Livia Rossi graduated from our BA Design course; since 2012, she runs Dossofiorito, a design studio in Verona, Italy, alongside her work and life partner Gianluca.
Q: Why did you choose to study Design at Goldsmiths?
A: Years before my enrollment on the course, I shared a house in New Cross with Goldsmiths students and I had the opportunity to come to the Campus few times. I have always liked the positive and energetic atmosphere that you could breathe there. Later, when I was still studying fashion design, I attended a workshop on sustainable fashion with Mathilda Tham, a tutor in the Design department at Goldsmiths. It really struck me because she had a very different approach from how I was taught at the time.
A few years later, when I decided to go back to university and study Design, I remembered that workshop with Mathilda and I investigated about the Design course at Goldsmiths. I was really happy to find out that the course had a very interdisciplinary approach. Coming from a very specialised background, I thought it would be the perfect choice for me!
Q: What were your expectations starting out and how did they compare to your actual experience?
A: I don’t think I had a clear idea of what I was going to learn, but I was really enthusiastic about going back to university. I had expectations about my attitude towards studying again, rather than the course: I tend to worry too much and I wanted to be able to enjoy more and make the most of it. I wanted to be less scared of failing and therefore to be more experimental in my practice.
Sometimes I succeeded at that, and other times not at all!
Q: What do you think are the main things you got from it, things which stayed with you/helped you in your career further on?
A: Apart from the various technical skills I have acquired, I think the course has given us the opportunity to develop our own design method and to find our field of interest. There were no strict guidelines on how to develop a project and often not a prescribed medium or format for presentation, which let each one of us free to explore and pursue our unique way of working. While promoting individuality, we were strongly encouraged to spend as much as time as possible in the studio, and to share and discuss our work with others.
I think this has been a great exercise in understanding and appreciating other people’s work, even if very different from our own, making us more more analytical in our practice. Because of that, there is still a very strong bond between former students, and I count many of my Goldsmiths classmates among my dearest friends.
Q: After starting out in fashion design, what made you want to move into a different area of design practice?
A: I was attending an MA in fashion design at Central Saint Martins when I realised that I didn’t want to be a fashion designer. I think that now there are different values and more awareness in fashion, but at the time I started feeling a bit uncomfortable with the “over the top” attitude I often encountered in the fashion world and I felt the need to be in a more down-to-earth and genuine environment. Also, even though I loved pattern making, I was struggling to express and communicate all the things that I wanted to communicate only through the medium of clothes. I was really confused at the time, but few years later I understood that I wanted to move to a wider practice.
Q: What is design to you? And how would you describe your design aesthetic in a nutshell?
A: For me design is a tool that allows highlighting people’s behaviors, needs and attitudes, in order to generate awareness, question or reinforce them. It’s a medium for understanding human nature. I wouldn’t say I have a definite aesthetic, as I’d like to think that it changes and evolves with every project I embark on, but I can see some common threads in my projects: most of them have to do with the engagement of the users and are quite playful and emotional. Also, I pay great attention to materials and details.
Q: How did Dossofiorito come into being? How does your vision fit with that of your partner Gianluca?
A: Dossofiorito didn’t start out as a design studio. In the beginning it was only a space I shared with Gianluca, my partner and also a designer, to work on our individual projects. Gianluca has a solid training in industrial design and we thought that our approach to the practice would be too different to match. After a while, we realised that our differences could be a resource, as we could question each other’s approach.
Our design process is not always smooth: on some aspects, because we are a couple in life, we understand each other perfectly well and we are on the exact same wavelength, but often our priorities and focus on a project are quite different. I tend to focus more on the conceptual aspects while Gianluca is more concerned with the technical and systemic side of things. We go through continuous confrontation, discussion (and yes, even fights!), but I think this is what brings us to more comprehensive results.
Q: What’s the design environment/industry like in Italy? How does it compare with your experience studying and working in design in other countries?
A: I have the impression that in many other European countries the design industry is more dynamic and ready to invest in young people. Italy has been hit quite hard by the recession and not many people in the industry have the foresight to invest in innovation. If you add the fact that, culturally, we associate experience and capability with age, it ’s often really difficult for young designers to find people willing to invest in them and their innovative ideas.
But there is a plus side to being here. The availability of specialised craftsmanship and of small manufactures able to work at a very high standard makes Italy the perfect place to work on self-initiated projects. I feel very lucky to have a direct and personal relation with the people that make our pieces. I visit them and spend many hours a week in their workshops, and we have long conversations on the use and possibility of materials. I believe it’s a learning process in which we acquire new skills and build mutual trust and understanding. I am confident this that will lead to interesting developments in the future.
Q: Your work at Dossofiorito (The Phytophiler, Epiphytes) and even the name of your studio suggest a connection with the vegetal realm, with the organic. How would you explain/describe this connection?
A: The name is just a coincidence, although looking back I find it quite prophetic.There was this old Dosso Fiorito neon sign hanging around our house, Gianluca had found it in a dumpyard when he was at college. Dosso Fiorito means ‘flowery mound’, it’s quite a poetic name. When we founded the studio we already had the sign, so we decided to adopt it.
I think my interest in the organic and vegetable world has older origins: I spent my childhood in an old farmhouse that had been absorbed by the little town in South Italy where I come from. It was a surreal and idyllic place, completely immersed in nature but right in the middle of an urban area. Unconsciously, I think I am always trying to recreate that environment around me. When I settled down in Verona I didn’t have a lot of work, which left me with a lot of free time for gardening. This got me thinking about my need for nature and I started investigating it more.
Q: How do you think this approach and interest in organic shapes fits in with today’s world of technology, apps and shiny screens?
A: I am not a very technical person, so far my work has always been completely analog. I try to focus more on the emotional aspects in physical/real life interactions. However, thanks to new technologies we now have a better understanding of plants and can translate their functions and abilities in a language accessible to everybody, not just specialists. Nowadays, plants can speak to us! I think this is a very important step in making us more compassionate and understanding towards other life forms.
Interview by Nadia Barbu. Images courtesy of Livia Rossi