LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Vincenzo De Cotiis: Switching Channels


Architect, artist and all-round design talent Vincenzo De Cotiis transforms the abandoned into art.

Vincenzo De Cotiis redefines design, fashion and architecture with artistic aplomb.

Vincenzo De Cotiis' definition of Luxury:
I don't have a definition of luxury because I think that it's a very personal thing.

If luxury were...

A moment
A personal moment, my time.

How many architects can boast a successful fashion label to their name? Vincenzo De Cotiis can. However, he remains somewhat of an enigma outside of Italy's close-knit creative circle - a characteristic that continues through his work. As Mies van der Rohe famously decreed "Less is more", which still rings true, particularly when you look at the modesty of each meticulously crafted object, regardless of its medium. What Vincenzo De Cotiis' work lacks in ostentation, it makes up for in warmth, from the golden glow of burnished brass and the richness of reclaimed wood, to the aged, lived-in feel of worn leather.

Vincenzo De Cotiis' creative trajectory began in the early 1980s. A former architecture graduate of Milan Polytechnic, he admits that he wanted to be an artist, but a career in architecture seemed more financially viable. Since the outset his focus on experimentation with recycled materials has been the main impetus of his work. For example, Milan's Straf Hotel - De Cotiis' most celebrated project to date – is an audacious reinvention. Eschewing predictable neoclassical references, once inside the 19th century Palazzo it's easy to believe you're in Manhattan's downtown meatpacking district rather than Milan's main cultural drag. Concrete floors and staircases and exposed brick walls give a rugged edge, but the use of tarnished mirrors, framed gauze panels and rich chocolate coloured wengé wood nullifies the strict backdrop. Not what you'd expect for four star hospitality, but the result is modern, urban, but with a warm, earthy feel. "I think it's derived from the materials that I use, because I use materials that are more sophisticated, like Garzatti glass, brass – materials that are precious. In essence the material is the soul of the object. I think the materials as a whole make the environment warm, even though they are strong" he suggests.

This intimate relationship with materials led De Cotiis beyond architecture and interiors, onto the catwalk. In 1998 he and his then wife, Cristina Lombardi launched Haute, an avant garde label that has achieved international success, while resolutely remaining well below the mainstream fashion radar. In fact, it has done so well that in 2002 the duo introduced a menswear collection. Although he admits to having no fashion training, for almost a decade Haute has hung on the rails of some of the world's top boutiques season after season. Favouring clean lines and classic silhouettes, what sets Haute apart is the fine detail, coupled with his trademark experimental approach toward the fabrics. Recycled and vintage leathers, cashmere and fine silks are burnt, stained and torn, almost beyond recognition for a hard rock and roll edge, but then, perversely, he embellishes them with aged lace and vintage glass, restoring their original luxury and feminity. Haute's collections may not fly off the racks at the rate of Italy's more illustrious brands, but it has become established enough to secure a coveted spot on the Milan show schedule "I guess our clients like it because it's different, it's never been seen before. The materials, the shapes, the lines; it's original, yet timeless. Each piece still feels contemporary, even after many years" he suggests. With a design art gallery already under his belt, will a fashion boutique follow? He smiles, but says nothing.

Vincenzo De Cotiis the furniture designer falls into two camps, with a collection that is commercial by De Cotiis' standards for high end furniture manufacturer Ceccotti Collezioni, and his own range of design art works. Hidden away in a little side street just off Milan's main piazza, just next door to Straf, Progetto Domestico Galleria is dedicated solely to the architect's collection of hand made furniture crafted from reclaimed materials. Since the outset of his career De Cotiis has worked with found objects and offcuts, harking back to Italy's Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s, although lately he has experimented with resin, imbuing wood with the architect's characteristic rough, urban edge. "I have been working with recycled materials for many years – before a lot of other designers did. I feel that now it has become the spirit of the time, it is very important" he explains.

De Cotiis' collaboration with Ceccotti has been a remarkable success, as the recent solo exhibition of his designs for the Tuscan furniture maker at Paris design gallery Version Vêndome attested. Golden Cage, a sinewy bookcase made from brushed brass rods, became the undisputed star of last year's collection. This year the architect presented an equally formidable line-up with pieces such as the DC bed, a continuation of the DC seating range. Although Ceccotti's more than 50 year old history is more firmly rooted in the domain of classical furniture, its deep respect for high quality materials, as well as its exacting artisanal production process, follows the architect's personal ethos, while his avant garde edge appeals to a new breed of customers who demand contemporary looks produced to a superior standard. "I wanted to create pieces that were breaking the rules of Ceccotti's classical collection, but would still fit in. For this reason I chose to do pieces that were more likened to art than the actual classic Ceccotti collection" he admits.

Judging from the broad range of projects; a new interiors for Sportmax' Moscow and Los Angeles stores, a house in Italy and, of course the demands of not one, but two seasonal fashion lines, Vincenzo de Cotiis thrives on diversity. His personal life seems no less eclectic, as the architect boasts three homes, in Brescia, Milan and Fano, in which he divides his time, depending upon each project. He admits "The mix is very difficult, but I find it very energising working within each of these disciplines." Multi-faceted and multi-talented, Vincenzo De Cotiis is a force to be reckoned with.

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