NAME TO KNOW – Patricia Urquiola

Published: 05 Jul 2021
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Patricia Urquiola is one of the few female designers to make it to the top of an industry that is still dominated by men and has done it by combining creative flair with commercial savviness…

Patricia Urquiola is a hugely talented and prolific designer with a range that stretches from bathroom taps to chairs and sofas, rugs, tiles and tables and tableware. Visit any international design show and there will be a slew of products designed by her studio, all of them showcasing her inimitable style that fuses creativity and innovation with a confident use of materials and attention to detail for designs that push boundaries but in a way that is appealing and not cold. Her mantra is…

‘to improve our everyday lives; not only in terms of ergonomics, environmental impact and other practical elements, but mostly on the intangible – virtual values perceptions, mental comfort and inner pleasure’.

A multiple-award winner, her Fjord armchair can be found in the permanent collection of New York’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art, and her clients include many major brands including Alessi, B&B Italia, Driade, Foscarini, Kartell and Moroso as well as hotels and retail spaces around the world. In 2015 she was made Art Director of Cassina,one of Italy’s most venerable brands with archives that include Le Corbusier and Gio Ponti.

Born in Oviedo in northern Spain, she now works and lives in Milan and puts her aesthetic down to a fusion of the two cultures. ‘As a person, my roots are strongly Spanish but the profession is Italian… and it’s a mix that fits… I feel both naturally, together. It’s a good thing.’

She says of the Crinoline chair for B&B Italia: ‘It’s absolutely a chair by a Spanish designer but then with the quality and the architecture of the Italian company…’

Crinoline chair for B&B Italia

Having wanted to be a designer from age 12, at 18, Patricia Urquiola left her hometown for Madrid to study architecture transferring to Milan Polytechnic, where she graduated in 1989. Her thesis was overseen by Achille Castiglioni, the iconic designer of the Arco floor lamp, and known for his minimal use of materials for maximum effect. It was a pivotal time. ‘I fell in love,’ she has said of this period. ‘I focused on design because of that man. He taught my generation about tools for living, in relation to the habitat and the people who would use them.’ Castiglioni was just one of her mentors. From Vico Magistretti, creator of the stackable plastic chair, she learned how to create a product that looked great and worked well and connected with buyers. From Piero Lissoni, who made her head of design of his studio, learned to design with longevity in mind.

Antibodi chaise longue for Moroso

Roll collection for Kettal

Pacific sofa and armchair for Moroso

tufty-time sofa for B&B Italia

In 2001, aged 39 and urged on by Lissoni, she set out on her own although recently divorced with a young daughter; she was not confident about doing so. ‘I had my prejudices,’ she says. ‘We are women; we have babies. And I didn’t think I could have my own business,’ she explains. She could, and what’s more, she was an immediate success. Today, she oversees a hugely busy and successful studio that delivers commercially and creatively, with major international companies, including now those such as Louis Vuitton, wanting to collaborate with her.

She is, though, a passionate and exacting person to work with. Shocked by the waste of water in an enormous sunken bath in a South Korean luxury hotel, she was inspired to factor sustainability into her designs; for Axor, part of the Hansgrohe group, she refused to design a bathtub large enough for two people.

‘To work with another woman as a woman, you have more complicity, more things to share. You go deeper. She’s given me projects from her soul.’

Her closest and longest collaboration has been for Italian brand Moroso, for whom she was worked since before she launched her studio and for whom she designed the Fjord chair. In describing her relationship with Urquiola, Patrizia Moroso once said: ‘To work with another woman as a woman, you have more complicity, more things to share. You go deeper. She’s given me projects from her soul.’