Athena Calderone is Seated for the Loewe Exhibition at Salone
Under the auspices of Jonathan Anderson, the Spanish fashion house Loewe has become synonymous with playful innovation. With LOEWE chairs, the latest project unveiled at Salone de Mobile in Milan, Anderson brings his singular vision to interior design and furniture. In collaboration with young artisans, Loewe reworked 30 vintage chairs, fusing different materials like raffia, foil, shearling, and felt. Eight of the chairs are described as “paper loom chairs,” created by the Belgian company Vincent Sheppard. One of them is accented with wacky mushrooms—that’s Anderon’s whimsical touch. Earlier this week Loewe hosted a party at the courtyard of Palazzo Ismbardi, where all 30 chairs will be on exhibit until April 23rd. The day after the fête, we chatted with Athena Calderone, designer, lifestyle expert, and the mind behind EyeSwoon, to get her thoughts on Loewe’s new project—she also let us know why maximalism is in, and which Loewe chair Carrie Bradshaw would definitely own.
ERNESTO MACIAS: Where are you calling from today?
ATHENA CALDERONE: I am calling from my hotel room in Milan. Staying at the Principe di Savoia, which I haven’t been to in almost 20 years. I’m aging myself, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in this hotel.
MACIAS: That’s amazing. What did you have for breakfast?
CALDERONE: I had an omelet with mushroom and cheese and three cappuccinos.
MACIAS: Three, wow. For the people that don’t know, could you explain what Salone is?
CALDERONE: Salone [del Mobile] is a design fair in Milan, and it’s pretty incredible because almost every furniture designer, but also artists and fashion brands, come together to exhibit in a very creative way. There’s of course a main fair, which I actually have not gone to. I have been going to exhibitions that are not within the fairgrounds and just spread throughout Milan.
MACIAS: Why do you think Milan is the perfect stage for a furniture fair?
CALDERONE: Milan is perfect because I think that design-wise they’ve always pushed creative boundaries. I mean, if you think about the Milanese 70s, low-slung sexy design that in the past couple of years has really been brought to the surface. There are a lot of design studios here in Milan like Dimore, that are really rich with their palette and saturated colors. I feel like it’s the coming together of so many creative worlds, Milan is such a prominent fixture in fashion. It feels like it is a crossover of multiple creative platforms and genres. I think for Europeans, it’s obviously central and easy to get to, but even coming from New York, it’s only a five-and-a-half-hour flight. So it feels like the perfect place to come together.
MACIAS: What did you wear to the Loewe party?
CALDERONE: I was very fortunate enough to wear Loewe. I wore a pair of high-waisted black trousers and a really beautiful sheer, billowing black blouse, I don’t know if it’s chiffon. It had beautiful, intricate details and was high up on the neck and it belled out. I feel like the look that I chose felt very much in line with both fashion and design. There was this beautiful pleating that was timeless. I actually want to pull it out now that I’m talking about it!
MACIAS. What was the vibe?
CALDERON: It felt really elegant. It felt fun and festive, but also sophisticated. I would say overall that the feeling of the night, especially at the party, was this sense of playfulness. And that might have been the two Negronis I had beforehand, or it might have been mushrooms and the beautiful weaving of the chairs. You felt this palpable energy in the crowd, the music, the art, and the exhibition. It had this level of whimsy and playfulness that I think encouraged people to have fun.
MACIAS: I love that. What do you carry in your purse when you go to a party?
CALDERONE: I am such a minimalist. I never bring makeup or gum out. I usually have chapstick as my lips get dry, my iPhone, and two credit cards. Because in Italy I found out they don’t always take American Express, so I have two cards, lip balm, and my phone. That’s about it.
MACIAS: Let’s talk about those Loewe chairs.
CALDERONE: I’m such a fan of any handcraft, anything that you can really get an essence of the touch of the hand. I think it’s so brilliant that there were all these antique chairs that are, to their core, very, very basic, but vintage. In anything that I do, whether it’s cooking a meal or designing a space, I’m always looking for that friction and contrast. I think that this exhibition was precisely that. It’s taking young talent, that love and old craft of weaving, and allowing them to really be innovative. As I was saying before, not only is there this contrast of vintage chairs that we’ve all seen for hundreds of years, but then taking this young talent and having them smash together these two ideas. That is what design is meant to do. It’s meant to make us curious, it’s meant to make us lean in and look deeper, also strike our imagination and allow us to dream a little bit. It felt like that curiosity was rampant throughout the room.
MACIAS: Did any one chair stand out to you?
CALDERONE: I really liked a lot of the Raffia chairs. There was one particular chair that was in a corner and paired with another black chair that was heavily laid in raffia. I actually went back today to photograph it and to see it in the daylight. By the time I started capturing photos, it was getting dark, and the lights were very red, and I wanted to go back and see it in the sunlight. I was just smitten by it today, especially the way the light was hitting it. I would say the most unexpected pieces were, I don’t know if it’s mylar, but there was a gold and silver one. That contrast, that tension, that intrigue of this grand Palazzo from hundreds of years ago mixed with these vintage chairs, and this very new shiny material but woven in a very classic way.
MACIAS: In Plato’s writing about forms, he talks about the perfect form of the chair. What’s your perfect chair?
CALDERONE: My perfect chair. Well, I might have two. I love the profile of a chair and I love the sculpture of a chair. I think a chair usually has two different purposes. Sometimes they’re just to look at and appreciate their beauty. Something that is superstructural and has a beautiful profile that is perched in the corner that completes a moment with the light coming in, hitting it at its side and highlighting all of its beautiful forms. Then there’s also a chair that you want to sink into and curl up and read a book or get cozy. From a design point of view, I’m all about a sculptural chair. They can serve both purposes and if the beauty can meet function, then it’s really the perfect chair.
MACIAS: Now that the chair is having such a moment, is the sofa over?
CALDERONE: Ooh, I don’t think the sofa will ever be over. But the sofa is something that you oftentimes can’t really play with. The sofa is such a massive investment that you’re probably going to have for 10 to 20 years, whereas a chair really allows you to reinvent yourself. A chair can be singular, it could be a pair, it could be a variety of mixed materials and mixed eras, so I just feel like the chair allows you to be more creative.
MACIAS: Which of the four women of Sex and the City would definitely have one of these chairs in their home?
CALDERONE: Wow, interesting. I think Carrie. I mean, Carrie would definitely have one of the gold or silver chairs. Even though it’s not very practical for her to be sitting at her computer, writing on a mylar crinkly chair, I think that she probably would do it anyway just for the sake of fashion.
MACIAS: She would definitely smoke a cigarette while she was sitting on that chair.
CALDERONE: She would perch on that chair.
MACIAS: Are there any trends in interior design that are jumping out at you this year?
CALDERONE: I feel like there’s something in design that I’m seeing quite a lot of that is richer and heavier. Whether that is in the form of a sofa or the material of a chair, or what I’m seeing a lot of is rich dark paneling. I feel like there’s a return of maximalism a little bit and not so much about having everything be pale Scandinavian wood. Right now, there’s been a bit of a return to the richness and warmth of wood paneling in a space.
MACIAS: What are you doing after this call?
CALDERONE: Ooh, after this call, I’m going to meet some friends for aperitivo hour and have dinner. Every night there’s been all these incredibly fun events and dinners, bopping around to like, 10 different things in one night. You always feel like you’re failing a little bit but you’re really winning because you’re getting to see all these amazing designers, exhibitions, and friends. But tonight’s going to be a little more about being together with friends and going to dinner.