In Milan, where high fashion meets business, Italy has been at the forefront of innovative design and industry for decades. A very recent show of graphic design works celebrated one important, and somewhat surprising, influencer: Pirelli.
The great tire manufacturer and now multinational (with its famous calendar of the same name), has collaborated with international designers and intellectuals since its inception in 1872. To name but a few: the Italian designer and cartoonist Armando Testa, art historian and painter Gillo Dorfles, poet and writer Eugenio Montale, and graphic designer Bob Noorda.
This diverse group of collaborators enabled Pirelli to be at the cutting edge of design and advertising throughout the second half of the last century. In honour of this heritage, and on occasion of the eleventh edition of Museimpresa (The Italian Association of Company Archives and Museums, promoted by Confindustria, the Italian employers’ federation), Fondazione Pirelli in Milan hosted an exhibition entitled L’Umanesimo Industriale della Pirelli.
Pirelli did more with their rubber than make tires. These mid 20th century ads by Erberto Carboni, Raymond Savignac and Lora Lamm demonstrate the appeal of Pirelli's raincoats, household rubber gloves and even hot water bottles. © Pirelli.
This exhibition charted Pirelli’s graphic design and advertising through a collection of restored technical drawings and drafts made by the hands of the great names in graphic design from the 1950s to today. The technological and cultural innovations of the company were highlighted in particular through the works of Bob Noorda and the changes he brought about when he came to the company. Reflecting on his arrival in Milan in the early 1950s, he said: “Industrial firms were still hiring illustrators and artists for their advertising. We were the ones who introduced modern graphic design and the concept of a coordinated company image.”
Commerce speaks poetry in a surrealist poster by Ermanno Scopinich for Pirelli rubber shoe soles (1948) and a preliminary ad sketch by Mario Brunati, Sandro Mendini and Ferruccio Villa to promote the company's scuba diving line (1958). © Pirelli.
And so a new era in graphic design and advertising was born in entrepreneurial Milan of the 1950s. Graphic designers were changing the shape of advertising by streamlining the image and creating harmony with the product.
Noorda, in particular, worked for Pirelli on a number of projects before being appointed Art Director in 1961. Among his well-known works are the “Cintaurato” tire poster from 1959 with the distinctive wheel leaning slightly to the right. Often described as "soft" and "light", allowing for a sense of movement giving dynamism without overcrowding, he was one of the figures who created a new era of design advertising at Pirelli.
Open by appointment, Monday to Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm. Free entrance.