Material Girl

Material Girl

For Italian designer Elena Salmistraro success is two parts talent and one part “go get ‘em” attitude.

She’s worked with the crème de la crème of the design industry, collaborating on everything from ceramic plates for Bosa to wallpapers for Texturae, lamps for Seletti and furniture for Durame and My Home Collection. Elena Salmistraro, whose work has taken pride of place in design fairs around the world, may seem to have it made, but for the young Italian product designer and artist, starting out was anything but easy.

“The beginning was hard, but I remember it fondly,” she reminisces. “In the early days, I just wanted to get noticed. I used to create presentations and mock-ups and send them out to all my favourite design brands, hoping to impress someone and convince them to produce my ideas.”

Primate Collection ceramic plates for Bosa

While she wasn’t sending ideas out into the world, Elena, who graduated from Polytechnic University of Milan in 2008, and founded her own studio together with architect Angelo Stoli in 2009, continued to explore and experiment with two of her favourite materials – pottery and papier-mâché. So in 2012, when an opportunity came about to apply for an emerging designers exhibition at Milan’s Fuorisalone design fair, she didn’t think twice about entering. “I self-produced the objects I presented, using the materials I knew best,” she explains, with the result being a papier-mâché sofa, called “Deux âmes” and a quirky collection of ceramic homeware, “The Lankies’s Family”. The latter was immediately selected for ‘The new Italian design’ exhibition, and since then there’s been a fast-growing interest in Elena’s work, which she hopes “won’t stop anytime soon”.

The Lankies’s Family

For Elena, being a designer is more than a job, it’s a vocation, and she never stops pushing herself and her boundaries. “Designers can work and create at any given moment and from any given place, without the need for specific tools,” she explains. “A paper and a pen are all you really need. From one point of view this is the best thing you can wish for from your work, but it also means no breaks, no vacation, no interruptions.”

When I ask her how she comes up with her fabulously inventive designs, Elena admits that it’s never a direct and clear process. “I often get carried away by my creative drive and I start drawing, colouring, imagining objects, worlds and emotions, which can easily drive me off-topic if I don’t try to control them,” she says.

While the ambitious designer gratefully recognises that she was blessed with creative talent, she also acknowledges talent needs to be managed and directed. “We need to keep on learning, evolving, discovering new fields and looking for the connections with what we already master,” she says. “I have seen so many talented people – I am not speaking merely about designers – that have wasted their talent, because they did not have a proactive attitude. They weren’t bold enough.”

As a result she’s constantly working on a wide range of projects, and while she was hesitant to reveal any of her current projects, she did hint that she’s “having fun with light this year”.

When it comes to future projects, Elena is filled with ideas about products she would like to design, but admits she’s constantly changing her mind so she can’t pinpoint one. “Let’s say that I would like to design something that makes me feel alive, something energising that can distance me from my daily routine.”

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