My impression of Simple Flair, the agency founded by Simona Flacca and Riccardo Crenna, is that of a machine that creates stories. The word storytelling has been so badly treated and over abused in recent years that it has almost become a bit of a joke. And yet we must always have a story ready. A story is always the best answer and it gets you out of trouble too. A story is a stratagem that works in every situation. Having a story also helps us get to know each other better. But not everybody with a story to tell is able to tell it and use it. So, without that talent, what happens to your story? Their website describes them as a “creative consultancy firm working for the design industry”. More plainly speaking, Simona and Riccardo conceive and create digital communication projects. They have developed stories for Aspesi, Bang&Olufsen, Loewe, Nike and Woolrich, among many others.
Simple Flair doesn’t just create stories though, it recovers lost ones, like a team of restoration experts. Simona and Riccardo put together stories for companies operating in the design sector and they do so primarily at a digital level. Digital is an area that the design sector has always approached with a certain trepidation, as though anyone who produces tangible objects should automatically fear the virtual. The pandemic has made it clear to us that dichotomies of any kind are futile. And the Simple Flair team certainly aren’t scared of the tangible, which is why I go to meet them in their physical space, an office that is also a showroom that is also a creative space. Once more, I turn to their official website to find a definition that’s not too vague. In her last book, Serge, Yasmina Reza wrote: “We used to call it import/export when we didn’t know what somebody did, now we say consultancy.” Cruel and amusing, as always. So I went directly to Riviera, tucked away in a square in the heart of Milan, to speak to them.
DAVIDE COPPO: I’ve more or less described what Simple Flair is in the above intro. But how did Simple Flair come about? And what awaits over the rainbow? What is your “mission”, to borrow from marketing lingo?
RICCARDO CRENNA: The Simple Flair journey started 12 years ago, in the digital prehistoric when even Instagram didn’t exist yet. It was initially a website where we published news and we had a small editorial office. But then we realised that wasn’t what we wanted to do. Little by little we worked out our goal: to bring our very informal, calm and easygoing attitude—while still professional and authoritative—into a sector that has made a reputation for being far more constructed and fake. Our vision was to imagine that the design industry could be an important point of reference for a more informal society, simpler yet also more pragmatic.
SIMONA FLACCO: It has been a journey of many different parts. We had no idea what would happen and we weren’t professionally mature enough to have a clear vision for the future. At the many different crossroads, we stopped to work out the right direction.
DC: And then in 2020, when the “real” world of design decided it was time to rush headlong into its digital parallel, you were waiting for them on the other side, so to speak.
RC: We definitely found ourselves in an advantageous situation following the initial impact of the first lockdown, when everyone was falling over themselves to move online. Lots of new and existing clients had questions about things they had never thought about but we had already tackled so it was very easy for us. They suddenly needed something that they never had before. After that first bulimic frenzy of online events, lives and virtual showrooms, which was excessive, things are settling down now into the balance that we have always hoped for: an a priori mindset that uses a series of digital tools in sync with reality.
SF: Nothing has really changed for us in terms of the direction that we are moving in. Everything has just been accelerated. There was an online and digital presence in the world of design but these were lateral tools compared to the consolidated systems that were totally wiped out with the pandemic. Until then, the output for a standard design company followed established canons: the showroom and the Salone del Mobile. So some of those companies came to us and asked what they could do to become contemporary.
DC: Simple Flair is also something very concrete: you have opened Riviera, which is a work and event space as well as a show-room. And then there’s the new Simple Flair Apartment, which you describe as a “container of activity” and which is actually your home, or at least a part of your home, a hybrid of performance, art and Big Brother. What’s it like living in the balance between digital and tangible?
SF: We are very attached to our physical spaces because they are a concrete way to express the vision we mentioned earlier. We decided to create something that wasn’t solely for us but for our community. That word is used a lot in communication, but putting on an event and seeing people face-to-face is energising for us because you risk losing contact with the reality of things when you’re in front of a computer all day long. Having a physical space with open doors where we can host content and making our home available for our online story was a significant choice for us. We did it because we thought it would reinforce the ideas that we are trying to bring into the sector. If we aren’t the first to question ourselves and break down barriers, how can we ask the same of others?
RC: The apartment is the domestic dimension of Riviera. It’s the same concept but it’s shared virtually with many people. It is quite unique: there are people we don’t know but who know our home very well. When we explain that Riviera is a digital project, people always ask, “How exactly? Is it both an event and a digital project?” But not everything that is digital needs a screen. There is no boundary. And that’s the real point.
DC: There is a great sense of the intangible around you, the definition of what you do and your potential limits too. Does this lack of boundaries ever cause problems?
SF: Only really in terms of communicating with people outside Simple Flair because it is complex and it’s a job that doesn’t have any clearly recognisable label. We tell our aunts that we are architects. It’s much easier and comprehensible when we can sit around a table and explain it instead of somebody reading what we do on our website.
RC: The sole difficulty is ensuring we remain contemporary. It would be easy to say, “OK, we’ve found our winning formula, we’ve made it.” But everything that we do is closely linked to a society that is undergoing constant change, especially now.
SF: Here’s an interesting example: we are very interested in TikTok because we want to keep up to date and to understand what’s happening. And one of the elements that most characterises Gen Z on a channel like TikTok is their use of space. One of the ways that this generation has found to express themselves and express their new vision is by choosing spaces very differently to the previous generations. Glossy images of dream lives in which everything is amazing and perfect reign on other channels. On TikTok, Gen Z show themselves in imperfect spaces that speak to who they are. It’s personal, it’s unique. And the outdoor spaces are the everyday spaces that we all know: the square, the park round the corner. We should be looking at this, how the new generations interpret spaces.
DC: What are the things that you want to change?
SF: In general, the point is this desire to remain contemporary. We still have this energy and we want to see people in the sector continue to evolve to respond to society.
RC: That’s exactly it. Design has to innovate, it has to experiment. Design has to take risks. This happens more often in other sectors and I don’t think it’s a question of budget but rather mentality. It is both a duty and an honour to be part of people’s lives with a great project. We need to create more networks. Italy always thinks in terms of competitors when instead we are all links in the same chain. That is the attitude that we want to push.
DC: It sounds like the concept of community is very dear to your hearts. And it’s increasingly important in this post-pandemic world. It is a more sincere world, in some ways, with less time for bullshit.
RC: Yes, we want small communities that cooperate. This is the only way that groups of different communities can have the same weight as a big player today.
SF: These last years have made us very aware of the importance of singularity and the unique characteristics that we each bring into the day-to-day of a project. This also corresponds very closely to the younger generations because it feels as though they prioritise the characteristics that make them unique while previous generations have tended more towards homologation. When amplified by the digital sphere, the voice of many different small communities can reach far more people. The big players will at a certain point have to reckon with these small voices and their echoes.
DC: What does relevant mean today?
RC: Instinctively, I would say something that improves people’s lives. I don’t think that we care about being the best at what we do. We care about being happy.
SF: Something is relevant if it triggers change.