Alberto Cavalli and Alessandro Mari are two very different characters who, however, share a brilliance and originality in expounding their ideas and relating their experiences. Those in Milan for the Fuorisalone will be able to listen to them live in two talks about the “Secret”, which will be held at the Light Gate, the iGuzzini space: on 9 April
, Mari will talk about the secret of storytelling, and on 11 April
, Cavalli will talk about the secret of craftsmanship. To find out what to expect, we have interviewed them, trying to put them under a bit of pressure. But before we start, here is a quick round of introductions for those who do not know them: Alberto Cavalli directs the Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte, co-directs the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, and teaches at the Politecnico di Milano; Alessandro Mari, narrator and translator, is a teacher at the Scrivere college of the Scuola Holden in Torino, and Creative Director of Holden Studios.
First name, last name, age
AM: Alessandro Mari, just turned 39 – damn it.
AC: Alberto Cavalli, 44.
If a child were to ask you what you do, how would you answer?
AM: I make objects that tell stories – books, museums, speeches, and so on – and I teach others how to tell them.
AC: I would say that I'm a beginner. Working with great craftsmen with decades of experience, I feel as though I am always beginning again with new projects.
As a teacher, what is the first thing you want to convey to students?
AC: Love for what they have to do. We all have to work, and being unhappy with what we do means being condemned. AM: Enjoyment and discipline. Claudio Abbado said something super cool: if you want to teach a child how to play the piano, put them in front of the keyboard; if they enjoy pounding it, then you can also give them technique. You need discipline because when you write, there are days in which nothing comes, but you have to persist. This discipline can sometimes be an alienating experience, but students of the Scuola Holden must learn it very early in order to progress.
Let's start with the hard questions. Have you already prepared what you will say during the talk at Fuorisalone?
AM: No. I just have a concept in mind; words are a kind of light and can spoil secrets that must remain in the shadows. I love performing live, so I like to arrive with no more than an outline in my head and a few ideas to interpret.
AC: I too, for now, have just an idea: I know that I must reveal something that’s hard to see, that the great “know-how” of the Italian master craftsmen is a competitive advantage for the world of design. It is a very well-kept secret, which has also become a cliché.
What will you avoid saying?
AM: I won't read a page that speaks of light and revealed secrets! For sure I won't say that a story or design has to “reveal” something. We humans are a bit like lizards: we try to find warmth, but to do so, we don't jump on a rocket for the sun, we look for objects that the sun fills with energy.
AC: I won't preach. As Alessandro Manzoni reminds us – from the mouth of don Rodrigo – only princes have a preacher at home! Which means that a sermon is for a church or rally.
What would embarrass you to death during a talk?
AM: I'm rarely in trouble because I'm a dick face. Let's say that if I peed myself during a talk, I would miraculously find a way to make a joke out of it and come out of it safe and sound, but in ten year of “pornography”, public nudity, there has been nothing embarrassing enough make me run off and cry.
AC: Like anyone who suffers from impostor syndrome, I live in fear of somebody standing up, pointing at me and shouting: “you are a charlatan”. I study continuously to make sure it never happens.
What secrets do you look for in books and in works of art in general?
AC: I always look for an original vision, even on things that I think I already know. I don't think we lack information, today, but new perspectives.
AM: Above all in fiction, but not just fiction, I look for maps of what cannot be mapped. Even very simple things. A rabbit crosses the road and dies; a child sees it. Can we map what happened to the child?
Are there things that you're embarrassed about liking?
AM: I'm an avid devourer in general, I like very sophisticated things and very basic things. I always remember a phrase of David Foster Wallace, who said he adored the film “where shit explodes”. It's quite miraculous that a guy with his head would like films with explosions, or that he spent his wedding night watching The Wire with his partner.
AC: I enjoy an aesthetic experience when I feel it's authentic, whether it's a natural landscape, a building or a work of art. One thing that I'm embarrassed about though, is reading the novels of M. Delly, a French writer of the early twentieth century. They are from the Biblioteca delle Signorine (Young Ladies Collection) published by Salani, and they are truly appalling books, but I like them very much, maybe after a very stressful experience.
When was the last time you thought “I've screwed up”?
AC: When I wanted to play the hero and help the woman on the second floor carry up the shopping. Judging by the weight of the bags, she must have bought some tombstones. I have a bad back and I'm still regretting it.
AM: Every morning I wake up and think of the things I did wrong the previous day, so every morning I wake up thinking that I screwed up. Paradoxically, this gives me strength, because I'm always enthusiastic about life.
How did you stop it from becoming known?
AC: I went around bent double! Like embarrassment, which makes you blush, a bad back is a secret that you can't hide.
AM: I tend not to keep secrets, except for very, very private things. I like exposure in general, it's a question of group therapy; if you tell a secret that you find embarrassing, it ends up reducing its weight.
Last pseudonym used?
AM: "Stupid Monkey", and I still use it.
AC: It has always been “Vanderbilt”. I started using it 20 years ago, at the dawn of the blog, because I liked Gloria Vanderbilt.
And why use a pseudonym?
AM: I don't really use it much. But sometimes I like to remind myself that I'm a stupid monkey, who is not so smart. I have a lot of affection for primates.
AC: To create a little secret, a little mystery. A pseudonym helps to highlight or hide some parts of yourself.
Ask each other a question.
AC: Alessandro, why do primates interest you more than other animals?
AM: I love animals in general. As for primates, I believe that by adulterating thought, humans have lost something that was pre-verbal; sometimes watching how monkeys or bonobos behave helps me empathize with my pre-verbal or pre-rational parts. I wanted to ask you if there has ever been a time in your life in which you said to yourself “now I will stop everything I'm doing to do something else”, and what was it?
AC: Yes, when during 2007 and 2008 I decided to leave the work I was doing in the press office of a very important company and accept Dr. Cologni's invitation to work for him in the foundation. I was reminded of a phrase of Valentino's, “leave the party when it’s full”. I said to myself, “now the party’s quite full”, and changed. I'm convinced that we must leave situations with good memories, without letting them start to degenerate or disappoint us.