The Haas Brothers and Gianfranco Pampaloni
Text by Jillian Choi
Haas Brothers photographed by Mason Poole
Gianfranco Pampaloni photographed by Bea De Giacomo
From minimalism to art deco to rococo, history is replete with widely varying theories and schools of thought on design, but among all of these a design object has been traditionally defined by its function. Even so, some designers dare to defy categorization and definition and rebel against the notion of pure function, thus blurring the line between art and design. Enter the Haas Brothers and Gianfranco Pampaloni.
Fraternal twins Simon and Nikolai Haas, design world wunderkinds, work collaboratively across a variety of mediums. Their work is steeped in craftsmanship but also exhibits high-minded conceptual curiosity, clear purpose, and downright playfulness. Gianfranco Pampaloni is the third-generation owner of Pampaloni, the Florentine silver foundry world-renowned for its originality and playful approach to traditional silverware. Pampaloni’s grandfather started the business in 1902. The Haas Brothers and Pampaloni could not be more different in terms of backgrounds and aesthetics, which makes their being asked to reinterpret the concept of trophy even more interesting.
Simply defined, a trophy is a cup or other decorative object awarded as a prize for victory or success or taken as a souvenir of achievement. The trophies created by the Haas Brothers and Pampaloni share that attribute but little else. Besides the resulting objects of honor or recognition, this exercise also provides a fascinating glimpse into the process of their boundary-pushing creators, one that transforms how we think about design.
The Haas Brothers—Award for Uncharacteristic Decency
After their recent trips to Africa, the idea of privilege has been at the forefront of the Haas Brothers’ minds. With the California drought in full swing, Nikolai and Simon were surprised to hear that the City of Beverly Hills was forgoing watering its evergreen meridians.
“I think you really ought to commend a privileged person who makes an unusual move of doing something benevolent,” says Simon.
In response to this, the twins created their “Award for Uncharacteristic Decency.” There is a certain playful humor in the social commentary that manifests in this trophy, which captures the twins’ curiosity and desire to explore ways of using concrete materials to represent intangible phenomena such as the workings of human psychology.
“This trophy is for those who are selfless who truly don’t need to be selfless because the reality is people in power can do whatever they want,” says Nikolai, “but the truth is relinquishing power gives you more power.”
Besides Beverly Hills, the twins mentioned other potential recipients of their Award for Uncharacteristic Decency—Caitlyn Jenner and Pope Francis, for example—each one lauded for taking the road less traveled.
The trophy they created is a bronze hand holding flowers made with beaded silver wire. It sounds simple but with the Haas Brothers there is always more to a work than what meets the eye. “They [the hand and flowers] represent things we have been working on for a while,” say Simon. “I sculpted the hand and Simon created the flowers,” says Nikolai. Simon created the flowers using a formula he developed from patterns occurring in nature.
In conversation, the brothers often flow in and out of dialogue, finishing each other’s sentences and describing each other’s work with fluidity, ease, and almost telepathic understanding. Simon describes Nikolai’s contribution, the bronze hand, as going beyond a simple literal anthropomorphic representation to capture a sense of lightness and sweetness.
The two work together so often that “the process is pretty fluid. We'll have an idea of what we both will do but generally that idea gets obliterated. We're intent on working together. We're inevitably going to come up with something that neither one of us can make on our own.” Their relationship is completely symbiotic and efficient, much like a fine-tuned ecosystem. “If one of us gets good at something, the other doesn’t bother learning.”
The two also have a certain prescient understanding of the world as it was, is, and will be. “To me I think of design as being a venue that’s coming of age, like rock and roll in the 60s and 70s or rap in the 80s and 90s,” Nikolai says. “There are people engaging in it that are still hungry and dedicated. Yet with this heightened state becomes more responsibility, you can't just make a chair because it's comfortable to sit in, it has to do a lot more than that.”
Then Simon adds, “Hopefully we can be remembered for saying ‘don't focus so much on function that you forget what else is around or about all your other curiosities.’”
The Haas Brothers live and work in Los Angeles and are represented by R & Company in New York.
Gianfranco Pampaloni—Live and Let Live Trophy
“Majestic and peace-loving herbivores are being killed for keratin, the chemical equivalent of toenails,” says Gianfranco Pampaloni. “Very cruel are the hunters who kill for the pleasure of killing, but are the ones who cause the death of animals for their sexual pleasure less cruel?”
Moved by the near extinction of rhinos by poachers who kill the animals for the supposed aphrodisiacal quality of their ground-up horns, Pampaloni created a silver rhino horn trophy.
“I believe in beauty, I believe in science, and I believe in folly,” he says. “Mostly I believe in the folly of the science of beauty. In collaboration with artist Ipse Pixel, we have created the ‘Live and Let Live’ rhinoceros horn as a monument to folly. Ipse Pixel’s horn is handmade from sterling silver at my family factory, then coated in a purpose-developed process called Viagratura. Owners of ‘Live and Let Live’ horns are invited to lick their way through the Viagratura down to the silver whenever the need arises. That way they can save the rhino while saving face. In the end they will have a beautiful sterling horn to remember it all by.”
There is a Florentine lilt and a certain fantastical whimsy in the way Pampaloni shares his view of the world. Running the silver foundry his grandfather started over a century ago, he is clearly aware of history but not bound by it. “My grandfather and my father were answering to a wish or a need of consumers of their times,” he says. “In the last forty years silverware is no longer a need but just a wish for independent-minded consumers, so I produce pieces that can attract the interest of people who are not obsessed by status symbols.” He is often quoted as saying he makes silverware for people who don’t like silverware. There is a need for Pampaloni to go beyond the merely functional as well as the merely decorative and to make work that has another layer of meaning. Perhaps it is the anthropological history of silver given as gifts, included in dowries, used in religious ritual, or stolen from palazzos. “Gifts are often associated with crime and religion and I am aware that silverware is often used for these purposes. ‘Live and Let Live’ refers to my approach of making pieces with a sense, a meaning, and not just an aesthetic or preciousness.”
“So this is a trophy dedicated to the happy life of humans and rhinos. Every silver horn sold with Viagratura will save the life of a precious rhino and the soul of a poor man.” Simple yet lofty and just a little bit extravagant, it is a trophy only a Pampaloni could make.
Gianfranco Pampaloni lives and works in Florence, Italy.
20% of the purchase price of every Pampaloni Live and Let Live rhino horn will be donated to the Save the Rhino Trust.
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