A young woman is carrying a jar of water, her distinct and delicate figure stands out against a soft red background from which it seems to spring, and which seems to protect her.
Achieved by subtraction from the thin paint that covers a wall surface plastered with lime, this iconic image is taken from an alfresco wall painting found in the Domus Sacerdos Amandus in Pompeii, a Roman building dating from the 2nd century BC and identified as originally the headquarters of a group of gladiators, then transformed into a home. The detail, which appears in the Matteo Brioni catalogue in the section dedicated to the colour Cameo, calls to mind the typical colours of this classic jewellery, adopted by the ancient Romans and even earlier during the Hellenistic age.
Like the fresco, the colour Cameo is also obtained by subtraction, but by using a reverse procedure: not starting from the red, but from the milky-white surface of seashells belonging to the Cassis family (Cypraecassis rufa, Cassis madascarensis or Cassis cornuta). If dug into, the calcium outer layer reveals a deeper layer containing the unmistakable warm and soft reddish hue that characterizes the small jewels of the same name, and which is also interpreted by Matteo's raw earth in the colour variant of the same name.
As well as coral, Torre del Greco, where I grew up, is the home of cameo production, and I always felt that this particular colour belonged to me personally. When I was a child, we took long family boat trips around Capri and as soon as we left the small harbour, there it was immediately over to the right - Casa Malaparte. It stood there, overlooking the rocky coast; its plaster walls a red cameo colour visible from miles away, even if faded and dulled by the passage of time. Maybe it was also because of that memory, but I immediately thought back to that colour when I was asked to create the retail design for Amedeo, the most popular cameo brand among American celebrities and one with a flagship store on Capri.
Clay is a centuries-old material that you work with your hands: by nature it is primordial and intensely profound, which is why I consider it the ideal finish for giving identity to places that are not very defined in themselves and which need strong characterization, like all retail spaces. In the main display windows of the Amedeo shops we opted for an interplay of references with the colours of the jewels. The finish of the walls, applied by spatula, has a slightly lighter shade, obtained by mixing Cameo with Pomegranate. This solution is in contrast with the colour adopted outside the shop, again in raw earth, but in cream tones. The flooring is a mosaic composed of small rectangular tiles of porcelain stoneware, arranged in random order as a kind of calm chaos that calls to mind the image that appears when observing microorganisms under the microscope, or even that of a crowded meeting of boats.
For Faraone and Mennella, another shop in Capri and an iconic brand which became especially famous after its gold jewellery was featured in Sex & The City as well as in films such as The Devil Wears Prada and Wall Street, we made reference to the same chromatic character, but applying different materials. The interior design of the retail space is in fact based on the brilliant effects created by different metals, in particular those of the brass display cases which are highlighted by the raw earth Panna plasters, as well as others specially made in a light blue shade. A large “earring” with linked circles is placed in the main window of the Amedeo store and thanks to the LED strips contained inside, is able to light up: a highly striking solution, which was also intended to be a tribute to the memory of one of the company’s two founders.
The mood of the two brands was displayed through a series of somewhat metaphysical and surreal “postcards” set right on the roof of Casa Malaparte. On that kind of stage overlooking the Mediterranean we chose a small family of regular solids in different shades as the leading characters in an abstract comedy and intended to harmonize with the dominant colour of the villa. Those pure geometric volumes, similar to those in the Matteo Brioni catalogue, have in this case been reinterpreted to design the interiors and display cases of the jewels and cameos.
From a certain point of view, the working of the Cameo shell summarizes my approach to design. When I create a project I never feel completely satisfied and I always have the feeling that there is still something else to “dig out”. In the working of that jewel, as well as in the sculpture of stone or wood, the task of removing is translated literally, while in design there is more the impression of adding and modifying the material as in the malleable modelling of clay (the oldest and most primordial form of sculpture). Yet even the design process can be described as a process of subtraction, carried out, for example, by creating objects that are not ends in themselves but which have been designed for those people who will use them: therefore, something which is accomplished by eliminating elements and synthesizing themes common to a wide variety of individuals.
In this sense, as a designer, I have to be careful to contain my more Neapolitan side, which often leads me to “sin” in wanting to do a lot, maybe too much. So usually, I first wallow in the ingredients of the project, then I gradually reduce them until they take on their own stability. I applied this procedure for example to a plastic broom designed for Muji, whose development took almost four years of work (you can almost see many architects smiling, accustomed as they are to super-fast building construction times). Then there was a chair with a buttonhole for hanging handbags, a solution that really convinced me, especially from an aesthetic point of view until I realized that it was a compositional choice and I decided to eliminate it. I have to say that the chair works better that way: much more elegant (and then you can always transfer the idea to another chair).
Coco Chanel also said that before going out it’s a good idea to look in the mirror and take something off; that’s fine, but as long as it’s not a precious memory like a cameo.