Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

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The Wonderful World of OZ, Olimpia Zagnoli

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Photo courtesy by Jason Fulford

Get to know Italy’s amazing designer

Olimpia Zagnoli’s illustration for Illy

Bubble gum colours, vivid shapes, disarming simplicity and sly humour – welcome to the wonderful world of OZ, designer Olimpia Zagnoli.  Zagnoli is Italy’s best kept secret but you’ve already met her.  Her fantastic and electrifying illustrations have covered the walls of Uniqlo and Warby Parker, brightened the covers and pages of the New Yorker, the New York Times, The Guardian and La Repubblica, cheered up the New York MTA subway halls, and added news faces to Barilla, Prada and Fendi, to name a few. Suffice to say, OZ is everywhere, and everywhere is OZ.

“I’ve been always drawing. I was attracted to art and I knew that I didn’t want to be an artist [in the traditional sense] I wanted something terra terra – down to earth more practical every day.”

Class of 1984, Zagnoli was born in Reggio Emilia and grew up in Milan in a family of artists and photographers where she fully immersed in an eclectic world of art and design. It was natural that she was drawn to illustration.

As a child of 1990s, Zagnoli was fully immersed in electric colour, Barbies, pink objects, plastics, where “we were constantly being bombarded with ads with graphics that looked they were [out of] a fairytale” – an out-of-this-world chemical background that influences her to this day.

Zagnoli captures a fantasy reality in technicolor.  For Uniqlo Milano, Olimpia plastered the walls with kaleidoscopic, architectonic windows in which every now and then one of OZ’s shape-centric characters appears. For Elizabeth Arden, Zagnoli transformed the 8 of the American beauty brand’s cult classic Eight Hour cream into the figure of a women for a limited edition. 

On a whim, Zagnoli submitted a quick sketch to ubiquitous pasta brand Barilla “I sent a drawing of a couple in love sharing a plate of spaghetti. I never thought they would accept it.” But Barilla did, and the blue-red profiles of two women sharing pasta, à la Lady and the Tramp, became iconic- and signified the brand’s complete turn-around on gay rights.

“I don’t think my illustrations will change the world, but i think they could represent another kind of women that perhaps you and I could be very in touch with.”

Olimpia Zagnoli was chosen by Danese as one of 16 artists to revisit Enzo Mari’s famous wooden puzzle (1957).

Female figures appear over and over again in Zagnoli’s illustrations and have from the very beginning.  These women are different shapes, colours, and personalities representing the women that Zagnoli grew up with, knew and imagined. And then they grew. “The more I grew up, the more my characters were growing with me… literally in space. And I started letting them take up more space without even realizing”. Her women are friends, a tribe, a collective of the beautifully different and distinction of female. 

Zagnoli’ illustrations beautifully take space and travel the world, but in the end, “Italy is in my work”. Home is Milan. Her heroes, like Bruno Munari [link through to Issimo article] and Lara Lamm, lived and worked here, and serendipitously, she’s part a new generation of dynamic artists and creatives. “As Italians, we’re used to criticising our own country and look at other places with some sense of excitement and expectation. At the same time, we know too well that there’s no other place like home. It’s rhythm, colours, smells, light are what we long for everywhere else in the world. Art is in our DNA, sounds a little corny but it is really true.”

Your design influencers?

Bruno Munari

Enzo Mari

Max Huber

Lara Lamm + Milanese Design of the 1950s and 60s

What object of Italian design influences you the most?

Boby by Joe Colombo

Your hit list of Italian design brands?

Pastiglie Leone, Olivetti, Danese Milano, Prada, Piaggio. 

Zagnoli designed a limited edition Spaghetti n. 5 box for Barilla.
Photo courtesy of Olimpia Zagnoli.

What are you favourite design museums in Italy?

Casa D’Arte Futurista Fortunato Depero, Rovereto 

Fondazione Boschi Di Stefano, Milano 

Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, Milano 

Museo della Frutta, Torino 

Boby by Joe Colombo

What do you love best about Italy?

The coexistence of extremely sophisticated examples of art and everyday mundane little things. As Venturi Scott Brown wrote “Italian landscape has always harmonised the vulgar and the Vitruvian. The contorniaround the Duomo, the portiere’s laundry across the padrone’s portone, Supercortemaggiore against the Romanesque apse.”

And finally, what do you love best about Italians?

The fact they take their pleasures seriously. 

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