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It’s 2001 and we are in Florence: a group of Architecture graduates, all girls with a great appetite for inventive gatherings, are preparing an installation where guests are invited to dress in vintage garments sourced in bulk from the flea market. They need a name and since arabeschi (the Italian word for ornaments) sounds too intellectual, they opt for Arabeschi di Latte.
The entire operation is supposed to be just a game, but ten years later the collective founded by Francesca Sarti has a portfolio that many would envy: Wallpaper magazine, Faye Toogood, Kenzo and Philipps De Pury are a few of their collaborators or commissioners. Calling them food designers would be limitative; in their recreational workshops, events and installations, food is mainly a tool for narrating something wider.
You had an intense Milan Design Week, developing commissioned projects but also celebrating your 10th anniversary, in collaboration with Designmarketo. What comes next?
Well, I just came back from a workshop at the ECAL called Pasta Power: design students had to create pasta of an invented shape and find a story to describe it. If you think about it, pasta is all about design! Then there’s quite much work in progress going on: We are consulting for a Tuscan food business that will open in London at the end of June. The name is Tuscanic and it will be more of less a Tuscan fast food. Then Wallpaper magazine invited us to develop a project for Hastens, the Swedish bed company… We came up with a drink for the perfect sleep! And then on the first of June we are launching a project of fermented waters in Rovereto, in occasion of the Green night…
The process is similar to cider or beer making: with time, seeds or flowers give back to the water the nutrition that water has given to them. In simple words, you have a chemical process where plants release part of their nutritional values.
Your work involves lots of research: which was the most influential food knowledge that you acquired so far?
In general its simple and poetical images, everyday stories that went lost [are what] fascinate us the most. Street food has always attracted us, it was actually the theme of my dissertation in Architecture and it’s also the first form of restoration in the world. I could say that itinerant food sellers are the outpost of the culinary experiences that we create. They’re all about little and pleasurable everyday moments.
When it comes to food, Italians are really traditionalists. How do they see your uncommon initiatives?
This is a question that foreigners always make! I think that the Italians don’t realize the difference! We started from Florence and we had great feedback since the very beginning. Personally I’m really fond of Italian food culture but to us, food has always been a communication tool. Not belonging to a specific category (we’re designers, not caterers) conditioned the way that certain people saw us. But common perception is evolving with time: there’s much more openness now.
So do you believe in some special power of food?
Food can tell stories, describe entire cultures. It breaks those barriers that generate distance between a person and the experience. It has the power of attracting people and you can give so many roles to it: it can be entertainment or even the medium for communicating a message. Just food and music can be so popular, fascinating and holistic.
During Salone you also inaugurated a new office in Milan. Is this a step forward?
Most of our customers are in Milan, so having an office in Florence didn’t make much sense anymore. It’s a natural evolution. The funny thing is that we all live in different cities across Italy and we also travel for work. I live in Rome for instance!
Does the fact of having just celebrated 10 years of activity make you reflect about the evolution of Arabeschi?
You see Wundertute, the garage sale of our archives that we did during Salone was kind of a visual cleaning. Objects themselves are not that important, we’ll always carry their message as a memory, so to us this was a symbolic event. Still, consultancies are something that I’d love to explore further: expanding in terms of experiences and not necessarily in size.