May 27, 2024
Arthur Arbesser Designs Furniture for Wittman

MILAN — Vienna-born, Milan-based Arthur Arbesser has been rolling up his sleeves in the furniture business. He’s ready to show off his first pieces with Austrian furniture-maker Wittman at Salone del Mobile.Milano on Tuesday.

Since the announcement in October of his new creative counsel role at the firm, the fashion designer has expanded his involvement to supporting Wittmann in the areas of presentation, branding and communication. He’s also been busy working on the Salone stand’s look and color scheme.

“I know that there are a few designers and actual furniture designers who are going to watch this space very carefully,” he told WWD in the intimacy of his studio, before the start of design season here.

Among the pieces Wittman will bring to Salone is a screen Arbesser codesigned with the Wittman team of experts. The divider is adorned with a print that is a homage to Josef Frank, the Austrian architect and artist of Jewish origins who emigrated to Sweden before World War II and was a designer for Stockholm design company Svenskt Tenn. Elsewhere there is a reedition of the firm’s Atrium sofa from 1971, adorned with pillows splashed with Arbesser’s “Flower” print.

“We wanted to do a floral pattern…something a bit fun. And so I wanted to make an homage to Josef Frank and I did that with my own sort of floral pattern,” Arbesser said, pointing to a telephone hiding within the petals and a little man walking to represent the reality of modern life in an early-20th century design. Arbesser’s knowledge of art history and sentimental flair for reinterpreting the past were qualities that made the aesthete an easy fit for the fifth-generation family-run company, which was founded as a saddlery in 1896. 

“The collaboration is very beneficial and I appreciate his great sense of aesthetics. He understood Wittmann and what makes us special right from the start, which is not something that can be taken for granted. Some people need years for that,” co-owner and head of design Alice Wittmann said of working with Arbesser.

The firm was initially attracted to his Austrian heritage, as well as the sort of outside vision and experience he has garnered as a Milan-based fashion designer. Arbesser founded his brand in 2013 and later qualified as a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2015.

Arthur Arbesser Designs Furniture for Wittman

Wittman’s Atrium sofa

Courtesy of Wittman

Arbesser said it has been easy to step out of his fashion paradigm and do something furniture based.

“I got such a kick out of the fact that you work with new artisans, with people that do things in a certain way, like cut wood and bend metal. I’m so fascinated to see hands that do something so well when they upholster,” he said, pointing out that the screen was him dipping his toe into furniture design, while he’s still nowhere near ready to construct a sofa. “But let’s see what the future brings,” he said.

It was the Venice- and Stockholm-based designer and Wittmann’s former art director Luca Nichetto who first asked him to come on board to design fabrics and carpets, he said.

When Arbesser first took on the role in October, he said he planned to build on the work of Nichetto, who laid out a multiyear design roadmap for the new branding of the company, before stepping down from his role with the intention of still maintaining a relationship with the brand.

Wittmann saw its name rise internationally in the ’50s as a manufacturer of upholstered furnishings, and later collaborated with some of the biggest names in design — Italian architects and designers Matteo Thun and the late Paolo Piva among them. Arbesser, whose great-great-grandfather was a landscape painter, remembers peering into the windows of the Wittmann showroom in front of Vienna’s Secession building as a child. He is certainly the most fashion-forward among the firm’s roster of creative collaborators.

While his fashion line is still his focus, Arbesser has been diversifying in recent years. He made a statement at this year’s Salone del Mobile with a roster of collaborations, including a second fabric collection with Wittmann, created with traditional Italian manufacturer Rubelli. The aesthete also teamed with Denmark-based firm Gubi for his Oca chair, made in collaboration with Italian artisan Alan Zinchi. 

Arbesser joins a roster of designers delving into the world of home and interiors. Lars Nilsson — the Swedish-born designer whose fashion career included top positions at Bill Blass, Nina Ricci and Gianfranco Ferré, as well as behind-the-scenes roles at Christian Dior and Christian Lacroix — made news with his 2018 textile collection with Svenskt Tenn, and a Vandra Rugs collaboration before that. Dirk Schönberger, best known for his time as creative director at Adidas from 2010 until 2018 and later global creative officer of luxury brand MCM, made a leap into furnishings with next-gen, comfort-centric brand Vetsak and will present his first furnishing pieces with Aspesi during design week here. In March, American designer Adam Lippes made his furniture debut with Oka.


A screen awash in Arthur Arbesser’s Flower print.

Courtesy of Wittman