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Franco Parisi returns to Bologna every year for the world renowned ceramic trade fair, CERSAIE, and while it’s his passion for design that keeps him coming back to see the latest bathroom trends, the region’s gastronomy and culture are also delightful drawcards.
As a top destination for all kinds of travellers, Italy stands out as a special place that captivates the senses, leaving an indelible mark on all who venture there. Franco Parisi, managing director of Australian-based, family-owned bathroom brand PARISI visits the Bologna region each September for the CERSAIE trade fair. “My parents were Sicilian and immigrated to Australia, so our thinking is still ingrained in an Italian way of life, but also has the benefits of having grown up in Australia,” he says of the founding legacy of PARISI that has been passed onto him.
Aside from the personal connection, Franco believes Italy’s geography alone sets it apart. He says that when looking at a world map, the country’s iconic boot shape draws the eye, making it stand out, “I think by default, the Italians were always destined to be special.”
CERSAIE is the internationally renowned ceramics and tile exhibition, which exemplifies Italy’s commitment to design and innovation. “CERSAIE is iconic in the industry of ceramics, across bathroom ware and, most significantly, in tiles,” explains Franco.
Having now visited many times over the years, Franco loves that Bologna is an unspoken gem of Italy, and one that is often overlooked by the masses. The charming city is free from tourist hordes and even has pedestrianised streets on the weekends to allow people to meander throughout the city centre and the historic architecture with ease. Franco vividly describes the allure of Bologna, where local culture and culinary excellence shine. “In Bologna, the food is just such a treat, in fact, it’s where Bolognese and lasagne originate in.”
Italy is a place where the rich tapestry of heritage and culture weaves seamlessly with modernity and the impact on Franco’s work at PARISI is unquestionable. The annual trip, which is 90 per cent focused on work, immerses him in Italian design and culture – the knock-on effect being an infectious drive for innovation and creativity that he invariably brings back to the local team. “Everything the Italians do – whether design or food – is always done with a bit more elegance. They really are world leaders,” he says.
It’s that world-leading approach to design and innovation that stood out during this year’s CERSAIE. “In the last two years, in particular, colours have been a big motivation across the displays and concepts. But this year I really noticed the advancement of technology, especially having visited some of the factories. It’s really apparent that, through Covid, these bathroom brands invested in the manufacturing processes and many parts of the production are now automated,” shares Franco, adding that a benefit of this is that these world-leading brands have been able to place attention in other areas, while also minimising waste.
“The commitment to design and finding new, exciting colours is still there, but this investment into machinery and tooling is really pushing boundaries. On the tile side of the fair, I saw there have been many developments in 3D tiles – particularly in tile textures and, for benchtops, there are a few manufacturers doing full depth printed porcelain tiles,” he says.
Incorporating his travels and the findings from CERSAIE into PARISI’s offerings are done as a carefully curated process. Franco and his team identify leading trends and select products with a minimalist aesthetic that they know, from experience, will appeal to the Australian design industry.
Working with high-end luxury brands, Franco defines luxury as more than just a price point. “I see it as something that is of great quality. You don’t have to spend thousands,” he explains. Luxury, in his eyes, should make people feel special and proud, and it’s about more than just the product – it’s about the brand story and the emotions it evokes.
In the world of design and luxury Italy stands as a beacon, and Franco, with his Sicilian roots and Australian upbringing, embodies the best of both worlds. His passion for Italian elegance, his commitment to innovation, and his appreciation for the subtleties of design make him a true connoisseur in the world where travel, luxury and design intersect.