric wardrobe essentials that riff on Italian classics that speak to the sustainability-focused customer. For Messina and Rizzo, it isn’t about seasonal trends but about creating a lasting garment that you never tire of wearing. Their re-interpretation of street clothing, trainers, windbreakers, and denim always presents bold and easily identifiable graphic patterns that catch one’s eye - whether on the runway, in a shop, or on Instagram. It’s no surprise that the quirky yet well-realised collections have caught on, and the SUNNEI fever is high.
It isn’t about seasonal trends but about creating a lasting garment that you never tire of wearing.
A distinct aesthetic is vital for getting the attention of both the fashion press and the customer, particularly in Italy. A design-duo that has precisely that is Galib Gassanoff and Luca Lin. After launching Act N.1 in 2016, they put their multi-cultural fingerprint on Italian fashion. “We wanted to bring something personal and meaningful from our childhood to the label. We didn’t just want to design clothing but to create meaningful garments that told a story to the customer,” Lin says, himself finding inspiration in his family’s passion for Chinese fine art. An element that today translates into beautiful landscape prints. But what has brought the most hype is their eye-catching hybrid pieces, which stemmed from Gassanoff’s examination of Italian heritage garments from the 80s and 90s. “We found specific details we felt inspired by, and from that, we started making these hybrid pieces, where we attached two pieces together by cutting and adding just one detail to create a complete garment,” Gassanoff explains. The duo’s ability to dare has offered a fresh aesthetic and perspective for the Italian fashion scene; they hope to raise opinion or challenge societal practices such as child marriages (Gassanoff experienced firsthand with his upbringing in Georgia.)
These fashion brands are on a quest to transform Italian fashion, putting branding into question and breathing new life into the stagnate and overly familiar. As Cortese puts it: “It’s necessary to educate the system about different realities and not only to care about big brands and big companies. We can’t be nostalgic but need to look to the future.”
Digital artist Matis Ferioli and VHF interpret the must-have season accessories through a graphic retro lens.
In a cluttered and chaotic world, the surreal sceneries of 3D designers like Alyssa Ramstetter, Blake Kathryn and Massimo Colonna, with their sweeping curves, candyfloss colours, and entrenched nostalgia, offer a respite from our daily lives and environments. The rise in digitally-rendered dreamscapes has collided with a collective obsession with curating our homes, partly fuelled by spending ever more time indoors but also as a means of controlling a tiny corner of the world during turbulent times. The refined, pristine vistas of these utopian spaces project an escapist fantasy that’s immune to the burdensome practicalities (like personal belongings and finance) and contamination of the real world. They are the ultimate haven.
Render porn, fantasy landscapes, crypto art; there are countless monikers for the artificial architecture fuelled by the boom in cryptocurrencies and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) sweeping Instagram and gaming platforms like Fortnite and Roblox. Zyva Studio's Anthony Authié sees the new technology as architectural liberation. For voyeurs, digital renderings – often utopias of cascading coastal retreats and serene sun-drenched homes – provide armchair escapism allowing viewers to transcend their four walls and drift into dreamy digital sanctuaries.
The design space has always sought to answer the demands of the era it emerges from, and despite never being built, artificial architecture is no exception. Authié’s Trans Office, a commission to reimagine workplaces post-pandemic, is a space studded with adaptable furniture that evokes the retro-futurist interiors of Kubrick’s Orion III Spaceplane in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Architoys, another fantasy project by Zyva Studio and Maison de Sable’s Charlotte Taylor, are collectable capsules the size of an AirPod case that transport viewers to fantasy realms via rotating displays of artificial environments. Their diminutive size calls on Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower, a building designed to answer the city’s overpopulation. On the other hand, Architoys are free of people, which is itself an antidote to overcrowding. The pair collaborated on Villa Ortizet, a calming fictional compound inspired by the French countryside. Encased in a leaf-green shell - designed to echo the surrounding nature - Villa Ortizet draws on modernist and organic architecture with its fuss-free furnishings and soft curves. Thundering rock formations act as supporting walls that bring the outside in, blurring the boundary between nature and architecture. From Taylor’s The Pleasure Garden for Selfridges to the Gucci Garden on Roblox – which garnered attention after a gamer bought a virtual Dionysus bag for 350,000 Robux, approximately $4,115 and $715 more than the IRL version – green spaces provide fertile ground for virtual artists.
For voyeurs, digital renderings – often utopias of cascading coastal retreats and serene sun-drenched homes – provide armchair escapism allowing viewers to transcend their four walls and drift into dreamy digital sanctuaries.
The benefit of green spaces we know; plants lower stress and increase focus, but can we reap these rewards from virtual spaces? Krista Kim believes so. “My art is an exploration of Digital Zen,” said Kim on her Instagram. She is the first-ever NFT house designer, which sold for 288 Ether ($512,000) on the NFT marketplace SuperRare. "Built" from beams of light and rendered using the gaming software Unreal Engine, Mars House evokes a healing atmosphere that plays to Kim’s passion for meditative design. She believes our need to escape the screen lies with technology and art acting as “a digital zen garden”. The concept of nature working in harmony with built structures echoes Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale, or “Vertical Forest”. The towering Milanese structure is shrouded in over 90 species of shrubbery and flora, nourished by an internal irrigation system, providing occupants with the equivalent of three hectares of forest. In a literal representation of the “nature is healing" hashtag, Bosco Verticale increases biodiversity by creating an urban ecosystem designed to attract wildlife and thus become “a magnet for, and a symbol of, recolonisation of the city by vegetation and animal life.” explains Boeri Studio. As a result, CO2 emissions are reduced for residents, apartments are flooded with natural light and heat, and energy consumption reduced. NFTs, by contrast, has come under fire for their energy-guzzling properties. Though fantasy architecture provides a vision for a future where wildlife and buildings live in tandem, there is a stark absence of nature, at least in the physical sense. Dreamscapes run contrary to the principles of organic architecture. Instead, they might be another example of neoliberal individualism, whereby the highest paying bidder can seek refuge from the people and trappings of reality.
Boeri's democratising view of architecture has been a common theme in Italian design since 1945 when the country experienced a rapid industrial, urban, and economic ascension. Utilising wartime materials and technology, designers played with abstract and sculptural aesthetics made viable through mass production. This optimistic movement reflected the promise of the future – brought into sharp focus with the space race, commercial jet travel and new democracy – and would become known as modernism. We see explicit modernist references in virtual architecture; our bleak periods and promise of the future influence us much like they did the movement before. In Alyssa Ramsetter’s viral Desert Bungalow, Ettore Sottsass’ wiggly Ultrafragola mirror sits against a sun-soaked picture window. Part of Italy’s post-war reinvention, Sottsass became a poster boy for new modernism and its optimistic – and sometimes ludicrous – vision of the future. The same can be said for virtual artist's exploration into utopian landscapes that speak to the needs of a wanderlust-seeking society in the same way Sottsass answered the demands of the new international marketplace.
Fuelled by global travel, technological revolutions and a hotpot of cultural references, the post-war years reinvented what the future could be. Today we see this play out online as rendering software makes virtual architecture almost indistinguishable from reality. “The possibilities are endless when AR (artificial reality) is fully unleaded in our real-time and space, we are going to experience a creative and artistic renaissance,” writes Kim Murphy, co-founder of virtual fashion house The Fabricant. These online ecosystems are still developing, but comparisons between the decentralised virtual worlds and democratising post-wars years are already apparent. Yet, where the post-war renaissance was rooted in community and socialism, today’s fantasy landscapes are noticeably void of people. But with gaming spilling into everyday culture, these surreal sceneries might not be unoccupied for long.
“In time, almost all of us will spend time socialising, learning, working and entertaining ourselves in the Metaverse,” writes retail futurist Doug Stephens in the Business of Fashion; it’s a sentiment echoed by Krista Kim. “I want to sit in MH (Mars House) with friends in AR and drink champagne”, wrote Kim on her Instagram. We already perform every aspect of our lives online, so living in the Metaverse doesn’t feel as impossibly sci-fi as The Matrix in 1999. But, Stephens adds, “Some may choose to spend almost all their waking time there, seeing the real world as dull, limited and inefficient by comparison.” Leading us to the question, if we spend most of our time in the virtual world, to the point it feels like the real world, how do we know it’s virtual?
The pandemic incited a seismic shift within the creative fields and their use of digital. We saw a wave of digital fashion and NFTs wash in, with industry greats playing with new digital ideas to keep sensory products afloat without in-store encounters. Outside of the beauty or fashion world, we have digital sensory experiences with immersive VR porn, but the past six months have seen the scent world diving into digital.
When it comes to e-commerce, the move to digital - namely AI scent profile suggestions and restocks of recognisable classics such as Chanel no5 - was a solution to the lack of the try-and-test physical experience. But there has been a bevvy of innovative ideas and trails outside of the commerce world. We know the power our sense of smell has; it can trigger memories, evoke emotions, change flavours, turn us on or add that extra layer to an experience. Some of us even lost these senses over the pandemic, with Covid wiping out taste and smell. Brands like Cyrano are capitalising on the importance of olfaction and have created a scent speaker that emits ‘playlists’ of fragrances through a range of scent capsules. Their correlating app allows users to mix their scents or watch a video with an appropriately paired scent.
That 360-degree experience is what the company Feelreal are tapping into too. Their Sensory Mask clips to your Virtual Reality headset, providing hundreds of smells that immerse you further into virtual worlds. There are even scent-focused computer plug-ins - created by Digiscents Inc - that act almost like a reactive plug-in scent diffuser. These act to enhance the user experience, merging reality with the digital. Shortly, working in tandem with wearable tech, AI-generated digital perfumers will be able to read your brainwave reactions to specific notes and synthesise your perfect scent. Mindboggling science-fiction.
But there’s also an added sense of luxury that can come with digital perfume. The NFT space is abuzz with collectables, and limited edition artworks as creatives push the boundaries of what’s tangibly worth all that cryptocurrency. For example, LOOK LABS, a studio founded by technologist Jordan Katzarov, launched a digital version of their fragrance, Cyber Eau Du Parfum, via NFTs. Designed in collaboration with Montreal-based artist Sean Caruso, the NFT collectables use spectrum data to represent the perfume. Each NFT customer will receive a physical perfume too (which in itself is impressively sustainable, unisex and electronic) just to add another layer of exclusivity. Many perfume-heads collect antique bottles or a celebrity’s favourite spritz; perhaps the future of this lies in the NFT space.
It seems the senses are the final frontier for this osmosis of digital and reality. Tapping into that personal sense of smell or rival a ‘good nose’ (highly covetable career for the whisky and perfume businesses) gives technology an intimate edge, further blurring the lines of reality.
‘In my opinion, we cannot talk about the racist and ignorant Italian mentality without mentioning Berlusconi's twenty years of politics and its aesthetics,’ comments Al Habash. ‘Since the end of the 1980s, Italian culture has been inextricably linked to the concept of well-being, to generalist TV and to the spectacle it staged.’ Despite this, and their forgetting of colonialism and fascism or refusal to acknowledge their problematic past, Italians generally mean well. They celebrate the likes of Marincola, the ‘black partisan’, who, during fascist times, contributed actively to the liberation of Italy in the resistance period. Now a metro station in Rome will be named after him.
But it’s exceptions like these that has everyone saying, ‘we are doing our best not to be racist’. But are we? The RAI black-face incident was not isolated. Someone protested when the first 100% non-Italian Miss Italia was elected, and a parliamentary minister of African origin was called derogatory names. Racially-charged shootings have been plentiful, and critics of Italo-Egyptian artist Mahmoud at Sanremo were numerous. Still, as usual, we tend to forget these insidious behaviours.
‘Italy has been used to turning a blind eye to any episode of racism and misogyny for a very long time, hiding what is rotten under ‘a good laugh’. We have tolerated small and large episodes of racism, ignored any gender mainstreaming policy and then find ourselves convinced that we are in the right.’ Says Al Habash. What should we expect from boot-like Italy, where one of the most voted political parties is deeply racist, homophobic and misogynistic?
We hope for positive change. Despite the hate, the so-called ‘second generation’ daughters and sons keep Italy alive. It’s almost a paradox. While young creatives continue to grow and expand, the ‘second generation’ bring their cultural heritage to the mix of what makes Italy, Italy. ‘I believe that things are changing, less slowly than you imagine. The generations of now are sensitive and aware of issues for the betterment of society; we are more interested and willing to change.’ States Al Habash.
In contrast, less multi-cultural parts of Italy can feel like they’re in another dimension, almost a pre-second world war Italy. So what is needed to move forward? ‘Ghali is an Italian Arab artist like me who was the first to expose himself against the black face in Italy, a phenomenon unfortunately still widespread.’ Comments Al Habash, ‘I liked how he did it: he criticised without using strong tones, he explained why it was wrong. It sparked a fair controversy, and RAI has finally banned this retrograde practice. I see many other artists exposing themselves to equality and humanitarian rights issues, which gives me so much hope.’
While young creatives continue to grow and expand, the ‘second generation’ bring their cultural heritage to the mix of what makes Italy, Italy.
Movie by Piero Schivapazza
Stars: Dagmar Lassander, Philippe Leroy