5 Compasso d’Oro women to know if you love design

5 Compasso d’Oro women to know if you love design

compasso d'oro donne premiate
compasso d'oro donne premiate

The realm of design and architecture boasts names like Gae Aulenti, Paola Navone, Zaha Hadid, and Patricia Urquiola, highlighting that women have always been integral to design. This remains true despite the challenges posed by a society and an industry predominantly male. The ADI (Industrial Design Association) awards, while still featuring fewer women compared to their male counterparts, celebrate female designers’ contributions.
Let us recognize five such women. Five laureates of the Compasso d’Oro for their outstanding merits and individual projects that underline the role of women in the evolution of Italian industrial design.

Renata Bonfanti, 1962

Among the many awards and acknowledgments received by Renata Bonfanti (1929 – 2018) throughout her career, the Compasso d’Oro, won in 1962, stands out as a significant milestone, officially cementing the Bassano del Grappa weaver’s place in Italian design.
The award-winning product is the JL curtain fabric, designed and produced independently, an example of “excellent technical and functional solution achieved specifically through structural invention,” as the jury’s motivation reads. “The award also intends to acknowledge, through this particular case, the value and integrity of Renata Bonfanti’s entire production”—a legacy that continues today within the large textile workshop she founded.

renata bonfanti JL
JL curtain fabric, Renata Bonfanti

Born into the field, her father, Francesco Bonfanti, was a renowned proto-rationalist architect and a friend of Gio Ponti. After studying in Venice and Oslo in the early ’50s, she returned to Italy and began making high pile knotted rugs (affectionately dubbed “peloni” within the family), which quickly garnered the appreciation of Milan’s bourgeoisie. The city was abuzz with creative energy, and Bonfanti’s creations were well-received by the most prominent designers of the time.
Enzo Mari designed her still-used logo (a double square made of perpendicular and parallel lines, reminiscent of a piece of fabric), while Bruno Munari involved her in the Sottovasi series project and the Bali lamp.

logo enzo mari renata bonfanti
Logo of the Renata Bonfanti snc, Enzo Mari

Bonfanti’s approach to weaving was both innovative and forward-thinking: she was the one to introduce the use of synthetic fibers alongside natural ones. “I have always thought of weaving as an architectural element and cannot design a carpet, tapestry, or fabric without imagining their placement,” she stated in 1998, “To intervene in an interior space with a chromatic or figurative sequence that modifies or completes it has always been of the utmost interest to me.” Experimentation and traditional techniques are the hallmarks of one of the first Italian textile designers — and one of the very first Compasso d’Oro winners — remembered especially for her carpet-tapestries.

Carla Venosta, 1979 e 1981

Carla Venosta (1926 – 2019) was a prolific and multifaceted figure in Italian design. Born in Monza and educated at the Politecnico University of Milan in architecture, she began her career in 1971, delving into product design, craftsmanship, and the design of exhibitions, urban furniture, and setups.
William Morris and Beatrice Webb (an English economist and Labour politician) were her main conceptual inspirations; Venosta translated their philosophy into functional household products consistent with mass production logic.

Yet, it wasn’t for household items that she won the Compasso d’Oro twice. Her first win was in 1979 with Mark 5, a computerized electromedical machine for the acquisition of biometric data made by Amplaid. A few years later, in 1981, she received the award again for the Teknico metal ceiling for industrial spaces by Tremisol. These works showcased the sheer versatility of her genius and her architectural studio, now famous and engaged in a variety of projects: office systems, sofas, bookshelves, chairs, armchairs, as well as iconic tea and coffee services.

amplaid mark 5 carla venosta
Mark 5, Carla Venosta

A Gold Medal for Career Achievement from the Province of Milan (1985) and Commendatore della Repubblica Italiana (1988), Venosta was also an active member of the ADI Executive Committee from 1991 to 1992. During those years, she also won the first prize at the Concorso Nazionale di Artigianato Religioso del Santuario di Pompei with a tabletop crucifix.
Carla Venosta traversed every avenue of Italian Design, leaving her mark with projects characterized by an essential and distinctive style.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri, 1987 e 1994

Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s (1920 – 2006) story is closely tied to Kartell, a company specializing in plastic furniture production, which she co-founded in 1949 with her husband Giulio Castelli.
Before Kartell, Anna Castelli Ferrieri graduated in Architecture from the Politecnico University of Milan and spent two years in Franco Albini’s studio, dedicating her career to building design. 
Her signature can be found on the technical offices of Alfa Romeo in Arese, Kartell’s headquarters in Rinasco, as well as executive offices, manufacturing plants, and even the reconstruction of the Chiostro of Bramante in Milan.

As the first female President of ADI (from 1969 to 1971), she was awarded the Compasso d’Oro in 1987 for the 4870 stackable chair by Kartell, in which “the use, economic, and technological values are perfectly homogeneous,” the jury noted. Anna Castelli Ferrieri had a fondness for plastic, and with Kartell, a pioneer in the search for new materials, she successfully experimented with new solutions, many of which are now displayed in the most prestigious museums around the world, like the MoMA and the Centre Pompidou. This includes the 4970/84 furniture, better known as Componibili, stackable cylindrical containers that have been a symbol of Kartell for over fifty years.

4870 kartell anna castelli ferrieri
4870, Anna Castelli Ferrieri

The year 1994 marked her second Compasso d’Oro win, this time for the Hannah cutlery set produced by Sambonet: “A reinterpretation of a classic typology where the functional attention and formal care for each element harmoniously blend into the balance of the whole.” Interestingly, this was also the edition where the Mobil system of drawer-containers, designed by Antonio Citterio in collaboration with Glen Oliver Löw for Kartell, was awarded. A direct and indirect double success for Castelli Ferrieri amidst the many that studded her unforgettable career.

posate sambonet anna castelli ferrieri
Hannah, Anna Castelli Ferrieri

Cini Boeri, 1979 e 2011

Cini Boeri (1924 – 2020), born Maria Cristina Mariani Dameno, retained the surname of her husband, Renato Boeri, with whom she had three children: journalist Sandro Boeri, economist Tito Boeri, and architect Stefano Boeri.
A graduate of the Politecnico University of Milan, after a brief internship with Gio Ponti, she embarked on a design journey in Marco Zanuso‘s studio. From civil architecture to interior design, museum setups, and industrial design, Cini Boeri never held back, applying the same philosophy across all design disciplines: experimentation with forms and materials aimed at democratizing objects and environments.

This philosophy gave birth to her most iconic product: the Serpentone, a flexible sofa sold by the meter from Arflex, which revolutionized the concept of conviviality and space sharing. In fact, as she declared in an interview a few years ago, it was intended to “desecrate ownership,” invading it with an endlessly customizable sinuous form.
But it was with the Strips family – modular armchairs and sofas also for Arflex and still in production – that she won her first Compasso d’Oro in 1979.
Cini Boeri’s career-long research focused on the relationship between humans, objects, space, and how the latter influences behavior. Strips is just one example of this. The houses she designed, starting with the Casa Bunker in Maddalena, perfectly reflect this vision and encourage people to construct new ways of living, both private and shared.

arflex cini boeri laura griziotti
Strips, Cini Boeri e Laura Grizziotti

Among Cini Boeri’s other successful designs are the Ghost chair, made from a single sheet of bent glass, and Partner, the world’s first suitcase with wheels, which is also part of MoMA’s collection. It was her prolific and cutting-edge production that earned her a second Compasso d’Oro in 2011, this time for her career.

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Felicia Arvid, 2022

With Felicia Arvid (born 1994), we leap forward in time to the present, rounding out our review of women awarded by ADI. Like Renata Bonfanti, the young Danish designer also works with textiles.
After studying Fashion Design and Architecture, Felicia Arvid won the Compasso d’Oro in 2022 for her Klipper project, created in collaboration with the historic Italian company Caimi Brevetti. It’s a system of sound-absorbing wall panels composed of two layers of Snowsound fabric: a taut base and a second “sheet” draped above, held together only by metal clips. Inspired by the Danish coast, Klipper combines functionality and aesthetics in a product with sinuous form and a strong sculptural presence, “emblematic of simplicity and effectiveness in the creation of a product for acoustic control,” according to the jury.

Arvid’s tailoring training, combined with her design background, allows her to give traditional Nordic textiles new uses and functions. From seats to lamps, these two-dimensional materials take up space with soft and original geometries.

We look forward to seeing what she and her colleagues will create soon. And if you love design in all its forms, don’t miss the chance to visit the ADI Design Museum in Milan, where you can see some of the projects mentioned in this article and discover other equally deserving ones!

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