• Inducted in 2002
  • Design
  • Born November 26, 1923
  • Died December 1, 2008

Giorgio Soavi

Giorgio Soavi was the corporate design director for Olivetti for nearly five decades, during which time he conceived many of the company’s most exciting projects and discovered important artists and designers early in their careers, among them Milton Glaser, Jean Michel Folon, and Paul Davis.

Wrote Glaser, “The atmosphere at Olivetti made it difficult to do mediocre work. Soavi had a way of selecting the perfect assignment for each of the designers he worked with, and then inspiring them to do their best work. In this regard, he was the best art director I have ever worked with, although he resists that title, perhaps because he is also a poet, novelist, critic, biographer, and maker and collector of extraordinary objects.

“My work with Olivetti, and more precisely with Giorgio Soavi, was one of those golden periods that shed its glow over my life and influenced it in countless ways, both professionally and personally…He was a man who thoroughly believed In Diaghilev’s dictum, ‘astonish me,’ as the basis for his job…Soavi views art and its products in the same way an animal sees and devours the food it requires to live.” Born in 1923 in Broni, Pavia, Italy, Soavi grew up in Cremona and graduated from the Instituto Technico Beltrami at age 19 with a diploma in surveying. He was, in his own words, “a student completely lacking in any desire to study,” with his only positive grades being for lessons in physical education. In the summer of 1943, he bicycled away to Reggio Emilia to earn his living as a surveyor at the Bonifice Parmigiana Moglia. On Sunday afternoons he and his friends would go to the local military hospital to entertain wounded soldiers, and Soavi sang American songs to them.

Soavi himself enlisted for military service at La Spezia in December of that year, and in the spring of 1944 was sent to the front at Anzio where he was terrified by mortar fire launched at the Italian lines from American soldiers only a few hundred yards away. When the firing stopped, American voices could be heard singing “Don’t Fence Me In.” Soavi responded with “White Christmas.” During a lull in the war, he undertook daring trips in uniform to steal books from the town hall at Littoria, a village that had been completely evacuated. There he found wonderful volumes confiscated by the Fascists, books by American writers, but also by German authors detested by the Nazis – all the prohibited literature, in fact. Soavi later talked himself into a stint as a nurse, and then joined a ward full of soldiers feigning appendicitis. With the help of war correspondent Pasquale Stassano, he deserted from the Army of the Social Republic and went to Milan.

Soavi began sending his “American stories” to the weekly Il Barbagiarmu where they were published under the name Loney Lamp, a supposed American air force major shot down over the Vosges, who had resumed writing about life in America, a place Soavi had yet to see. When the war ended, he hitched to Rome where his mother was living and began writing stories no one would publish. La Cilta, a weekly journal, did publish some poems, but he fed himself and his mother by singing in nightclubs. In 1946, he moved to Florence as a paymaster for American drivers for the United Nations Relief Organization, where he also proofread articles for Il Mondo.

In 1948, Soavi was recommended as an editor to Adriano Olivetti and moved to Ivrea to edit the journal Communita. Two years later he married Olivetti’s daughter, Lidia, and had two children, Albertina and Michele. Once he joined the Olivetti Corporation, Soavi started art directing a collection of handsomely produced literary classics illustrated by contemporary artists, and in 1959 created the “Agenda Olivetti,” a hardbound desk diary produced each year and illustrated by artists ranging from Graham Sutherland to Balthus. This project continued for nearly 40 years. He also commissioned for the company picture frames, ashtrays, and other useful and ornamental objects.

Soavi wrote for the cultural pages of Carriere della Sera and for the Conde Nast group of magazines, including such titles as Conde Nast Traveler and Antiques. He currently contributes to Il Giornale and writes novels. With age, Soavi confesses, his voice has left him, but he sings often in his mind.

Please note: Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2002.