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Venini adds another unique twist to glass making with new Damiani Group partnership

Interview - May 23, 2016

Elegant, hand-made glassware and chandeliers steeped in history and tradition from ‘the Dior of lighting and vases’ is very much the forte of the renowned high quality glassmaker Venini. Giulia Chimento, Partner and PR & Event Manager at Venini, provides a fascinating insight to its heritage, craft and evolution, and what’s next for the creative artisans.



Can you please give us an overview about the history of the Murano glass artisanship?

The history of glass began many centuries ago. The first glass was discovered by the Phoenicians. Then the Romans were actually the first population to experiment and develop new techniques concerning glass. These techniques reached Venice around 1100-1200. Initially, all the furnaces were located on the island of Venice.

In 1291, the Doge decided to bring all the furnaces to Murano, on the island, for two main reasons. First, he was concerned about the possibility of damage from fire accidents. If a fire developed in Venice, there was the risk of damaging paintings, buildings, and churches. The second reason was to preserve the secret techniques of glass making within the territory of Venice and not to spread it to the other Italian territories. If someone tried to export those techniques, the Doge would kill them.

So, Murano has actually been the island of glass since 1291. Since then, it developed as the most important glass district worldwide. There is a very important museum, the Museum of Glass, which is actually the second most visited museum in Venice, after Palazzo Ducale.


What to you is the meaning of Made in Italy, and what is the contribution of Venini in this sense?

I travel all over the world. I’m away 200 days per year, in the United States, Asia, China, India, and Europe. The thing that I have understood, especially from the Asian market, which is one of the most important markets for us, is that Made in Italy for them is not just a brand, it’s a way of life. They love the way Italian people live, the way they behave, the way they dress up, the way that they refurbish their houses. It’s a way of life.

With regards to Venini, it represents very well the Made in Italy abroad because Venini and Made in Italy are both synonymous with high quality. We have very strict quality controls—pieces that don’t satisfy quality controls are around 35% to 40%—because we want to keep very high quality standards of what we sell. So, quality, but also uniqueness is something that comes to my mind when I think about Made in Italy. That’s exactly the main other feature of Venini. Everything is handmade inside the factory. Even if we blow some pieces inside moulds the quantity of glass that they take from the oven is actually different so the thickness of glass will be different anyway. Every piece we produce is a unique piece. You cannot find one piece exactly the same as another because the color can vary and the shape too.

Made in Italy also means heritage, because all the Italian companies in fashion, design and agri-food have an important history. Venini was established in 1921. We are celebrating our 95th anniversary. We concentrate on our history and learn from our beautiful past to innovate and develop an even brighter future. That’s what I say to the designers when they come to see the furnaces. You have to see the history and from there, create something new. So history, but at the same time innovation and technology.


What would you say are the main milestones that contributed to the transformation of Venini into a global player? And what are the key innovations that you see as critical in order to push forward this unique know-how?

Venini was founded by Paolo Venini, who was a lawyer from Milan, so he didn’t have anything to do with the glass industry and Murano. He established the company together with Giacomo Cappellin, who was a Venetian antique dealer. This was quite atypical at the time because people from Murano used to see people coming from outside the island as strangers. Paolo Venini brought innovation to Murano because he started to work with external architects, designers and artists. At that time, and in many cases still nowadays, the owner of the factory is at the same time the owner, commercial director, designer and master.

Collaboration was, and still is today, the main feature and the biggest success of the company because nobody else in Murano has ever created these links with external designers. The first designer Venini cooperated with was Vittorio Zecchin, who was at the time also the art director of the company. During that period, the style of Murano glass was full of decorative items, golden leaves, lots of decorations applied to the glass, typical of the Belle Époque. Vittorio Zecchin took inspiration from the masters of the Renaissance, so very clean lines, very clear and transparent colors, very delicate.

This was the first revolution that Paolo Venini brought into the Murano island. And in fact, the first vase ever designed by Venini and Vittorio Zecchin is the Veronese. It’s called Veronese because the inspiration was taken from a painting by Paolo Veronese, which is still kept at the Accademia Gallery nowadays. And it’s still one of the pieces we sell the most, since 1921. After the 1920s, they started cooperating with some other artists like Tomaso Buzzi, Napoleone Martinuzzi; and they also started to participate in the Biennale and Triennale. They wanted the name Venini to become known all over the world.

After that came Carlo Scarpa, who is one of the most important architects who worked for Venini. He was very revolutionary, and brought back the murrine technique, discovered by the Romans but then not so used until the mid-20th century. He brought color again into the glass, and he’s also a very important character in Italian history because he was a self-taught architect, so he wasn’t accepted at the time by the other architects, of course. But he completely changed the way of seeing buildings and glass as well.

After World War II, Paolo Venini started to help the art direction, so he actually designed some pieces on his own. That was also a very big success because he had more than 25 years of experience, so with some other artists he could design something very particular, like the Incisi Collection. In the aftermath of World War II, Venini started to cooperate with the Italian government because after the war they had to rebuild all the public buildings. Many public buildings in Rome have been lit with Venini chandeliers since the late 1940s. And that’s when Venini started to cooperate with Gio Ponti, who was a very famous Italian architect.

Paolo Venini died in 1959, and his son-in-law and his daughter started to run the company. They ran the company until the beginning of the 1980s. They continued cooperating with external designers and architects, introducing, for example, Tapio Wirkkala and Toni Zuccheri, who designed a very important collection for Venini, still in production, the Bestiario. The collection consists of animals made of glass—one of the most famous collections we have.

In the 1980s, the company was bought by the Gardini and Ferruzzi families. They also continued the cooperation with external designers. They introduced Mendini, Gae Aulenti and Ettore Sottsass. The latter was quite difficult to understand at the time. But today some of the pieces that he designed at the beginning of the 1990s are our best sellers.

Raul Gardini also executed a very good communication campaign because he was the owner of a sailing team. So they did some very big events during the Biennale. They created Leonardo’s Horse, Il Cavallo di Leonardo, in glass, which came out from the Grand Canal in Venice in 1992 for the Biennale. So, the company was very well known. After the death of Raul Gardini, the company was bought by Royal Scandinavia Holding, which is a group of companies from Denmark. They have brands like Kosta Boda and Boda Nova, so everything concerning glass and artifacts for interior design.

After that my family, together with the Tabacchi family, bought the company in 2001. So we’ve run the company for 15 years. We continue with the tradition of important collaborations and we are trying to innovate the glass as well. We started to combine new materials with the glass. We have marble, wood, and leather. In January 2016, the company was bought by the Damiani Group, which we have known for more than 20 years because my father, Giancarlo Chimento, also worked with Damiani before buying Venini, as he ran a jewelry company himself. He used to work with Guido, Silvia and Giorgio’s father, so we’ve known them since we were children.


One of the key trends that we’ve been discussing with Guido Damiani is rising internationalization. Is this something of interest also for Venini in terms of the collaborations with foreign museums or designers?

Definitely. Until five or six years ago, Italy was our most important market. Seventy percent of our income was made by the Italian market, whereas nowadays it’s completely the opposite because we have started to spread all over the world. Asia is one of our most important markets. It’s been like that for three or four years.

It’s very important to cooperate with foreign designers, architects, and artists; and also to get introduced in their countries. For example, we’ve cooperated with Tadao Ando, a very famous Japanese architect, who is very well known in Japan. And this has allowed us to start cooperating with companies and agencies in the Japanese market, for example. The same happened in other countries besides the collaborations with international foundations and national museums.

Venini is kept in the most important permanent collections all over the world. We have pieces in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Victoria and Albert in London. We have a very big collection at the Shanghai Museum of Glass; we have collections in Germany, in Munich and Berlin. And we also like to cooperate with the cultural institutions because Venini has two souls—the commercial one because, of course, it’s a company that needs to sell; but Venini also has a cultural soul that we need to keep alive. In fact, we also cooperate with many art foundations in Italy, like the Fondazione Cini in Venice.

We have a very important agreement with them, which will last for 10 years. We put at their disposal our archive, which is made up of 45,000 drawings, 10,000 pieces and 5,000 pictures of the past. Every year they do an exhibition featuring one of the artists that worked for Venini. One of these exhibitions, the one featuring Carlo Scarpa, was actually displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and it stayed there for six months. So, we like also to raise awareness about the cultural side of Venini


In your international expansion, what is the role of the American market?

The American market was a very good market after the war, at the beginning of the 1950s. We’ve done a series of traveling exhibitions all over the United States with the Smithsonian Institute. So, at that time, Venini was quite well known. And in fact, after that traveling exhibition, many American designers who are now very famous, like Dale Chihuly, Richard Marquez, and so on, came to Venini to learn how to work glass.

Then in the 1970s, I have to say that it was also a dark period for the company because there was a fire, in 1972, which actually destroyed part of the company, so the United States market went a little bit down. But now we are starting to grow in the American market again, especially with the lighting solutions.

We have three different types of production. Custom-made is growing very well—especially abroad, in the United States and in Asia—because everyone wants to have their own unique chandelier, especially with the lighting. We’re trying right now to meet architects and interior designers to move ahead with this side of the company, which for us is very important.

Then, of course, we have a lot of dealers in the United States. We are in the most important departments like Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys, in New York. We also have a very important client in Los Angeles, called Diva. We have dealers, such as Luminaire in Miami as well. We don’t have a mono-brand shop for now, but since the United States market is growing I think that it could be a possibility.


Can tourists come visit Venini in Murano?

Definitely. Our furnace is not open to the public normally, but we can arrange tours of the furnace and the museum. We do that, of course, with groups of students from all over the world. It’s very interesting because what you see in Venini is very different from what you see in the furnaces that are open to the public, which are more for tourists. When you go to Venice you normally just see the little horse that they make. But the production in Venini is completely different because the technique that they use to produce the horse is a completely different technique from the one that Venini uses.

We produce bigger pieces with many colors and different techniques.


What does the future hold for Venini after the partnership with Damiani?

First of all, I have to say that I’m very happy about this partnership. As I already mentioned, my family and the Damiani family have been very close friends for many, many years. So, this is also an advantage to start our cooperation, because if you know each other then everything comes easily. I think that Venini really needed to be part of a prestigious group as the Damiani group because together we can create amazing synergies.

What Venini needs right now is the communication awareness that Damiani possesses all over the world. I think that the way Damiani communicates the brand can be very helpful for Venini. The perception of the brand is very, very high. Venini is a company made up of 80 people, so it’s not a very big company. Even if abroad they see us as the biggest company in Murano, the biggest name in Murano, which of course we are, we are still a family-run company. So, I think that being part of a bigger group expands our possibilities all over the world.


What is your personal dream about Venini? Where would you like to take it next?

Venini is already very well perceived abroad. Everywhere I go, what I hear from people is, “Oh, you’re like the Dior of lighting and vases.” So, that’s what they think about the company. And sometimes I’m also quite surprised about that because I didn’t know that so many people knew the brand, and had such a perception of the brand outside of Italy.

In Italy we are very well known. Every family in Italy has a Venini vase—it’s a tradition to give a Venini vase as a present when people get married, for example. Venini needs to concentrate separately on the two sides, the two souls that I already mentioned: the cultural one and the commercial one. Concerning the commercial one, I think that Venini will have a big success by focusing on the custom-made market.

Understanding local culture is key. In China, for example, it’s not reasonable to spend €800 on a vase, but maybe they can spend €200,000 for a chandelier. Custom-made and the possibility to produce different solutions will let Venini grow all over the world. We have many pieces coming from the ‘40s and ‘50s, and a very important market of collectors, which needs to be kept alive with auctions and exhibitions. On the other side, we also have the problem of counterfeits and imitations. So, we need to raise awareness about our original pieces. In this context, and in relation to Venini’s cultural soul, we’re doing a good job cooperating with all the foundations and institutions abroad. We will definitely continue in this direction.