September 4, 2019

10 Questions With… Illy CEO Massimiliano Pogliani

Illy CEO Massimiliano Pogliani. Photography courtesy of Illy.

Imbedded in the brand of Illycaffè is the idea that culture and an adrenaline jolt of coffee go hand-in-hand, a philosophy that has given way to an illustrious legacy of creative collaborations. The family-owned Italian coffee company—founded in 1933 in Trieste, Italy by Francesco Illy and still headquartered there—regularly teams up with creatives from around the globe for the designs of its porcelain cup collections and has a dedicated presence at some of the country’s most high-profile art and design events, among them the Venice Biennale. In 2019, the company was also named “Global Coffee Partner” at international furnishings event Salone del Mobile in Milan.

“All of our collaborations highlight sustainability, quality, and beauty,” explains Illy CEO Massimiliano Pogliani, who describes the company’s market position as “the Hermès of coffee.” Interior Design sat down with Pogliani to hear more about recent artistic collaborations, how coffee culture has changed over the past 10 years, and what type of brew is paving the way to a new coffee future. 

Interior Design: For the past 10 years, Illy has partnered with the Venice Biennale. How does the 2019 partnership differ from previous years?

Massimiliano Pogliani: This year is extra special as it includes a series of four Michelin dinner events we’re calling, “There is Art in Everything We Do.” The events bring together artists and Michelin-starred chefs in order to inspire and enact creative moments and provide attendees with unique dining experiences. The premier event, held this past July, enlisted chef Guy Martin and artist Cameron Jamie. There will be two more dinner events in September and one in October.

Participating artists are also featured in the Illy Art Collection—in which world-renowned artists, designers, architects, musicians, and more use our iconic cup as their canvas. Illy has featured more than 100 contemporary artists since 1992.

ID: Can you describe a few past Illy Art Collections?

MP: Massimiliano ‘Max’ Petrone, an Italian painter from Turin, brings together a variety of techniques, constantly experimenting with new styles using oil paint, spray cans, and acrylics. His Illy Art Collection of cups and saucers, launched in 2018, is born from a splash of coffee animated with the graphic touch typical of underground comics.

Designed by Matteo Attruia, the Italian artist known for his ironic and elegant works of art, the Matteo Attruia Art Collection was inspired by the way ransom notes are written. It premiered this past January.

Artist Massimiliano “Max” Petrone with his cup for the Illy Art Collection. Photography courtesy of Illy.

ID: Could you describe a notable exhibition from Illy’s past?

MP: In 2017, at the last art edition of the Venice Biennale, we collaborated with artist Robert Wilson to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Illy Art Collection. The exhibition was titled “The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon Everything You Can Think of is True” and represented a journey through seven spaces that Wilson—winner of the Leone d’Oro for Sculpture in 1993—created with unparalleled skill, combining a wide variety of artistic styles. I remember a Siberian tiger in a forest taken from the painting of Hieronymus Bosch, mechanical bunnies, wolves, and active volcanoes. It was a fantastical world, an enchanted place where anything is possible.

ID: How are you combining cutting-edge design with your coffee products?

MP: Cold Brew Aria and Bag-in-a-Box are Illy’s first cold-brew innovations. A play on words (think ‘air’), Aria is a gasless system that uses a new, proprietary valve to inject ambient air instead of nitrogen into previously brewed cold-brewed coffee. This optimizes the mixture of air and coffee as liquid moves through the tap. The result is cold-brew coffee that achieves the ultimate in full yet rounded taste and creamy mouthfeel. Bag-in-a-Box features already prepared Illy cold brew for either tap or non-tap dispensing.

“The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon Everything You Can Think of is True,” an Illy Art Collection installation by Robert Wilson at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Photgraphy courtesy of Illy.

ID: What else have you launched recently?

MP: A new line of aluminum capsules compatible with Nespresso coffee machines. With this product, keeping in step with modern consumption trends, we aim to provide the experience of an Illy coffee to as many people as possible.

ID: How do you think the coffee culture has changed in the past 10 years?

MP: Ten years ago, coffee consumption was more about quantity. Today consumers are more informed and focused on quality, transparency, and sustainability of the product and of the brand. Many coffee places have started serving good coffee and focusing on developing what really is a coffee experience. For Illy, that’s the Illy Caffè, our traditional Italian coffee bar which now has over 160 locations in 34 countries. The Illy Caffè concept was a natural evolution of the company’s ongoing quest for beauty and functionality, allied to its passion for design.

Matteo Attruia’s designs for the Illy Art Collection. Photography courtesy of Illy.

ID: Any predictions for the coffee culture of the future?

MP: There’s been an overwhelming amount of interest in cold coffee—our own new Aria system and Bag-in-a-Box are testament to that. There is so much unchartered area, and I’m excited to see the innovations that will come in this arena in the years ahead.

ID: What are you reading?

MP: ‘Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t’ by Simon Sinek. Sinek explores how leaders can inspire cooperation and change by taking the professional and personal side of people into consideration. This is something I truly believe in, and a philosophy that has made all the difference during my career.

The X1 iperEspresso Anniversary 1935 espresso machine designed by Italian architect Luca Trazzi. Photography courtesy of Amazon.

ID: What kind of coffee machine do you have?

MP: In Milan, where I live with my family, I have an X1 iperEspresso Anniversary 1935 espresso machine, an update of one designed by Italian architect Luca Trazzi.

ID: Do you have a secret you can share?

MP: As George Orwell said, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

American artist Cameron Jamie with his porcelain cup for the Illy Art Collection. Photography by Brambilla Serrani.
The Illy Art Collection by Massimiliano “Max” Petrone. Photography courtesy of Illy.
“The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon Everything You Can Think of is True,” an Illy Art Collection installation by Robert Wilson at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
A barista apron by Jiaen Cai, a 26-year-old Chinese student and winner of the ITS Fashion @ Work by Illy Award.
A barista apron by Ping-Chieh Hsieh and Wimonwan Wichaikhamjorn, finalists in the ITS Fashion @ Work by Illy Award.

Read more: 10 Questions With… Joseph Grima

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