There is something essential in professional and personal human relationships which cannot be regulated by coercion or law. It depends on each of us – we are talking about kindness. Among the obligations to fulfil in a contract, you will never find written the one which forces you to be kind. Why should people be kind then, or should they commit to being so? Aiming to belong to the ‘human-kind, to the people, to the civilised community and not to a mere group or herd means you need to be kind.
Kindness is expressed and received through a voluntary act, summing up how beautiful and, at the same time, fragile kindness is and its being at risk of avoidance. If repeated, this act becomes a style: a way of life, public and private. Indeed, kindness does not change regularly by time slots, workdays, or roles. Each person has multiple roles: they can be father, mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece, teacher, employee, passenger, customer, patient, and so on. In every area of our lives, kindness is or is not; it is either there or missing. In each of these prismatic facets of being a person (mask in Latin, which alluded not to falsehood but to a need to play multiple roles), we can choose to be respectful, selfless, welcoming, friendly, helpful, generous, sensitive, attentive to others. Conversely, we can also be indifferent, selfish, contemptuous, or unwilling.
Aside from people’s character, one person can be introverted but kind, reserved but caring: this attitude could foster a climate of cooperation and solidarity within the community, lessening the harshness of the problems, crises and hardships that inevitably mark our daily lives.
During these two pandemic years, forcing us into strict seclusion, we have experienced some sober solitude. The distance inflicted by our potential contagion in the social relationships that makes us who we are has triggered anxieties, fears, impatience, and disorientation. We then realised the concrete power of kindness, which changed our state of mind: a phone call from someone asking how we were doing, a congratulatory greeting message, a smile on the street behind face masks. These little acts of kindness gave us some relief, comfort, and a surging sense of gratitude, a desire to reciprocate, to trigger a virtuous circle that certainly did not solve problems but made them more bearable, less wearing.
Kindness has a lot to do with imagination.
It may sound strange, but it does. Those who are kind are ingenious and strive to find ways out and solutions even for those who cannot even express their discomfort: because kindness notices and picks up the unspoken, the repressed, the hidden out of shame, embarrassment and insecurity.
Imaginatively, fashion and design have played a crucial role in interpreting unspoken yet alive desires, muted but acute and oppressive needs and urgencies. This happened when women could stop forcing themselves inside a cage of whalebone slats and when they found ways to occupy more space in the work environment with padded shoulders. It also happened with Vico Magistretti’s bed (Nathalie, for Flou). With this iconic piece, the great architect made it possible for customers to make their beds quickly so they could leave the house with a neatly made bed and get to the office on time. And again, it happened when the safety handles on the subway were lowered so that everyone could easily grab them. And when they coloured paediatric wards with bright and joyful designs, or when a triangular pink bench (Corrado Levi) became a horizontal monument, in city parks, to the homosexual victims of concentration camps. It happened by parading androgynous models, legitimising the freedom to dress for how we feel, not for the biological nature and appearance that none of us could choose.
Gentle fashion knows that we are not our bodies, but have a body, so we can choose to make it up, dress it, undress it, and adorn it according to our inclinations, taste and sense of identity, not imposed or inherited as a life sentence. ‘Gendermore’ was the neologism coined for a dissertation by one of our (now former) students, Giuliana Baldi. With her enthusiastically ‘kind collections’, Giuliana wanted to show that fashion can expand and widen identity bottlenecks and creatively replicate the superstitions, sexism, and exclusion of those who feel they are and want to be other than an overly predetermined and castrating self.
Luigi Carrara and Rossana Maggi have empathetically imagined how we can be inclusive and kind to those who are marginalised and branded for mental disorders and pathologies. These people, too, have (full) rights to feel comfortable in their clothes, represented, welcomed and valued. Double-face, layered suits with removable appliqués and plant patterns have been designed for patients like Mr Thomson, about whom Oliver Sacks wrote beautifully in The Man Who mistook his Wife for a hat (Gerald Duckworth Editions). Mr Thomson suffered from severe and continuous memory loss to the point of losing himself. He could not remember who he was or what he did; to contain this terrible anguish, he relentlessly invented new identities, professions, and names. He was no waffler but a suffering man desperately searching for a place in this world. Luigi and Scarlett drew leaves and flowers on his clothes because, Sacks writes, when the patient was in a garden, he would calm down and remember who he was and why he was in the hospital. Plants, the emblem of kindness, give colour and fragrance, form and shade without questioning, without asking who we are or what we do.
Kindness also manifests itself in trust, as my Supervisor, Giovanna Tabucchi has shown me by giving me the freedom to deal with issues that enumerate and protect mind and body diversity and engage students actively.
You do nothing meaningful on your own. Kindness is about relationships; it is the willingness to listen. It means putting yourself at risk and stake on paths not yet supported by ample literature or conceptual treasure maps.
No sappiness, then, no parlour pleasantries. Even to those who might bang their knuckles on the table wondering what concrete results kindness can produce, we can say that at Marangoni it has been a matter of study, a creative and inspiring ingredient, originality, and ethical laboratory. And that it does not end there.