It’s hard to tell Count Enrico Marone Cinzano’s story when it’s one that’s worthy of its own biography. Born in Turin, Italy in 1963, he’s a descendant of FIAT Automobiles on his maternal side, and a scion of Italy’s prominent Cinzano Vermouth empire on his paternal side. His step-grandmother, Infanta Maria Cristina de Borbon y Battenberg, was Spanish royalty.
Despite his roots, I’ll admit I was surprised when I met the Marone Cinzano. Dressed in a distressed leather jacket, tattoos peeking out of his t-shirt, and donning a perfectly groomed mustache, he is a far cry from the conventional idea of what a Count should be. Which is fitting, as I soon learned that challenging perception is something Marone Cinzano is good – no, great – at.
So much so that he’s built a career of it.
Following a more conservative career in finance and real estate after receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Babson College, it wasn’t long before Marone Cinzano’s inherent entrepreneurial spirit took hold, and his interest in – and utmost respect for – ecology inspired him to shift his focus to sustainable design.
In 2001, Marone Cinzano – alongside former filmmaker Natalie Chanin and photographer Paul Graves – co-founded Project Alabama, an environmentally friendly fashion label for which he served as co-creative director until 2007.
The designer then turned to the world of furniture design, establishing his eponymous brand in 2012 under which he continues to produce an ethical collection of otherworldly, fantastical furniture using local, sustainable materials.
“I think my understanding of the sustainable real estate market was ahead of the curve,” Marino Cinzano explains. “I began my new journey by tacking the development of a healthier, conscious and design driven line of furniture.”
What inspired your desire to reconnect with nature?
We all want answers in life, whether existential, practical or just for everyday questions: there are so many sources in terms of potential answers. The greatest system that continues to seamlessly operate is and always has been nature. Everything is somehow an end result of nature.
How big of a role does sustainability play in your designs?
Absolutely central and crucial – sustainability is a little like a rabbit hole: it goes on forever, with new facets arising on a daily basis. It is a fascinating and interesting way to better yourself. At the end of the game, it is about respect for all sentient beings and for life in general.
Have you always been an eco-conscious person?
I led a more toxic, wasteful and unsustainable life in my earlier years. But am absolutely glad I did, because you cannot really see the light unless you have seen the darkness.
Where do you hope to see the future of sustainable design?
There are enough natural resources in our world to share with everyone, and if we use our collective ingenuity correctly, we can all lead full lives. Following the advent of the industrial revolution, and the subsequent abundance in production technology, design became very much of an external process. It is time we go back to ensuring design is focused on performance and functionality, but maintain well-dressed.
Tell us about how or where you source your materials…
I source materials in all sorts of ways. Some are just recycled materials, and sometimes I research as they are better than traditional ones, for instance the ones made industrially but eco-certified by legitimate third parties. Also, I try to look for materials locally to where I produce, all natural and without artificial processes. The truth of the matter is that by now my eyes are forever roaming for them, and there are times when I will be driving somewhere and all of a sudden stop the car because something beautifully discarded caught my attention.
What have been some of the most exotic or unique materials you’ve used in your designs?
I have used some amazing crystals and woods. In China, I sourced the most beautiful tiger wood from trees that had fallen during an earthquake. I also use metals from junkyards, like a large sheet of titanium I once found in an industrial park and used to make a coffee table.
What’s the difference between good design and exceptional design?
Exceptional design is an internal process, one where above all, the user experience is improved. Where you have a win-win situation, where the designer is being truly materialistic, meaning she or he shows respect for the materials used. The aesthetics of it is an added bonus, but the content is the master.
Do you actively search for inspiration or does it find you?
Nature is the source of inspiration, and you can see it in everything.
Would you say that your pieces are works of art, or heirlooms to be passed down?
I hope that the passion that went into the making my works, along with my ethical sensitivity, make for a truly strong, useful product that will endure time and be passed down.
What is the key to design that transcends trends or fads? What does it take to create something that is timeless?
‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ - Leonardo da Vinci
Tell us about your exhibition – “China Clean” – that you recently held at Pearl Lam Gallery in Hong Kong…
I wanted to create a sustainable collection in China because when visiting the country so frequently (9 times in 18 months), I discovered an incredibly sophisticated country with a deep sense of tradition and millennial crafts still practiced. A far cry from what we think in the Western world, and I felt quite ignorant. The entire process was very enriching and life changing. My collection is intended to raise questions and make people think, and Pearl Lam aligned with my idea.
“China Clean” is inspired by your experience in Mainland China – an experience that you say really challenged any preconceived notions you had of the region. What can you tell us about your experience?
I loved every moment of it, but there are two instances that struck me. One was when I found out that calligraphists, the most advanced ones, would in the latter part of their lives, dunk their brushes in water and write on stones, only to see their work slowly evaporate. This meant it was all in the process. The second experience was seeing the faces of craftsmen upon seeing our collaborative work come to life, the pride and joy in their eyes. That kind of emotional reflection is priceless. I want to come back and do more.