From the beginning Di Caprio’s design approach has always been strongly based on research, and for this exhibition, he took the task equally seriously. Starting from this year’s theme ‘Linking Minds' he decided to focus on the strong historic ties between Brazil and Italy. "After the Portuguese colonizers and the African slaves, a huge community of Italian refugees came to Brazil, mostly between 1874 and 1920" says Di Caprio, whose father is from Napoli. "We have now in Brazil about 22 million descendants of Italian civil war refugees who fled the Risorgimento in the 19th century: the movement for Italian unification which even today can be a controversial topic in Italy."

This is the background to the furniture collection that Di Caprio is showing under the aegis of his furniture and luxury brand AuCap at Palazzo Litta. Rather than making the controversy palpable, the four designers play with the Italian-Brazilian link in a joyful way. Di Caprio, who commutes between Brazil and Europe, asked three designers who have links with either of the two countries, or with both, to join him: Italian designer Nicolò Friedman, and Milan based Brazilian designer Gustavo Martini, and Brazilian designer Lucas L. Neves.

YVY Chair by Nicolò Friedman. Structure in Peroba do Campo wood, cotton front cushions, legs in painted steel. Dimensions: 60 x 62 x h 92 cm
“Apart from a relationship between people, the relationship between places can be strong too. All the pieces on show in Palazzo Litta have references to Brazil.” The YVY Chair by Nicolò Friedman refers to the traditional thrones of indigenous people, as well as to exotic flora. “He has developed these references into a geometrical pattern. Still, the chair looks like a blossoming flower.” The BASA Cabinet by Gustavo Martini with its stones cubes refers to the typical Brazilian pavements a leftover of Portuguese colonial urbanism. “Lucas L. Neves has a more artistic approach and uses found footage, among others the typical Brazilian wood called Pau Brasil which inspired the Portuguese when they were choosing a name for the land they had just claimed, back in 1500. He disassembled a family bed made of this now very rare wood and made a clock with it; for the clock’s pendulum he used an old vase from the flea-market made of the same wood. You can put a plant in it and it will still be a working clock. For ‘A Matter of Perception: Linking Minds’ I asked Lucas L. Neves to make an updated version of his clock in brass provided with a Bluetooth music speaker. Pretty good sound!” Leo Di Caprio himself, who is an enthusiastic hiker and climber, brings a collection of three side tables to Palazzo Litta, inspired by the Brazilian forests: “Visiting the woods is always an intense, scary experience. All those tall trees, low plants and the many kinds of flora in between with their many shadows and shades; the humid smell of earth; the silent rocks; huge insects and spiders and other animals hidden in the trunks of trees; distant noises and nearby rustling. This sensation inspired me for these side tables.” Di Caprio used Brazilian wood as well as natural stone: among others the rare Azul Macaubas quartzite from a small town in the south of Bahia. “I hope to have caught the intensity of the forest in these pieces.”

For a very long time, the influence of Italian design has been strong in Brazil. It was the unsurpassed Campana brothers who fanned the flames of ‘Brazilian style’, using Brazilian raw materials, and drew inspiration from Brazilian daily life. It seems that Leo Di Caprio has chosen a third way. Come and see it with your own eyes in Palazzo Litta, Corso Magenta 24 in Milan, from the 4-9 April.

BASA Cabinet by Gustavo Martini. Inspired by the traditional stone pavement of streets and squares in Brazil and Portugal. Iron structure, interior in Peroba do Campo wood, lacquered MDF. Dimensions: 80 x 50 x h 160 cm
TIME FLIES Clock, by Lucas L. Neves. Three function: clock, planter, bluetooth speaker. Limited edition completely made of brass. Dimensions: 20 x 20 x h 160 cm