All in the family

October 11, 2023

Lucy Upward talks to Ferid and Basir Amini

The sixtieth anniversary of ABC Italia provides a chance to reflect on how this family company has grown by inviting designers and craftspeople into its close-knit community. Lucy Upward joins the celebrations and talks to Ferid and Basir Amini

Photographs by Valentina Sommariva

During a visit to the impressive ABC Italia headquarters in Somaglia— just outside Milan—in June, I took a tour of the vast warehouse, where piles of beautiful rugs stretch into the distance. A man approached wondering what rug I might want to see. This is warehouse manager Dino, who has worked at ABC Italia for twenty-five years. ‘He is our Google,’ says company CEO Ferid Amini. ‘He knows where every rug is.’

This is when I realise the importance of the individual to this brand, from the unique skill of each celebrated designer to the people that keep the company running effortlessly. Ferid explains, ‘This company is not driven by numbers, it’s an obsession for perfection and the drive not to lose something important—a loom, a story, a relationship.’

My reason for being in Italy was for ABC Italia’s 60th anniversary, which was celebrated with a grand party at the sumptuous Villa Erba on Lake Como. The space was dedicated to rug designs and the work of the designers with whom the firm partners. An installation of the Ciclopi rugs by Elisa Ossino dominated one room, while in the main atrium ten iconic carpets took centre stage, celebrating the firm’s ‘Design Icons’ such as Manlio Rho, Ico Parisi and Gio Ponti, and the achievements of the weavers in designs such as Bamiyan and Taimany.

The space also featured Valentina Sommariva’s mesmerising video The Rhythm of Craft, a beautiful reel taken in India to summarise the craft undertaken by the brand. Many of the images in this article are taken by Sommariva, who captures the essence of the people and the rhythm and the beauty of the work they undertake.

The birthday celebrations included the whole Amini family, from father, Sultan, who founded the brand in Afghanistan back in 1962, to his sons, Ferid and Basir, and their extended families and of course the warehouse and office team. The party played host to Italy’s top design journalists, fashion brands and big names in design as well as top rug distribution firms. Relationships are at the very heart of the company; the clue is of course in the name, for ABC stands for Amini Brothers Company.

‘My father taught us to be critical businesswise, to be open about mistakes and not to be afraid to discuss things,’ explains Ferid. This advice seems to have worked. Since the company’s founding in 1962, it has expanded into a brand sold across the globe, with dealers in Asia, South America, Canada, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and beyond. The year 2000 saw the company develop a multi-brand strategy: initially with Loomier, the brand curated by Basir Amini to enhance Afghan weaving culture with decorative rug collections, followed by Vivace for machine-made rugs, and then onto the founding of Amini in 2014.

‘Amini allowed us to open a dialogue with design community,’ says Ferid. ‘I was travelling in Rio de Janeiro and I saw Gio Ponti’s work in an art gallery. I said then, “This is the man.”’ And so the Design Icons collection—dedicated to names such as Ponti, Manlio Rho, Fede Cheti and Joe Colombo—came to be. Amini respectfully brings to life designs by these esteemed names, working diligently with the designers’ estates and collectors to preserve the collaborations. ‘Our work needs to be authentic and convincing,’ says Ferid, who is eager to ensure relationships and transparency remain as the key remits of the company.

Amini’s ‘Woven Forms’ exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2017 goes one step further in demonstrating the company’s dedication to the arts and pushing the boundaries in rug design (See COVER 47). A pivotal moment for Amini, the innovative collection was created in collaboration with New York art gallery R & Company, bringing to life works by artists such as David Wiseman, Dana Barnes and the Haas Brothers. ‘Presenting collaborations at events like Design Miami and Art Basel has become normal for us now, which has changed in the last ten years,’ Ferid tells me.

So much has changed in the company over the past sixty years, yet for Ferid much has remained the same. ‘Our core values did not change,’ he insists. ‘The aim is still to create long-lasting, beautiful handmade products that can give satisfaction. The market has changed and we have adapted well to that, but our core product remains hand-knotted rugs.’ There are so many important moments in time for the company but, as Ferid points out, ‘For me an important moment is when a single customer is coming to our showroom.’

When discussing the company goal, Ferid is clear: ‘My goal is to keep our standards, to appreciate what we have achieved and to develop on this.’ Ferid sees himself as a co-pilot of a company he will be passing onto the next generation. ‘The dream is not economic but it is to improve things—quality, artistry and conditions for weavers,’ he says. ‘We want to further promote the desire and understanding of handmade rugs with designers and collectors. You cannot change mentalities in a second, but we have done well so far.’

Q&A with Ferid Amini

What do you see the ABC Italia and the Amini brands standing for?

Amini Brothers Company Italy stands for excellence in research, production and distribution in the carpets industry. It counts on a unique network of professionals, for each step of production, on a global level. The Amini brand is more focused on a specific segment of the market, proposing a contemporary interpretation of the handknotted carpet with dedicated service to the design community.

How many rugs does the company sell/ distribute a year?

We shipped more than 1.2 million square metres in 2022.

Can you always predict a best-selling rug design?

We do accurate predictions, but these are always connected with taking some risks. We are usually pretty good in predicting colours and patterns, which is also thanks to our internal data management and information from the upholstery and leather industry. In any case, we are very prompt to adjust our proposals in case the market dictates other specific demands. Our integrated structure allows us to adapt very quickly.

What is the secret to making a successful design?

Our vision is to always anchor to our roots, to the antique tradition on hand-knotted carpet, paying a particular attention to create a design that can preserve its actuality on a long-term perspective. We believe in a harmonious, refined, long-lasting elegance rather than in eye-catching effects.

Aminis Design Icon rugs on show at Villa Erba

How aware of interior trends do your designers need to be?

Of course, we always pay attention to emerging trends in interior design, but these do not necessarily influence our work.

What kind of spaces do you most enjoy creating rugs for?

We boast a variety of references in different sectors: hotels, yachting, museums, public spaces. But we are particularly fond of our private realisations as they reflect the taste and personality of the owner, they are more connected to the individual person.

How important are art projects and designer collaborations to the company?

The art projects are very important to us to show our direction and the infinite possibilities given by our production and research. We are always connected to the world of art—it is not a ‘una tantum’ project as happened in Venice in 2017. For example, we are exploring the work of some emerging African artists.

Do you see that there is an international appreciation of Italian design style?

Absolutely. Milan in particular is a key point of reference in interior design on a global level.

What does your father think of the company today?

Our father is the most modern, curious, openminded and optimistic person of the family. He is completely positive about our cultural and artistic open-mindedness and supports our choices.

Ferid, which are your four favourite rugs from all the ABC/Amini collections?

I certainly have my weaknesses. Among the most significant rugs I have to mention the instinctive Taimany Belouch weaves initiated by my brother Basir Amini in Afghanistan, the Composition 74 by Manlio Rho, a real bas-relief on six different levels thanks to innovative workmanship. Or again, the carpet created in collaboration with David Wiseman that represents the richness of flora, meeting my passion for botany and nature. Or the Gio Ponti Riflessi Aqua rug, a genius interpretation of Italian taste with a delightful Mediterranean colour scheme.

Rug in wool and silk designed by David Wiseman and produced collaboration with Amini

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