Abreham Brioschi with the Nodus rug
Abreham Brioschi with the Nodus rug.

10 Questions With… Designer Abreham Brioschi

There are many things to learn from Abreham Brioschi, especially when it comes to his knowledge of African design. First, he emphasizes the harmonic entwinement between old and contemporary design for futuristic results. Second, he analyzes the importance of quality materials, drawing attention to sustainability and using raw waste to produce aesthetic products. Third, he speaks on inspiration: The beauty of culture, tradition and people, and how it shapes a design renaissance.

But there are things to know about Brioschi as well. He’s a designer who was born and raised in Italy, but has cultural roots in Ethiopia. He also built a design philosophy around researching the cultural tapestry of his heritage, propelled by stories and ancient history, which led his distinct aesthetic to bloom.

In pieces Brioschi makes, the eminent shapes are often inspired by Ethiopian symbols. For example, in his Burgui collection, he combines different sculptural elements, like the hieroglyphical-shaped Wollaita chair inspired by columns at the Bet Maryam church in Lalibela, Ethiopia. His most recent work, a collaboration with the Italian rug company Nodus, which exhibited at Milan Design Week 2024, was inspired by the Danakil Depression, a geological depression caused by the divergence of tectonic plates and located in the northern part of Ethiopia. Such culturally expressive pieces meld past and present, reflecting how technology shapes the human experience.

Portrait of Abreham Brioschi
Portrait of Abreham Brioschi.

Abreham Brioschi On His Journey To Design and Ethiopian Inspiration

Abreham Brioschi with the Mursi rug
Abreham Brioschi with the Mursi rug.

Interior Design: Where did your career as a designer begin?

Abraham Brioschi: I have always loved design as the creation of products that tell a story, products that have their own narrative and mission. My passion materialized during my studies at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (NABA), where I graduated with a degree in product design. During university, I decided to delve into African Design, particularly specializing in Ethiopia, the place where I was born. African design has the characteristic of being extremely attentive to details and materials, with special focus on waste and functionality. I developed my thesis project through in-depth research on everyday objects in the Ethiopian tradition and on the practices still used by tribes. I created my first collection with the design of three seats inspired by the practice of scarification, the use of Ethiopian headrests, and the shapes of lip plates. These seats were exhibited during Milan Design Week 2022.

After graduating, I began working on projects that combined my interest in African Design with more contemporary and innovative design. The Burgui collection, exhibited at Milan Design Week 2023, aims to unite innovation with tradition, creating seats that are not only inspired by Ethiopian practices, but also advanced in terms of usage, such as the Lefletè seat, which is modular and can be divided into two seats and a coffee table. The reaction from this collection led me to create several projects that have not yet been released, but I intend to develop very soon. I want to focus on bringing Ethiopian tradition into an even more modern context through the production of tables, seats, and desks.

2024 was a surprise. I had the opportunity to collaborate with Nodus for the production of three rugs that we’ve called the “New Ethnic” collection. Thanks to this opportunity, I was able to experiment a lot, further expanding my knowledge of materials, artists, designers, and production methods. These rugs have been a great source of inspiration for future projects, and I would love to create more of them, perhaps stepping out of the Ethiopian context to discover new forms and traditions linked to different African design.

ID: Did design and curious invention play a role in your childhood growing up?

AB: I think, to all children, creating is almost a natural thing. I always experimented with different materials when I was little; I continuously built objects with everything I found around me. I spent a lot of time growing up in Lake Garda, Italy, where I have a house. There, I was always playing in nature, looking for materials, and creating with small pieces of wood. In short, I have a lot of fond memories from that time. As I grew up, I just became more aware of my abilities and what I could do. When I was little, I didn’t think much about my origins. I rediscovered them only as I grew up and became closer to the world of design.

ID: Do your Ethiopian and Italian backgrounds influence your work? 

AB: My work is influenced by both my Ethiopian and Italian origins. This is because I was born and raised in Italy, where I have been influenced by its culture and history since I was young. Ethiopia came later as a culture and as something I studied. I firmly believe that artistic choices are dictated by one’s emotional, cultural, and historical memories. So for me, Ethiopia and Italy work together in my mind. It’s obvious that, more practically, I always seek to combine Ethiopian design with a more feasible use in an Italian daily context.

tan rug with multiple red dots in a row
Mursi rug.
wooden chair with three legs as the base

ID: Based on your research and knowledge of your Ethiopian identity, what have you come to learn about African design?

AB: In African design, the sense of community and the concept of humanity are very present and strong. So much so that the design inspiration referencing African culture is deeply tied to relationships and functionality, but bound to necessity. It is a design based on unity and not distinguishing elements; contemporary African design is a necessary hybridization between what has just been described and more contemporary futuristic figures. Where African design and contemporary language differ, starting from the base, is the purpose.

For African design, as mentioned, the purpose is necessity. For contemporary language, the purpose is aesthetics and external harmony. What converges these two languages is the use of unique materials in the production of products and attention to waste. This logic and mentality has always characterized the creation of African objects because many tools or objects made are built with poor materials. I believe that there are many common points between the two languages, but as designers, we still have to discover them. Delving into the culture and tradition of people and trying to hybridize the various pillars for a new world is never simple.

ID: What is your creative process like as a designer?

AB: My creative process always starts with an idea, which can come at any moment. Perhaps I’m walking around Milan and see a building that inspires me, or I get an idea from reading a book, an article, or while I’m running. I always try to look around me and delve into things deeply, so as not to miss the details. Design, for me, is precisely this: going beyond the individual product, the single vision of an element. Once I have an idea, I start continuously sketching until I reach a drawing that convinces me. I transfer it to construction programs, and then for production, I always try to rely on craftsmen. The uniqueness of the product is fundamental to me, and relying on craftsmen makes the final product more authentic, with those fundamental imperfections that make it unique. I prefer craftsmanship to factory production. Or, when possible, I build my products in my studio where I have all the necessary tools to create a well-made prototype.

ID: What inspired the Burgui collection?

AB: The Burgui collection stems from the desire to connect Ethiopia’s historical and cultural authenticity with the technological present, with an eye to the forms of the future. Wood is the main star of the collection; it bears witness to African sculptural art and continues to be the main material for the creation of products whose vision is linked to ‘ethical-social design.’ The curved forms that make up the Chénfer seat refer to the lip discs used by the women of the Morsi tribes in southern Ethiopia, a symbol of beauty and female pride. The Leafleté seat was inspired by traditional Ethiopian headrests: wooden objects used to safeguard hair during sleep. It has a symbolic, social and personal value. The collection’s aim is to communicate the vision of African design, which is essential but charged with symbolic content and identity. I am trying to offer a new and innovative look at African design. 

black chair with large holes and minimalist structure
brown chair with large holes and minimalist structure

ID: Your most recent exhibition at Milan Design Week is a rug collaboration with Nodus, what inspired it?

AB: I absolutely wanted to create something out of the ordinary, and the most visually striking place in Ethiopia is the Danakil Depression. I tried to draw something different, getting inspiration from curved shapes, and eventually, the rug emerged on its own, from the lines my hand created. As for the colors, I experimented with several options. They may not be entirely faithful to the colors of the Danakil, but I tried to find and explore the most suitable shades for a more elegant and modern context. The various lines and grooves on the rug, which are fundamental details for me, represent the small salt channels that make up the landscape of the Danakil, while the white outlines represent the salt itself.

ID: Your work has helped you reconnect with your Ethiopian roots, what do you think the world can learn from Ethiopia? 

AB: Ethiopia, like many African countries, teaches the true value of simplicity, tradition, and the relationship with their culture.

ID: Have you also sought inspiration from people, perhaps from those you love and admire?

AB: I’ve been drawn to many designers, but lately, partly because I had the pleasure of having a conversation about them, I’ve been focusing more on the vision and approach methodology of Samuel Ross, a British artist and fashion designer. The shift in these two realms of work, where design falls short and art manages to communicate beyond function… is something I definitely want to delve deeper.

Abreham Brioschi with the Nodus rug
Abreham Brioschi with the Nodus rug.

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