Today we spoke to the writer, design critic, and curator Alice Stori Liechtenstein. You may have heard of Alice from when The New York Times peeked inside her palazzo with its “17th-century silk-covered walls” last year. She’s a woman who turned an exclusive ancestral home – a 12th-century castle no less – into a thriving design community. Schloss Hollenegg for Design is now an international project which supports young emerging designers. Set in Austria, where Alice herself is also based, it’s one of the few residency programs in the world that focuses on nurturing designers in the early stages of their careers. At this year’s Salone Alice isn’t changing her tune, she’s back to her university town presenting a group of new designers and putting them centre stage. We hear there’s a painted marble table; need we say more? We caught up with the multifaceted curator to find out what drew her to design and what she’s excited to uncover in Milan this year.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re up to this Salone?
I collaborated with Fondazione Kenta and the Alcova team (Space Caviar and Studio Vedet) at the project Alcova Sassetti at Fabbrica Sassetti. We have selected a number of emerging designers who will be presenting new work in the former cashmere mill, preserved in its original state.
A former cashmere mill! It must be amazing to curate and create in a space that holds so much history. You must work with so many new and emerging designers now; what made these ones stand out?
I find it very interesting to work in spaces with layers of history and use, I think it is interesting to work in a contextual way. That’s also how we chose the designers for the show: they needed to add to the space and be in dialogue with it. It’s also important when I choose designers for the program at Schloss Hollenegg – apart from being talented and capable of working in different mediums they need to have an interest in uncovering hidden aspects of the history and architecture of the castle.
How did you originally get into curating and what drew you to design?
I trained as an exhibition designer and always worked in the field of design, mostly producing exhibitions for other designers. I love the medium of the exhibition as a way of telling stories, so at some point it felt natural to move from designing the scenography to selecting the content.
Can you remember your first design week in Milan? What was that experience like and how do you think it’s changed over the years?
Of course I remember! I had just moved to Milan and was studying design. It was 1998, and the fair was still in town. It was the first year of the Salone Satellite and I remember feeling exhilarated at seeing experimental projects by young independent designers. The displays of the larger companies did not interest me as much. The Fuori Salone was already a thing, but mainly as a pilgrimage from showroom to showroom. Zona Tortona felt like a new and distant frontier and because Internet was in its infancy, you had to get your hands on the very important ‘Interni guide’ to know what was happening. Now you need to plan the weekdays in advance and hope you don’t miss what everyone will talk about!
What have been the most challenging and most rewarding parts of the experience of this project so far?
I am Italian, but after so many years living abroad I tend to forget how messy and bureaucratic it can be to get things done in Italy. The reward hopefully will come on the last day, when you see the designers exhausted but happy. For me it is 100% about offering them a platform, an opportunity.
What are you excited to see this design week?
I’m super curious about the cooperation between Calico wallpaper and Faye Toogood – I am a huge fan of both! I’m also looking forward to visiting the Triennale, but most of all I am hoping to be surprised and discover new talents.
Of course! You work with a lot with emerging designers. From your perspective do you see a gender problem in the design world? If so how can we fix it?
I think there is a general gender imbalance in the workforce, so of course there is one also in the design world. There are plenty of women who study design but as they get older more and more drop out. The only solution I can see is for more men to take paternity leave, and for women to learn how to delegate. I have the impression fewer women rise because they find it hard to delegate.
Which designers inspire you (past and/or present)?
SO many! The past ones are Gio Ponti, Bruno Munari, Achille Castiglioni, Tomas Maldonado, Victor Papanek. The present ones are Enzo Mari, Constantin Grcic, Nendo, Mischer’Traxler, Katie Stout.
What are your staple Salone tips?
Plan before and leave space for surprise after.
Don’t forget to enjoy friends and food. Find the benches in the pockets of green, and look inside all the courtyards!
Image by Federico Floriani
Please read about other Brilliant Women Working Behind the Scenes: