Fabrizio Giustarini, Italian trade commissioner in Atlanta, discusses a program with the Savannah College of Art and Design to teach furniture design students in Italy.

Five students of furniture design at the Savannah College of Art and Design recently spent four weeks in the center of the universe for their chosen field, thanks to the government of Italy.

The Italian Trade Commission’s Atlanta office paid for the students to travel to Milan, Italy, the world’s furniture design capital.

They toured Italian furniture factories, took classes at Milan Polytechnic University and met well-known furniture designers including Alesandro Mendini.

“He gave us a private tour of his design studio,” said Jonathon Anderson who is working on a master’s of fine arts in furniture design at SCAD. “It was not a typical office setting.”

Mr. Anderson said the studio appeared to him to be “pure chaos” but Mr. Mendini told the students, “I know where everything is.”

The students encountered that kind of creative atmosphere throughout Milan and they were impressed with how important design is to Italian furniture makers, said Mr. Anderson. That was in contrast, he added, to the United States, where design is not considered as important as mass production and mass sales. Charles Eames, whose career peaked in the 1950s, was the last internationally renowned furniture designer from the U.S., said Mr. Anderson.

“It was amazing, the difference between Italy and here,” he said. “We don’t have the design culture they have. They realize the importance of both craftsmanship and design. They realize you have to have both.”

Yet the Italians were impressed with the American students and the work they are doing at SCAD, Mr. Anderson said.

“A lot of the companies were amazed at our level of design,” he said. “They’re starting to realize what we can do.”

The chairman of SCAD’s furniture design program is Antonio Larosa, a graduate of Milan Polytechnic who worked at the Italian Trade Commission in Atlanta about 10 years ago. Last November, he invited Fabrizio Giustarini, the Italian trade commissioner in Atlanta, to visit Savannah.

They discussed how Italy’s government might collaborate with SCAD. In January, they agreed to send five top students to Milan, with the trade commission covering 80 percent of the costs, Mr. Giustarini told GlobalAtlanta. Before the students left for Italy in April, they received instruction in Savannah for a week from two visiting professors from Milan Polytechnic.

In the U.S. most Italian furniture is sold in high-end stores or through interior designers, said the trade commissioner.  “We have some cities in the United States such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles where they have a very high level of showrooms,” he said. “At the same time, we have other parts of the United States where we must do more to develop this concept of Italian design.”

As part of this effort, the trade commission hopes to continue working with SCAD, said Mr. Giustrarini.

“They have very interesting classes in fashion, jewelry and industrial design,” he said. “We are very interested in developing this collaboration with SCAD.”

For more information on the Italian Trade Commission, click here. For more information on SCAD, click here