DAMN° speaks to Livio Ballabio of JCP Universe

December 2019

If we can agree that architecture and industrial design are two sides of the same coin, then you can be sure that Livio Ballabio has them both covered. As the creative director of the Jumbo Group, he is constantly adopting diversified approaches, allowing him to experiment with different styles.

Having graduated architecture at the Politecnico di Milano—which at the time of his studies also included the specialization in industrial design—allowed Ballabio to “have a 360° view on the world of architecture and design.” During these studies, Ballabio had had the fortune of being taught by professors who had helped create the design canon and shape design history. One such professor, who instilled lifelong lessons in her students and who has been referred to as “the custodian of Italian design” was Raffaella Crespi. “One of her teachings particularly marked my career: it was the invitation to consider ourselves as ‘beauty missionaries’. Since beauty can be considered a subjective element, the teaching that I have drawn from that invitation is actually a different one—the importance to adopt a deep, and not trivial approach to every project.”

The ideology of Crespi had somehow merged with what he had learned from his father while he was growing up. Ballabio’s father, a furniture maker, lived in a reality that was “characterized by an artistic working method.” His company produced artistic, handmade furniture in small series, and used a predominantly decorative approach. “Those were the years of mass production and the fact that my father's company was different had somehow instilled in me the desire to tackle projects experimenting with new and different rules” explains Ballabio.

His latest project, part of the luxurious Jumbo Group, is JCP Universe, which is an eclectic brand that aims to change the design status quo in a revolutionary way. “Three years ago, we were considered pioneers of this approach. Today the projects combining art and design are spreading very quickly, just think that today in London there is even a fair dedicated to this.”

It’s originally the brainchild of a think tank held in Milan in 2015, conceived by Livio Ballabio who entrusted CTRLZAK with the creative direction of the project. It is a fusion between art and design, which is why Ballabio understood that Katia Meneghini and Thanos Zakopoulos of CTRLZAK would be an ideal fit for the brand. “The encounter with CTRLZAK happened almost casually: I knew them because of their previous projects in which they set themselves the goal of breaking the form-function patterns that had characterized the entire 20th century, thus proposing a mix between art and design.”

JCP Visuals, 2019

When it comes to JCP, Ballabio is inspired by the words of style icon and interior designer Iris Apfel: “More is more, less is a bore.” Today, the ‘camp’ aesthetic is a confirmed trend as demonstrated by the annual exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which opened Camp, Notes on Fashion, a retrospective exploring the origins of camp's exuberant aesthetic earlier this year. Ballabio, ever the trend setter, had been giving lectures about the camp aesthetic as a guest speaker at his alma mater in 2015. “One of the most exclusive events of the year, the MET Gala as somehow legitimized a trend that had remained behind the scenes for a long time and is now returning to the light in all of its beauty in the fields of art, fashion, design and lifestyle–the example of the work of photographer David Lachapelle perhaps one of the most emblematic.”

The task of the creative director is a delicate one – one must have vision, gesture but also be business savvy. When asked how Ballabio treads this line, he says that he treats them quite separately: “We always work on a double track: on one hand there is the commercial recognition, on the other one there is a cultural appreciation. The unilateral approach of being just poets or just sellers doesn’t work: within these two extremes there are multiple variables of approaches to business that are more incisive.”

This balancing act is largely driven for Ballabio by the desire not to be trivial and the courage and audacity to do what no one has tried before. He is someone clearly fuelled by a curiosity to experiment. This desire not to be trivial extends to Ballabio’s and JCP’s approach to ecology and sustainability in the sense of leading them to produce objects that go beyond trends and are based on the logic of slow consumption.

When asked about his next steps, Ballabio concludes with what could be a life lesson for us all. “They say that success comes when the occasion meets the experience. Starting from this assumption, thanks to the experience accumulated in recent years with the Jumbo Group and its various souls, I am more than certain that my favourite piece will be the next I will design.”

By Emma Lucek

JCP Visual Storytelling, 2019
JCP Visuals, 2019
JCP Visuals, 2019
JCP Fragments, 2019
JCP Visual Storytelling
This article appeared in DAM74. Order your personal copy.