Most young designers dream of becoming successful the old-fashioned way, by getting one commission, then another, until they’ve attracted a high-profile client list and generated a body of work that turns them into a marketable brand. But not if you’re Ora-Ito. The 27-year-old Frenchman (whose given name is the equally exotic Ito Morabito) decided that it was much more modern to become a brand first, and then parlay it into design commissions. And it worked. He now has a 15-person office whose client list includes Nike, Heineken, Adidas, the furniture manufacturer Cappellini and the lighting giant Artemide. Not bad for a design-school dropout.
Ora-Ito the person — not the brand — comes across as thoughtful and observant, as interested in the psychology and sociology of design and consumerism as he is in being a famous designer of consumable goods and services. (His firm also does architecture, graphics, packaging and Web animation.) Needless to say, he is fiendishly clever.
Ora-Ito was born with the design gene. His father, Pascal Morabito, is a well-known designer and retailer of luxury goods whose shop is on the Place Vendome in Paris, and his uncle, Yves Bayard, was one of the architects of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice. Ora-Ito himself left design school after two years, working for an architect and for the shoe designer Roger Vivier before landing a gig at a magazine called Crash, where he created virtual products for virtual brands. The idea, he explains, »was to make fake publicity for fake products that looked real. » He put these products on the Internet, and soon a Swiss collector was asking to buy the nonexistent watch he had seen on the Web site.
These high jinks reached an even more ambitious level at another magazine, Jalouse, where he designed »ads » for a Louis Vuitton backpack, a Gucci villa and a camouflage-patterned carrying case for a Mac laptop — all of which were total fabrications. No matter; the »Vuitton » backpack alone, he says, drew 2,000 inquiries. »It was like the press office of L.V.M.H. was working for me, » he recalls — an admission that inspires amused admiration in even the most cynical observer.
After that, he never looked back. »Without having designed a single object, I was an icon, » he explains, »but I was worried that I would be perceived as only buzz. » So he eagerly accepted an invitation from Giulio Cappellini to design a media campaign, and later a chair. Then Heineken asked him to help increase its appeal to a young upmarket clientele by re-envisioning the company’s classic beer bottle. His version, in aluminum ( »It looks much nicer; you can put it on the table, » he explains), won him a contract with Heineken for design and packaging. Ora-Ito has designed the packaging for the Adidas fragrance Three, as well as for Muse, a perfume by Joop! He’s at work on furniture for B&B Italia and a new identity for L’Oreal’s Studio Line of hair-care products. He has designed nightclubs in Paris and St.-Tropez and a mobile phone for Sagem (bearing the Ora-Ito logo) that will appear this month, as well as the cover of Air’s 2001 album, »10,000 Hz Legend. » He is just completing offices in Paris for Nike, and he’s in the running to design a Las Vegas casino and a movie set for the »Gothika » director, Mathieu Kassovitz.
The designer sees his work as »more of a vision of the world, not just a product here and there. » His most compelling creations are those that solve a problem, like the ingenious clamp-on Everywhere light for Artemide. His firm’s architectural work, however, hews more closely to a fashionable vision of James Bond mod.
Alice Rawsthorn, the director of the Design Museum in London, says she suspects that »Ora-Ito will be remembered more for his critique on corporate attitudes than for his work as a designer. » Too many companies, Rawsthorn argues, hire big-name designers just to create hype, and »the result is a product with no value other than its media currency. » She continues, »Ora-Ito tends to be dismissed as a stuntman, when in many ways his approach is more honest, and he is simply exposing this process. »
But the designer isn’t satisfied with simply unmasking the evils of consumerism, or with creating products for other companies. He wants to bring out his own line of goods next year. And in spite of the fact that he works nonstop to fuel his dreams of world (brand) domination, Ora-Ito confesses that part of him wants to find a nice girl, settle down and stop to smell the roses. He says he doesn’t want to be out there hustling until he’s 60, »but someone might have to remind me. » No kidding. In the next breath, Ora-Ito says he’s already working on an idea for objects that will be produced after he’s dead. Maybe he can call the posthumous brand Fin-Ito.
Author: Pilar Viladas
Source: New York Times
Date of publication: 19 September 2004