The interior of the fashion boutique is swathed in Wood-Skin, a high-tech and highly malleable material with a wood core.
Cutting-edge couture and technology come together at the Maison Margiela boutique, in Milan’s über-chic Montenapoleone district. Now headed by the impossibly eccentric John Galliano, the fashion house is famous for being experimental with its interiors. The predominantly white flagship store opened in April during Milan Design Week, and the results are dramatic. Draped like a curtain over the elevator and covering the floors and countertops, a faceted finish wraps effortlessly from surface to surface. But what is it?
Imagine a material as delicate and flexible as fabric but as rigid as wood. Imagine it used as cladding inside and out, or to craft objects and furniture without a single screw. It sounds futuristic, but it’s not. Wood-Skin is the brain-child of four young multimedia designers and architects from local creative studio Mammafotogramma. Introduced in 2013, the tessellated, ultra-malleable medium employs a unique layering technique. A synthetic textile or fibre such as nylon mesh is sandwiched between sheets of MDF or plywood with glue. The boards are then milled to a computer-generated pattern of polygonal tiles in varying sizes.
Every line becomes a digital hinge, explains Wood-Skin co-founder Giulio Masotti, which allows the sheets to bend into numerous geometric shapes. “Today’s software makes it easy to design complex forms,” he says. “But when it comes to producing large-scale objects, designers don’t know how” – or they make a base onto which thousands of laser-cut pieces must be attached by hand, which is incredibly time consuming. Wood-Skin enables a 3‑D piece to be created and then rendered flat for easy transport. Once on site, the sheets can be manipulated like origami to recreate the original form. Masotti calls this process “unfolding.”
Masotti and his team envision myriad applications for the process, even beyond its lavish use at the Maison Margiela boutique. “It can be applied to aluminum, plasterboard, concrete or ceramic,” he says. Meanwhile, they are developing two other projects. The first is a customizable series of tables, lamps, bookshelves and chairs that ships flat and can be put together without tools. And, in collaboration with MIT, the team is working on a self-assembling table that snaps into shape at the slightest push or pull. If the prototype is
anything to go by, it could certainly give Ikea a run for its money.