Travelling light

Benetton’s Fabrica centre has tried its hand at a versatile interior design unit. Mike Exon thinks it’s a clever concept, but does it actually work?

A few years ago while travelling through Central America, the rules of extreme travel were revealed to me. The object, I learned from an English-speaking guy at the Honduras border, was to travel as light as possible. In contrast to myself, his own tiny duffel bag held just a toothbrush, spare underwear, a washkit, antiseptic and his travel papers. The rest, he said, he could get hold of, or do without.

Benetton’s communication centre, Fabrica, would argue that his nomadic way of life applies as much to city dwellers as it does to Mr Honduras in these modern times. Perhaps it does. This concept is the basis for the group’s interior design experiment, Nomad. More art piece than commercial design (Fabrica acknowledges this is not a commercial creation) the Nomad Bag, as it is called, is impossibly brilliant, but impractically disposable. It is a building block – a module, I am told – for a thousand furnishings ideas.

Nomad Bag is a transparent thick polyurethane bag measuring about 40cm by 50cm. It can be filled with anything – objects or liquid – and is freezable. It has a handle, support, holes and pockets, plus countless popper fasteners for reshaping it or attaching other Nomad units. Everyone will ask: “That’s amazing – how does it do that?” when they read the manufacturer’s claims of what one or more Nomad Bag can become – anything from a bag to a lampshade, or a bookshelf or mattress. The pillow is straightforward: you just blow into the air valve – but I cannot even begin to imagine how the bottle is devised. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps Benetton is offering a prize for the most inventive, not yet thought of Nomad use. Hmm.

Fabrica’s Nomad project was apparently conceived by Luciano Benetton and his now departed top creative and photographer Oliviero Toscani, and developed by the Fabrica students at Catena di Villorba, near Treviso, in Italy. My unit is the only available one in the UK, which is part of the reason why envisaging a complete work made up of multiple Nomads isn’t too easy. But not altogether unattainable.

It’s hard too know how seriously its designers take the Nomad design. If they were simply working to a brief, Nomad risks being rather all brief and little in the way of function.

The final forms are (presumably) incidental. Perhaps irrelevant, but probably intriguing all the same. In fact, the very lack of any visual samples adds to the mystique.

As an art concept, Nomad reminds us that our material possessions are incredibly unadaptable. Anti-stuff-collectors will love how it strikes at the heart of consumer society, design included. But unless the idea can be executed this risks becoming exactly what it aims not to be – more stuff.

Personally, I am rather drawn to the idea that giant molecules could make anything you needed. Mr Honduras would probably say anything you couldn’t make with it probably is not worth having anyway. I wonder if he would swap his duffel bag for a Nomad.

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