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Coming to a Driveway (or Runway?) Near You

But there's more to this than furniture. Radicals at the fringe are pushing design into the realm of art. Milan is the one place to see their best -- often strange -- work simultaneously, in one massive cutting-edge design show.

A Sparkling Concept

It's not hard, even at this distance, to spot the leading activists. The solar concept car, known as Swarovski Crystal Aerospace, stands alone. For one thing, it's not a chair. For another, it comes with a transformative cultural agenda.

"What I'm hoping it will do is to raise people's awareness that you don't have to forgo beauty by being more alternative," the designer, Ross Lovegrove, explains by phone from his London studio. "It's a provocation."

The vehicle was made for the fifth annual Swarovski Crystal Palace, a group installation sponsored by the crystal company.

Each year, top designers such as Ron Arad of London and National Design Award winner Yves Behar of San Francisco have been invited to play with the idea of New Age chandeliers. (A few still are. Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa has created a dangling fixture that glows like the after-image left by a sparkler waved in circles.) But Lovegrove, known for blending technology and curves, agreed to participate if he could design a car.

Digital renderings suggest a starship. The cerulean roof is weighted with 1,200 crystal-enhanced photovoltaic cells. Ovoid feet take the place of tires under an elegant wingspan.

The aerodynamics were inspired by the trans-Australia race known as the World Solar Challenge, for which machines are made to test the limits of endurance for investments of a few million dollars. Lovegrove complains that the same automaker can spend a billion dollars launching a standard-issue consumer car, with relatively few innovations.

"These two parallel worlds need to engage each other," he says.

He worked with Swarovski's optical lab, Sharp Solar Systems and Anthony Lo, director of advanced design for GM Europe. The 14-foot-long body was fabricated by the elite Coggiola firm in Turin. For now, it's only "an incredible built object," he says. But, "If GM, Toyota or somebody wanted to engage, we're 50 percent there."

Elsewhere, it took a jam session involving two design titans to produce Arad's Ripple chair with Miyake's A-POC cushion. The collaboration almost created the first wearable chair.

Arad was visiting the Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo when he became interested in A-POC, a line of garments Miyake and Dai Fujiwara make from a single piece of cloth (hence the acronym). After a meeting of minds, Arad sent sketches of a chair he had designed for Moroso, one of Italy's most innovative furniture companies. Miyake and Fujiwara went to work on a wardrobe of A-POC clothing to be worn by the chair or its owner.

The shape of the chair -- an infinity symbol -- ensured two armholes. Five garments -- cardigans, jackets and vest -- have been created. Conceptually, they are little more than a sweater tossed over a chair. But high fashion carries a premium. Moroso's Ripple chair will cost about $400. The silky A-POC vest called Gemini will cost $1,360 at the Tribeca Issey Miyake store in Manhattan.


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