Martini, endorsing the avant-garde

A new world has opened up to us through a project we’ve been involved with. The Life Negroni is a book about a classic Italian cocktail. It is also the story of so many other elements, including history, people, art, design and branding – the components that have created this drink. And it has been a fascinating journey. But more on the full project later.

In terms of design history, two of the most intriguing companies we have come across on our journey have been Campari and Martini & Rossi. Campari is a Milanese institution – the liquid hijacks the fashionista city’s evening aperitivo ritual, its hot red hue decorating almost every bar in town. Martini’s story is lovingly linked to Piedmont, to the vermouth di Torino, and the more sober industrial Northern Italian city.

Both companies share an incredible passion for championing the avant-garde through some very sophisticated notions of branding. The two worked with very daring artists, including the Italian Futurists, exploring novel ways of promoting their concepts, experimenting with new typeface, and ultimately creating companies that have been able to surpass so many competitors through history.

We have already published the story of Campari. The Martini & Rossi story began roughly around 1863 when three friends took over a vermouth distillery in the small village of Pessione outside of Turin. Salesman Alessandro Martini, accountant Teofilo Sola and vintner Luigi Rossi called their new company Martini, Sola e C.ia, renamed Martini & Rossi following the death of Sola in 1879.

The partners were attracted to Pessione for its great location nestled amongst the Monferrato hills and its wine producers, and the Turin-Asti-Genoa railway for easy access to the port of Genoa and the world’s exotic herbs and spices. So they purchased the farmhouses, vast surrounding fields and vineyards, and an elegant mansion house with spacious cellars that would become the home of Rossi and his family. Thus begun a journey to take the regional product of Vermouth di Torino to a world market.

Their first step was to perfect their product and create a smoother, more sophisticated and consistent vermouth, one that was far superior to their regional competitors.

Success came quickly for this dynamic partnership and the company took the pioneering steps of shipping crates of vermouth across the Atlantic to New York.

With its large Italian migrant population, and growing cocktail scene, sales of vermouth flourished there. Within a year Martini & Rossi became the sole exporters of three quarters of all vermouth sold in the country, and by the end of the century, the company was selling to over seventy countries.

Visiting the house of Martini which is still based in Pessiona, it is clear that the company was a highly controlled operation from the start. Administrative documents, business stationery, packaging, everything was beautifully designed, with a cohesive design language. Innovative advertising by some of the leading avant-garde artists, designers and writers, ensured the Martini myth was carried to the masses.

By the 1930s, such was the strength of the brand that their logo alone communicated a quintessential Italian lifestyle – full of gioia di vivienne. And by the 1960’s Martini had become the epitome of sophisticated Italy. Andy Warhol’s Pop posters alongside glamorous television ads reinforced this position.

There was the Milan Terrazza Martini, frequented by leading luminaries of the day, firmly implanting the brand in consciousness of contemporary society the world over. This year the company has teamed up with design consultant Pininfarina, a company we often write about in its connection with the motoring world, for a pop up Terrazza at Milan Design Week.

Today Martini remains the world’s number one vermouth producer continuing the tradition of working with leading creatives and with famous names from the word of art, design, fashion and film including in recent times Dolce & Gabbana and George Clooney.

Nargess Banks

The book The Life Negroni is published in the autumn 2015. To pre-order a copy email us at

Read The Story of Campari, of branding, advertising and patronage of the arts here.

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Campari, the art of advertising

Campari is closely linked to Milan. Come aperitivo time, when the bustling city settles to enjoy a drink or two in celebration of the start of the evening, the distinctive bright, red hue decorates almost every bar table in town. Milan is a true aficionada of its local product.

The love affair owes more to just the unique taste of this bitter spirit. It has to do with Davide Campari, the son of Gaspare the liquid’s inventor, and the man who made the company a global brand when he took over at the start of twentieth century. Davide had strong brand vision. He understood the power of design, of advertising, of collaborating with interesting, and at times radical and controversial artists, designers and filmmakers.

We are at the Campari headquarters researching for the book The Life Negroni – Campari being one of the three spirits (and the only one that rarely gets exchanged for a rival bitter) that makes up this archetypal Italian aperitif.

Situated at the very edge of Milan, the brick red façade of the original site is visible from the road. It is a little imposing in this quite suburban setting, certainly striking and a reminder of the architecture of the time it was built in early last century. This is all that remains of the old production site. This and the big, bold graphics spelt out in cast iron that read ‘D. CAMPARI’.

The new headquarters is the work of Swiss architect Mario Botta and the vast concrete construction that greets visitors continues the sense of modernist grandeur. One of the highlights here is Galleria Campari, created four years ago to celebrate the 150 anniversary of the company. It is a visual treat and a wonderful lesson in not only Campari history, but also the development of advertising and branding in the last century.

Gallery director Paolo Cavallo fills us with colourful tales of Davide’s ventures. We watch clips of promotional films made by the likes of Federico Fellini, see actors David Niven and Humphrey Bogart perform memorable campaigns – the latter a parody of Casablanca. The sheer volume of work is exhaustive.

Cavallo explains that ‘Davide was focused on what was happening in the world.’ He had an astute eye for the avant-garde working with Italian artist and chief designer for Olivetti Marcello Nizzoli, poster designer Leonetto Cappiello, illustrator Ugo Mochi, American graphic designer Milton Glaser, best known for the I ? NY logo… to name a few.

Up until the 30s, it was customary for artists to author their own type. Davide, realising growing competition from other spirit companies, stuck with a single logo for immediate brand recognition. In the 60’s Campari took on a new graphic approach, created by Leonardo Stroppa, Guido Crepax and Franz Marangolo. And in 1964 Bruno Munari produced the manifesto Declinazione grafica del nome Campari (Graphic Declination of the name Campari) for the opening of the first subway line of Milan. It caused a sensation.

Davide’s most notable association, though, was with the Italian Futurists, in particular Fortunato Depero, who created some of the most evocative work here. Amongst other strong beliefs, the movement challenged artistic hierarchy by dissolving barriers between fine and commercial art – and so working in advertising was encouraged.

Painter, sculptor, graphic designer and writer, Depero was arguably one of the brighter members of the Italian Futurists. His approach to the movement is documented in Depero Futurista, written in 1927 and sponsored by Davide. The book features a mechanical binding system with two bolts holding the pages together as a reflection of the Machine Age that characterises Futurism in the early 20s. There is a wealth of typographic inventions inside too– the text forms into various shapes, and different papers and colours are utilised throughout.

Depero’s ads for Campari were also experimental. By the 30s adverts had to be digested on the move, from buses, trains and automobiles. People no longer had the time to linger and ponder. Graphic design therefore had to be bold, be clean and the message at once understood. Depero not only opted for striking colours, he employed dynamic block letters, sometimes arranged diagonally. His black-and-white work celebrated the modern world and Manhattan skyscrapers.

Depero designed the mini bottle for Campari soda in early 30s, which remains in production almost to the exact shape, as well as lamps, trays and puppets – all of which are on permanent display here.

Today Campari continues this legacy, championing international designers, the likes of Matteo Thun, Tobias Rehberger and Markus Benesch, to name a few, as well as sponsoring new talent in the Art Label project.

Nargess Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 

Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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Italian Futurism 1909-1944

Italy was a relatively new country at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was barely 30 years old – the industrial north and traditional farming communities in the south had little in common. This was the Italy Benito Mussolini grew up in. It was also where the avant-garde Futurist movement was born.

The Italian Futurists worshiped modernity. They admired industry, speed, technology, planes and automobiles. ‘We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed,’ wrote their founder the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in the 1909 Futurist manifesto. ‘A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire…’

Tullio Crali Before the Parachute Opens 1939. Casa Cavazzini, Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Udine, Italy. Photo credit Claudio MarconCarlo-Carra-Interventionist-Demonstration-1914-©2013-Artists-Rights-Society-New-York-SIAE-Rome.-Photo-Courtesy-Solomon-R.-Guggenheim-Foundation-New-York.Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe at the Guggenheim Museum in New York attempts to examine the full historical breadth of the movement often lost in the dominance of Marinetti and some of the more famous members as well as its later association with the Fascist Italy of Mussolini.

Putting this association to one side, the Futurists were on the whole pretty avant-garde. The Futurist Cookbook, for instance (which I happen to be reading for a book I’m working on called The Life Negroni), published in 1931 is a provocative book, and part artistic joke, that calls for the abolition of pasta deemed an absurd Italian gastronomic religion that induces ‘lethargy, pessimism, and nostalgia’. They believed modern science would allow us to replace food with pills and vitamins, that eventually food production would be totally mechanised.

The Guggenheim exhibition features over 360 works by 80 artists, architects, designers, photographers and writers from the movement’s 1909 inception through its demise at the end of the second world war. It includes many rarely seen works, some of which have never travelled outside of Italy.

It also examines advertising (again this is something I’ve come across in my research for the book as the Futurists contributed some stunning brand work for Campari… more on this later), architecture, ceramics, design, fashion, film, free-form poetry, photography, performance, publications, music and theatre of this dynamic and often contentious movement that championed modernity and insurgency.

Nargess Banks

Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe is at the Guggenheim Museum, New York until 1 September 2014

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©