After years at the leading edge of high-end lighting, Artemide’s story in Australia is one of passion for design that spans continents, decades and generations.
Artemide: Lighting the way
The La Forgia family are Italian, but it’s not their cultural background that led them into a long-term partnership with Milan-based lighting manufacturers Artemide.
Visit Artemide at 28 Fullarton Road, Norwood
Instead, it was the expertise in interiors and sharp business acumen of husband and wife team Jane and Philip La Forgia that sparked a working relationship that has so far lasted 25 years.
“Philip was working in renovations,” says Jane. “We wanted to diversify in the field that we were so invested in already and one architect – Steven Henderson – said we should bring in lighting because there wasn’t much of anything here in Australia.”
The couple started out in 1990 importing from an Italian company called VeArt, which was part owned by the renowned Artemide. When Artemide bought out VeArt fully, they got in touch with Jane and Philip.
“We met them in Sydney and they said we could continue with the VeArt range, but they also had an architectural range and they wanted us to see what we could do with that,” says Jane.
Jane and Philip took on the challenge of working with a style of lighting that was almost entirely foreign to them. Employing technical lighting experts to help them find a market for a product – high-end lighting – that was still foreign to Australians, they managed to grow Artemide’s Australian footprint significantly.
Eventually their success was undeniable, and the parent company gave them the exclusive rights to distribute Artemide product in Australia.
From there, their success has grown and grown. A flagship store and headquarters on Fullarton Road in Adelaide was opened in 1998, and showrooms in Melbourne and Sydney followed. Meanwhile, distributors in Queensland and Perth make sure the product is widely available.
The business’ upward trajectory is no doubt linked to the quality of the product, but it is also tied to the La Forgia’s approach, which is unrelentingly hard-working and passionate.
“What I’m fascinated with and what’s helped me believe in the product is the designers,” says Jane. “I love hearing how they thought out the design and the story behind it.”
While they’ve been operating Artemide, Jane and Philiip have often flown to Europe to attend industry events like the Euroluce fair in Milan or Light and Building in Frankfurt, where they meet designers and are taken through the design process.
“For me it’s not just about selling a light that’s made in Italy, it’s the whole story – understanding the design and meeting the designer. I feel proud that I’ve been there, I’ve seen them make it,” says Jane.
“I’m not just selling lights, I’m selling culture.”
This genuine belief in the product has bolstered a thriving business, as has Jane and Philip’s ability to keep things in the family.
Artemide in Adelaide is run by Jane and her son-in-law Edward Scalzi, while the Melbourne showroom has, until this year when she took maternity leave, been managed by her youngest daughter Emilia. Louisa – the eldest daughter and Edward’s wife – is also part of the business family, and has opened a Kartell outlet in Adelaide that sells high-end designer furniture to complement Artemide’s lighting offering.
“I don’t treat my daughters any different than I would my other staff – I treat my staff like family,” says Jane. “I think the staff have the loyalty towards us because we have loyalty towards them.”
Looking at the business, which has survived everything from global financial crises to wildly varying interior trends, it’s clear that the one thing that has always protected them from slipping backwards is a strong culture – both in what they do and how they do it.