Many people fantasize about the companionship and love of having a pet, especially like a dog. Some people, like Milano/NY based designer Paolo Prossen see more than just companionship from having a dog. The small terrier that Paolo owns named Ito has taught Paolo a lot about slowing down, so much that his dog now plays a major role in the work that he creates as a designer.
Check out our interview with Paolo to learn more about his work, the inspiration behind his brand called Itologie, and how being a dog owner has heavily influenced all other areas of his life.
1. Where do you think current design trends in Italy originate from?
Trends are interesting when they express something about the product. There are many sources of inspiration, but in Italy I think inspiration comes from passionate craftsmanship, history and Milanese design. Italian handmade craftsmanship is at the heart of luxury. Periods of historical opulence in Italy, like Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassicism are an almost infinite source. The entire world is attracted by them. Chinese and Indian cultures, among others, are as amazingly rich and I’d love to know them better! But you must be born in a culture and be responsible for owning it, play with it with all your being (as a designer). I believe Italian architects, fashion designers and graphic designers have a lot to share and communicate to one another, inspiring each other greatly.
2. How does being based in Trieste influence you and your work? What are the benefits of working in Trieste vs. Milano or even, NYC?
I love Trieste, I was born by there. Once you are born by the sea, you can never live far from it. Plus, it’s a commercial harbour, part of the new Silk Road, connecting Shanghai to Northern Europe. Not bad for the ex-unique-port of the Habsburg Empire, sleeping beautifully for the last 100 years. It seems like a new spring, here. Still, I lived and thrived for 28 years in Milano, far from the sea, close to fashion, finance and design industries. I can’t explain how this happened. The city hides its beauties inside 17th century buildings. Industries are struggling and institutions are far from collaborating. And yet, when you are there you feel you are in the Jerusalem of Italian design and luxury-whatever. New York is for a graphic designer what Disneyland is for a kid. All communicates. A symphony of type fonts, a gigantic choir singing “New!”. You can really feel you have the privilege of being in the capital of the world. Living there is less fun. After 3 weeks you start noticing you pay a high price. Here in Trieste I feel privileged too. I work every day in front of a large window looking at the Carst cliffs, the harbour, the sky above the red roofs. When I am on a corporate identity, I design the future of a Company and its people. It is important to see as far as I can.
3. What is a unique aspect of your work and your approach to design? What sets you apart?
Creating responsibly adds meaning to business ideas. I constantly research, far beyond the web. I am extremely curious and look for ideas before having an assignment. Sometimes I create an idea and leave it there for a future project or I call a company in that business. My perfect clients are companies who understand the value of signs and the power they have on their workers and clients. I powerfully listen to my client and ask a lot of questions about their business ideas, about their personal dreams, as well as what drives them, and what they fear. No one listens anymore. Yes, of course, they’re there but they filter what you say when you brief them. You know, those filters like ‘what’s in it for me?’, ‘will it look good in my portfolio?’, ‘it’s a shitty job I must get rid of it in 2 weeks.’ All clients are big clients and pricing must be made to measure as part of the project.
4. What does owning a dog mean to you?
Ito (my dog) gives me rules about time. Dogs are creatures of habit. Once you set your rules and times, you must stick to them. A designer needs to become methodical so they can profit from their work and not lose money. Little by little, I started having a better life, walking at least 10 km a day, working focused and finishing earlier, eating at regular hours, staying home, finding a soulmate… boring? No way… having a dog means also getting to know kinder people. Anywhere.
5. You started a brand called Itologie, that seems to be heavily inspired by your dog, Ito. Please tell us about the brand and the role your dog plays.
I was so impressed by his unique expressiveness. He poses as soon as I look at him with a camera in my hands. During the 2008 crisis, when Ito was 2 years old, my design company was dealing with huge problems, our clients were mostly banks, we had long meetings and I found out that drawing Ito was soothing the pain, fear and pressure. A friend who works in fashion told me I should make something of those drawings, that they were worth watching. Soon after posting the illustration and telling the stories behind them, people from all over the world started to follow me, asking for drawings. I was asking questions about their terriers and their characters. I soon realised we all loved and embellished our memories with details and their interpretations. These stories are precious and each drawing is a small story. The next, big challenge is in motion: writing a book. I’m storyboarding it.
6. As someone who has designed and redesigned for famous brands like Borsalino, can you tell us a bit about the process of working on a 100+ year old brand? What exactly did you have to consider, and where was there room for creativity and new insight?
I tried for more than 10 years to work for Borsalino. Imagine a brand that’s older than the Italian State itself. When they called me, I was honoured and humbly asked if I could see their archive. It was marvelous —to see the history of branding and graphic design of Italy, 160 years of logos, packagings, advertising posters, all in one place. It is art. I reshaped the lettering and gave meaning to the label with the claim that “one becomes a column of society by wearing a Borsalino hat.” Working with Borsalino’s incredible communication staff was like being part of a historical, noble family in bad shape and willing to raise the sorts of it. I loved the project and am grateful to all of them.
7. What does Italian fashion mean today, and how has it evolved over the years?
Italian fashion is more powerful than ever, you simply can’t imagine. I am working on a book filled with numbers that prove that. Its secrets are in creativity, hand-craftsmanship, vision and passion. I will have more to share in September!
8. What role do women play in design, fashion, and the world, from your perspective?
Women’s fashion is way more important than men’s. Numbers and creativity are amazing. Most of the hard work is done by women. Look at my friend and client, Alegra O’Hare — she’s one of the masterminds behind some of the recent success of Adidas Originals. And still, the majority of women struggle in finding their voice in high places. As a man, I can only help my female clients find their entrepreneurship and break that glass ceiling. More and more women are launching their brands with amazing ideas and good business plans!
9. Who do you look up to? What inspires and influences your work? Why?
Everyone has his or her gods. Mine are Saul Bass, Maurice Binder, Vignelli, Fronzoni, Rams, Stan Kirby.
10. If you could manifest something for yourself in the next 5 to 10 years, either professionally or personally, what would that be and why?
Have fun. Write a book. Sail more. Travel with my dog. Make a difference to others. Be remembered.
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