The son of a health department functionary and the grandson of a farmer, MASSIMO IOSA GHINI grew up in Bologna, Italy, chafing in what he calls "a very sober, very proletarian background." His escape was futuristic comic books—whose swoop and splendor soon provided him with an aesthetic he has ridden like a rocket.

At 30, Iosa Ghini is Italy's new design darling, creating furniture, housewares, entire rooms that look as if they were launched from a Buck Rogers space lab. In effect, they were. Before he received his degree in architecture from the University of Milan, Iosa Ghini drew for a sci-fi Italian strip called Frigidaire, where, he says, "I would try my design ideas to see how they looked. It was a way for me to evolve my vocabulary of forms."

Today, his fanciful, spiraling objects—the only straight line he follows is the highway between his studios in Bologna and Milan—circle the globe: sofas and laser-cut crystal vases in the U.S., sinuous lamps in Japan, tableware in France, offbeat eyeglass frames in Austria. This season he is incubating such design motifs as "the apple, the color green, mirrors" to devise a new decor for 50 outlets of the hip, Italy-based clothier Fiorucci.

A suave sort who favors soft corduroys and leather jackets and shares a simple Bologna apartment with his publicist wife, Milena, Iosa Ghini became a star in the '80s with Ettore Sottsass Jr.'s trendsetting Italian design group, Memphis. In his home country Iosa Ghini has become leader of a cabal of visionary artists, architects and interior designers known as the Bolidists (from bolide, Italian for shooting star). "The old myths of 'less is more' and 'form follows function' have been shatterred," he declares. If the classic '80s desk lamp was Richard Sapper's cantilevered black Tizio—a triumph of spare angularity—the '90s will bring a return to evocative shapes, Iosa Ghini predicts. "I don't mean there will be useless things stuck onto lamps," he says. "But the lamp-as-balloon and lamp-as-whatever is a trend that will evolve."