Gabriella Crespi (1922 – 2017) designer, architect, artist, manufacturer
Gabriella Crespi was born in Tuscany near Florence in 1922, and studied architecture at the Milan Politecnico. She was highly influenced by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as by her lifelong love of nature, notably in her sense of space and form. She acquired the Crespi name in 1948 when she married Milanese textile magnate Giuseppe Maria Crespi. Her own career began in the 1950s. Not having her own factory or studio, she would simply make detailed drawings at home and take them to Milan woodworkers or metalsmiths to make the prototypes. For her tableware and jewelry designs, she sculpted models in wax and had an artisan make the mold. She worked in clay as well, such as for her bird and animal figures, which she then had silver-plated. Crespi approached all her designs as an artist. Her tables, for example, were at once sleekly sculptural and complex as well, with moving mechanisms that required skilled engineers to realize. Her materials of choice were brass and bronze, and she also sometimes incorporated glass and lucite into her work, as well as precious materials.
The first objects Crespi produced in the 1950s were her Small Lune Collection, a series of steel, moon-shaped sculptures. In the 1960s she established a collaborative relationship with Maison Dior, creating home and table accessories. In 1968 a prototype of her first Plurimi table was displayed at an exhibition in Dallas, Texas as exemplary of the era’s best Italian design. In 1970 Crespi began working with her daughter Elisabetta, collaborating on the Plurimi series, named in tribute to modern painter Emilio Vedova. Presented as "metamorphic" furniture, the series (Tavolo 2000, Cubo Magico, Tavolo Dama, Tavolo Scultura), comprised ultramodern, multifunctional pieces that played gracefully with space, volume, and movement. Distinctly sculptural, with finely mechanized movement, the Plurimi tables, cabinets and dressers can be opened and rearranged, allowing for various storage and display possibilities. The metapmorphic concept informed many of Crepsi designs: coffee tables can be elevated, bookcases become partitions, chairs turn into beds.
Artisanally produced, Crespi’s furniture, lighting, and decorative accessories were never intended for the mass market. Many of her pieces are unique and often signed or numbered. Their combination of geometric and sculptural forms, beautiful materials and quality craftmanship were suited to luxuriously modern tastes and earned Crespi a glamourous following. Celebrated among elite international society, she created interiors for friends and clients such as the Shah of Iran, the Princess of Monaco, and the King of Saudi Arabia. At the height of her success, Crespi maintained a showroom and warehouse in Milan. She used her Milan penthouse as a set for promoting her modern furniture and decorative objects. She also acquired a showroom and apartment in Rome. In New York, she sold through Neiman Marcus, and to the trade through Casa Bella.
Along with her Plurimi series, Crespi’s impactful designs of the ‘70s include the striking Z collection of tables, desks and bar carts; the Ying-Yang series; Menhir, an elliptical bookcase-block; and the Ara sculpted tables. She designed a collection of furniture and housewares in brass and bamboo called Rising Sun, which includes her famous Fungo lamps. Crespi also created jewelry, such as her 24k butterfly earrings. Among her more purely sculptural works are her Animali series in bronze and glass; her Stone Sculptures; Jewels, and Gocce Oro, created through the ancient process of lost-wax casting; and My Soul, one of her most significant bronze sculptures. Crespi kept developing new Plurimi pieces into the ‘80s: gilded coffee tables with split tabletops that swiveled out for serving drinks. In 1982 she presented Punto ’83, her last Plurimo table, a unique piece created for the Milan Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica exhibition: I Plurimi di Gabriella Crespi.
In 1985 Crespi gave the last interviews on her design work, and by 1987 gave up her showrooms, warehouse, Rome apartment, and house in Sardinia, dedicating herself to spiritual pursuits in India for twenty years. Crespi returned to Italy in 2005 and wrote her book Ricerca di Infinito, Himalaya (Research of the Infinite, Himalaya). In 2008 she created a limited reissue of select jewelry from her ‘70s collections for Stella McCartney, with proceeds donated to charity. In 2012 Crespi established an archive of her works, managed by her daughter Elisabetta. In 2013 she collaborated on a retrospective exhibition with Sergio Rossi, and in 2015 created a series of new limited-edition designs for the exhibition New Bronze Age. Her last realized design was her beautifully undulating Wave Desk in gilt metal. Gabriella Crespi passed away in Milan in 2017. Having left a lasting imprint on Italian and international design, her creative genius continues to inspire and inform the work of artists and designers today. Her work is represented in many important private collections internationally, especially in the U.S.
“I was inspired only by the universe.”
- Gabriella Crespi
Museums and Exhibitions
Women in Italian Design, Esposizione Internazionale, Milan 2016
Fuorisalone, Salone del Mobile, Milan, 2015
I Plurimi di Gabriella Crespi, Museum of Science and Technology, Milan 2014
Timeless Design of Gabriella Crespi, Piasa, Paris, 2014
Il Segno e lo Spirito, Palazzo Reale Museum, Milan, 2011
Women in Italian Design, Triennale Design Museum 9, 2016
Gabriella Crespi: Timeless, by Anne Bony, Piasa Editions, 2014
Italian Radical Design, Deste Foundation, 1968