Design matters #3

As we have anticipated several times, the focus of this 2021 will be mainly the product, its development and its evolution. Many readers had the pleasure of reading the interviews with the designers who have created some of our best-selling collections and who, every day, work side by side with the materials trying to invent something new or renovate something old to meet the needs of the market.
Italians are famous for being a country of artists but, however, we are also a country of lovers of good life, food and wine. Obviously, we cannot help but think of Zafferano and its founder: Federico De Majo.

Federico was born in Venice, the birthplace of Goldoni and the modern theatre and home to many craftsmen who, for centuries, have handed down the art of glassmaking. The history of the glass masters of Venice probably began around the year 982 AD, when the name of a glass craftsman appears in Venice. Murano's fame as a glass processing center, on the other hand, manifests itself when the Republic of Venice, to prevent the fire of the city's buildings (at the time almost entirely built in wood), orders the glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. From this time on, Murano, an island in the Venice lagoon, became the place par excellence of Italian glass.
The story of Federico De Majo has its roots in his family glass factory located in Murano where, after the untimely death of his father, he continues the business with his brother. After a few years as a consultant for Cassina, a leading brand in interior design, in 2001 he founded Zafferano Italia. The company was founded with the intention of creating an Italian brand that accompanies and highlights those talents thanks to which our country has gained international fame: design, wine production and haute cuisine.

Federico, how did you get the inspiration for the name Zafferano? Tell us a little about his birth.

When I founded the company, exactly twenty years ago, I chose the name of a spice that is obtained from the intense crimson stigmas of the crocus flower. "He wore a saffron-colored collar and a cyclamen-colored tailcoat ..." [editor's note: this old song comes from Sanremo Festival in 1954]. It is said that saffron is the color of happiness, but it is also synonymous of prosperity and wealth: ancient texts mention the use of saffron as a currency in North Africa and Iran


Crocus flowers field

Many Zafferano products have names that refer to the Venetian dialect (gamba de vero, tirache, torson) making us reflect on the fact that design often reinterprets simple concepts in an innovative way. What is design for you?

My bond with Venice and its culture is very strong. I have called many Zafferano products with Venetian dialectal terms: this choice reflects this strong connection, it is a tribute to the culture of the city where I grew up and where my roots lie. On the other side, the word design is more difficult for me to define, because today it is used - I would say almost abused - in very different contexts, from time to time with different meanings. Making a design product for me mainly means thinking, designing, instilling quality in a process, and therefore creating a product with added value.

Recently, we have noticed that craftsmanship and old production methods are back in the limelight. It is a bit like going back to the origins and the handmade product with its imperfections returns for being luxury objects, a "must have". Why do you think?

It is true: there is a return of interest in forms of artisanal production, in various sectors, for example, food. I believe that this interest is driven by the emergence of a collective conscience regarding mass industrial production. Also, it is linked to the change in sensitivity towards environmental issues, and, in general, by a growing desire for authenticity. Many ephemeral objects of poor aesthetic, functional and technological quality, have probably been available for too long. Now, on the other hand, more and more people can aspire to buy more solid objects, done better and with better quality materials, and which express new values ​​that last longer over time. These objects can also be mass-produced, with semi-industrial processes but, when they have a hand-made part, they are more attractive and meaningful.

Ultralight handmade

Handmade Ultralight Wine glasses


Tradition but also innovation. In addition to glass, borosilicate (also known as Pyrex) has been used lately. How is this material obtained and what are its characteristics compared to classic glass?

My father owned a large glass factory in Murano, so glass has always been part of my life. Glass is an extremely versatile material and not everyone knows that the Experimental Glass Station has existed in Murano since 1956, an international research center that provides technical-scientific support to the entire glass supply chain. Similarly, my interest in glass was born with that of Murano but expanded to include various versions of this extraordinary material. Borosilicate glass is a sturdy material, known mainly for its high resistance to thermal changes and chemical agents; it is used in many fields: in the chemical industry, in the construction of lenses and telescopes, components of lighting equipment, even in fire doors. But it is, above all, suitable for food use, and can in fact be used even in the freezer, in traditional ovens and in microwave ovens. We use it because it is light, transparent, easily workable, and it allows us to obtain objects that have a particular effect of lightness and playfulness.

Venice at sunset (photo credits by The Editor!)

Let's talk about wine. Each wine has its own story and a specific glass suitable for tasting its flavors and colors. How did the idea of ​​these glasses (Ultralight, Nuove Esperienze ...) come about?
(Editor's note: Zafferano has drawn up an interesting document that you can find here about the various models of glasses, their shape, capacity and use)

Talking about the conception and processing of these glasses is a big pleasure for me. In designing Nuove Esperienze, I looked for an idea that did not repeat the only formally pleasant custom of so many existing glasses. This idea came to me, sitting at the desk in a room of the Morgan's, which is on Madison Avenue. It was raining outside, a myriad of concentric circles vibrating in the mirror of the puddles: a concrete, immediate, realized thought.
As for Ultralight, these glasses were born at a time when I came to think that nothing innovative could be done in the field of wine tasting. But the attention to the shapes that has been put into this collection and the obsessive search for lightness make these glasses our excellence. The shapes are studied for each type of wine, the common denominator of these super light glasses is given by this lip finish that makes the approach with the liquid more comfortable while, for the new models, the elegance and rigor of the shape are the main features. Thus, white, red, great reds, aromatics, spirits, sparkling wines and champagne are consumed with the usual pleasantness but with the surprising agility of the glass that makes the tasting a unique experience.

Nuove Esperienze Celebration and Chiaro di Luna tumbler @ FAM


In the past we have often talked about light, its importance also linked to the season and the place where we are. Zafferano has a very innovative “Lighting” section that ranges from objects such as Poldina, versatile and suitable for both indoors and outdoors, to “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Romeo & Juliet” and others. How was this passion for lighting born?

The famous designer Fulvio Bianconi said: “Woe to start with the glass, if you start it won't let you go”. It went like this for me as well: the de Majo glassworks, active since 1947, has been my home since I was a child. When I was born, it was already a real industry, spread over an area of ​​4000 square meters, also a protagonist of the economic life of Murano. The love for glass is connected to the love for light: the furnace mainly produced chandeliers - beautiful, large and richly decorated - and lighting fixtures with a contemporary taste. That environment has had a profound lasting influence on me, and this passion has never left me. In the 90s I founded my first company, Meltemi, which produced lighting fixtures; I sold it to the Cassina Group in 1999 and after two years I founded Zafferano, which initially sold only tasting glasses; since 2005 I have reintroduced light within the collections, creating the Ai Lati brand and subsequently Zafferano Bespoke and Zafferano Lampes-à-porter. Today a large part of our turnover is generated by the lighting sector.

Do you already have the next project in your mind? Is there a particular object that you would like to reinterpret?

First of all, I start from the assumption that the next project is always the most beautiful ... At the moment, I am exploring the possibility of working in Murano with some talented artisans to produce contemporary objects that, however, have a great tradition behind them: unique objects that enrich the Zafferano catalog of new shapes and colors, always corresponding to the brand's mission, which is to create objects for the table that are functional, decorative and original, but which also give life to dreams and emotions.

venice lagoon

Venice Lagoon (photo credits by the editor!)

We say goodbye to Federico de Majo, imagining we are breathing that Venetian air characterized by the scent of the lagoon that blends with the history of a unique and timeless place that survives modernity and speed. Venice and its glass masters remain a unique heritage of our country that we must preserve and that we are happy to export all over the world.
#staytuned for the next interview!!

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