The Marangoni Institute-NABA Domus Academy is part of Galileo Education Italia, an international network of institutes located in the most prestigious fashion capitals – Milan, Florence, Paris, London, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Mumbai, and Miami – and is the top Milan-based private education hub for fashion, art, and design (8,000 students per year from 107 countries). Alumni of the institute include Domenico Dolce, Franco Moschino, and Alessandro Sartori. We have interviewed Roberto Riccio, President of Galileo Italia. Roberto speaks six languages and lives in Torre Solea, where he enjoys a view that inspires new horizons for Portanuova.

PN: Hello Roberto, it is a pleasure to meet you “in person” after having read so much about you. We got you involved because you have a lot in common with Portanuova; not just because you live there, but because your schools teach design, art, and architecture: the “subjects” at the basis of the District and its spaces, as the quintessential and most modern expression of Italian style and the Made in Italy trademark.
An obvious question arises: why have you chosen to live at Portanuova?

RR: In 2010 I was looking for a home for the Marangoni Institute that could contribute – with all its student body and international staff – to integrate the well-known high-tech identity of the District into a fashion hub. Things didn’t really go that way, but I still wanted to be “a part of the District”, thus in 2015 – after I visited the Bosco Verticale and other buildings – I chose Solea, where I rented at first and then bought my new residence. There were just a few of us when I first moved in. We were like pioneers...

PN: Why Solea?
RR: I believe it’s the best of the three Towers in terms of sun exposure and view, and I love its bold shape. Even the materials, style, interior finish and lay-out match my taste.

PN: Do you spend time at the District?
RR: I know all its cafés and hang out there whenever I can. Since I’m always traveling, I always book last-minute, and I’m sorry to say I’ve never managed to eat at Aalto, which is right under my house! But I’ll make it.

PN: Do you know Spider-Man?
RR: Who doesn’t? I liked your interview.

PN: Besides your students, who are an “elite” of creative talents with big projects up their sleeves, what are your thoughts on today’s young generation – the so-called zillennials born between 1995 and 2002?
RR: My students, who come from all around the world, often use the lab at night to finish a presentation. They are passionate academics and workers, craving to learn and give shape to their dreams. Other than them, I see a rather grim picture. One factor is the uncontrolled use of devices, which the young men and women don’t use as an exceptional tool to access the network and its knowledge resources, but as a way to communicate or entertain themselves: they chat, play, but are not inquisitive at all. On the web, you can visit with utmost ease classic or modern art museums, or follow the profiles of big names in fashion, art, and design. You can find out not only what happens around the world, but even what occurred in the past; on the greats that have helped build it in every field, from music to science.
Back in Portanuova, there are indeed some youth trends that fascinate me, like the crews of street dancers that give life to really cool choreographies, for instance at the Porta Garibaldi underground station. Every performance is an unrepeatable form of art: it lives and makes sense in the minute it is born, free of charge, on a public stage, for the pleasure of whoever stops to watch it.

PN: The IM (Marangoni Institute) is considered among the best fashion institutes in the world, alongside the Central Saint Martins in London and the Parsons School of Design in New York. The former teaches a research-based and independent approach, the latter is business-oriented. IM is somewhere in between: it invests in the ability to create a personal style while promoting the IM brand. Now picture Portanuova and its architectural creations as a brand. Define its style: is it high-tech or sophisticated? Is it prêt-à-porter or high fashion?
RR: The concept of being Italian is key; it represents what we call “Made in Italy” often too loosely. Portanuova is Italian lifestyle: it hosts a contemporary jet set, which is educated, open-minded, and knows how to distinguish beauty in all of its forms, whether in design or personal relationships. Moreover, it endorses the value of sustainability, which is now a must in every field.
I know some people who could afford to live in one of the towers, but prefer being downtown. I would never live there, because everything closes at night and it's beddy-bye. I need life, stimulation, lights, people, and a vibrant context that can surprise me. So if you ask me a tailormade definition of Portanuova, I would brand it as “Italian lifestyle in architecture”.

PN: That sounds like your 2016 definition of the Marangoni as an “aesthetic and cultural outpost of Made in Italy in the world”.
RR: Exactly. Definitions and futurist style aside, Portanuova is the home to branches of Google, Amazon, Samsung, IBM, LinkedIn, and other hi-tech giants, thus is a state-of-the-art location for the technology and digital world. This is huge, because it launches Milan in the Pantheon of world technology capitals, but my plan to enrich its creative soul too, which has made it – neck-and-neck with Paris, London, and New York – a capital of fashion. A bit like the fashion scene in Dubai, which has generated an international circle of aesthetes able to not only nurture the fashion shows but bring creative spirit to their district.

PN: How did distance learning go? In your interview with Il Sole 24 Ore, you talked about “hybrid lessons” and “an evolution of the concept of ‘in presence’”. Did you mean an orientation towards ODL through digital platforms as a new learning model, or do you think lab work is still irreplaceable? Perhaps a mixed method?
RR: My students complain about this long pause from direct interaction not only with their classmates but even – and above all – with materials and senses. Touch, smell, and even sight are crucial: think about the smell of one leather compared to another, or the feeling of silk between your fingers compared to French terry. Students also suffer from the lack of networking; those coming from far away who dream of opening a start-up need to develop contacts and relations. We tried offering “career moments”, but they didn’t go as we expected. ODL has its advantages from the business perspective, with savings in terms of workspaces and the push for students to adapt to new technology, but once you cross the line, there’s no turning back! Here’s an example: we developed a series of digital sewing patterns which are beautiful, perfect, and useful… but the colour resolution on the monitor is often wrong!

PN: Speaking of manual skills, I think about Valentino’s seamstresses in Rome, in the sublime docufilm The Last Emperor. Can you picture the Master giving indications through video call?
RR (smiles): Precisely. “Back to school” teaching is also made of a nonverbal language, even spoken by the body that will wear your clothes in the future.

PN: Portanuova’s outdoor spaces serve this kind of interaction well. Gensler published a research paper in which he shows how the most constructive relations come about in real life, and – additionally – outdoors. What is your advice to enhance Portanuova’s fashion vocation?
RR: Architects are great stylists who expressed their talent in a set of buildings that have defined their status as archistars. Portanuova bursts with creative energy in each of its lines and spaces; it is the ideal stage for temporary and even permanent events. We could plan a lab for children to create felt accessories for their little dresses, or – I’m improvising here – a “cat walking” course organized with a model management agency. It would be our way to pay homage to the location and fashion as an art, by making its beauty truly accessible to all and promoting its content. By the way, I love The Mall, under the Bo Bardi park. It’s a beautiful space: 3,700 m2 (just under 40,000 ft2) made to measure for fashion events to support the democracy of beauty, with permanent installations and exhibitions as well as fashion shows and presentations. Lest we forget, the hi-tech renovation COIMA has brought to Portanuova is incredible; it reminds me of Shoreditch in London. Now it needs to build on this initial revamping and construction step with a process leading it to technological innovation available to every single citizen, permeating its offices and squares with interaction opportunities. Samsung has already started working in this direction.

PN: Even when you talk about technology, you tend to spectacularize it, as if it were fashion...
RR: Well, in this regard the hi-tech giants and fashion houses could do great things together. Let’s face it: Portanuova is really one of the few cool areas of Milan, and is lucky enough to also have lots of space to “do things”. Via Montenapoleone is “the fashion square”, but its exclusive nature has remained such: in the end, it’s a street with several other streets crossing it and full of people and cars; its events are always private and indoors – in the showrooms, at homes, and in the impossible-to-reach courtyards. So I ask myself (just off the top of my head): why not start a cooperation between Montenapoleone and Portanuova? The former would bring the fashion, Portanuova would bring the spaces, technology, sustainability, and… open air! Speaking of sustainability: this is a source of pride for the District, its designers, and its builders, but please say it out loud, everywhere, from the pinnacle of the UniCredit Tower to every last plaque on every bench at the BAM!

PN: If you had the permits, space, and budget, what would you do at Portanuova other than your school?
RR: Fashion is only one expression of beauty. I would call world-class artists like Simon Ma from China, who plays with his surname – that means horse – and reinterprets brands like Bulgari and Ferrari. Imagine putting a brand like Portanuova in his hands. It would shake the world...

PN: From interior design to product design, to urban design. Are you training the future archistars of Portanuova at your Domus Academy?
RR: Maybe, but don’t write it down!