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Exclusive Interview: Boca do Lobo Talks About Design With AttitudeWednesday 29 November 2017
Exclusive Interview: Boca do Lobo Talks About Design With Attitude – First, the immense notoriety came from the movie Fifty Shades of Grey, in which the luxury brand featured six pieces among thirty one from other notorious partner brands. Entering on the niche of furniture and watch winders awoke the curiosity of “Espiral do Tempo“. At Covet House, a wonderful place by the river banks of Douro, in Gondomar, (Porto, Portugal), they had the chance to meet the exquisite pieces from the brand and talk with Ricardo Magalhães, one of the founders of Menina Design, and Marco Costa, the creative director of Boca do Lobo, one of the brands of the group. And CovetED Magazine is thrilled to share this amazing conversation with you and give you the unique opportunity to know more about this contemporary furniture brand.
Espiral do Tempo (EDT) – Where does it come, from the part of the founders of Menina Design, this so intensely expressed need to do things in a different way on the brand Boca do Lobo? Was there any clue, in your origins or your formation, that you would build your professional future creating different things?
Ricardo Magalhães (RM) – No. I’m an interior designer and Amândio (Pereira), the other founder of our group, is the product designer. We know each other for a long time, since prep school, we’ve been together at high school and, then, at the university. Through a professor, we’ve been challenged to build a project to a Clinic, something that has nothing to do with our main activities in the Group today. It was a design project that, passing the word, allowed is to acquire new projects in which we realized that, to grow and progress in the domain of our activity, we’d have to do ‘turnkey’ projects.
Only this way we would feel the project take shape and we could acquire that vocabulary, experience, maturity and dominate the tools like we never did until that moment. The things we learned from the university didn’t allow us to have domain over the business. We made some other projects and we’ve came to realize that when we developed some work – a product, a masterpiece, a piece – with which we wanted to leave our mark, we had great difficulty in representing it, because, at the time, the furniture sector was not accepting the innovative side, it wasn’t available to come out of the comfort zone. When we presented a new bold project, we always heard a no, there were always barriers. That created some discomfort in us. On plasterboards, we could challenge the shape, as we realized that we would only make a difference with furniture, with implication, with aesthetics, with dynamic and with the layout of the project. What could humanize that space was, precisely, the furniture, the illumination, the accessories? Those would betray confront, the habitable side.
EDT – But you could make it in a not so bold way. Why have you, not being accepted for your ideas, still insisted?
RM – During that period, we verified that, in the production area of furniture, the sector had the capacity, had the knowledge and the know-how. On the other side, when we traveled to international fairs, we understood that brands, mainly the Italian ones, the big references, didn’t add anything. They had quality, but it was an easy to replicate quality, and, for those reasons, the Italian brands became so vulgar and copied. The only exception were the brands that had their own mark, the different element.
Well, in Portugal, there was the productive ability, there was flexibility, there was a historic, but, in an international fair, we didn’t see anything that was ours. The national furniture sector had no visibility in the international design fairs, not even in the nearest one – Valencia, which was, back then, a reference. We then realized that we could present ourselves as a brand that shocks, that challenges. The first presentation we made was in London, and there the click was made. We understood the way, we presented a bold propose and a conservative one, and the public acceptance fell clearly into the bold one.
EDT – None of the founders is educated in management, and I’ve already seen you boast about it. How come two creative ones, turn a project into such a success in so little time, without having an academic formation in the area?
RM – We have been in all phases, through different activities in our path. When we made interior design projects, we had to deal with the budgets, the internal teams, and the external teams. In those times, the difference between success and risk of not accomplishing was tremendously low. We had to be rigorous. We won a lot of baggage in what concerns that rigor, although not that much in the management of a business. I can tell you that our internal accounting department is only three years old, and the company has fourteen years. It was a way to discipline ourselves and, not less important, it was a way to avoid conditioning our creativity by a cold harsh analysis of numbers. There are always positive and negative things about choices, but the positive side was to demand those tools from me and Amândio. We are both designers, but we are both two people that complement each other. I’m more comfortable in the creative and strategy area, he is more operational, more present on the field. We complement each other. Even managing our teams, we look at our brands like micro businesses and create a leadership of three and four elements, with a base that is always a creative director, someone dedicated to marketing and management, and the sales leader.
EDT – How do you look at the past and to your ambitions and initial decisions? Is it still early to a final balance, but, if in fourteen years can be a few, they also can be a long way.
(laughs) RM – Well, we live life in a very intense way. We know where we want to be in 2020, or even in 2030, but we keep working every year. Today the society changes in a constant way. There are many factors, and we prefer to be focused working the structure, making it flexible, capable of adjusting to the market, rather than being focused on numbers. When you work with communication base and design, if you think more about the structure, you will be closer to the success in the goals you want.
EDT – Can we say you started with a total of four initial bets: the design, the creation of a brand, the communication, and the internationalization?
RM – Yes. The internationalization was always our focus. When we thought that our reinterpretation of the concept of furniture and our bet in a brand, we understood that internationalization would have to be our focus. The relation with the national market would be natural. The communication and the design are our core business. About the production, initially, we thought that it would limit to be the area where we could build our prototypes, test things, a space that was more an atelier and not so much an industrial unit. Time has forced us to look to the production in a different way because we would be in another landing place, and we had to make sure of much more. We knew we could make outsourcing in some of our brands, but not in all – and Boca do Lobo is a good example of a brand that demands attention and dedication, considering the degree of difficulty we have in the execution of the pieces it represents, which is different of the difficulty in other product. Today we have a production unit in all areas, which allows us to answer the demands, it gives us space to attack new markets, new areas of business. Five years ago, this was unthinkable, and, going back to your question, if we could think we would be where we stand, the answer is no. In terms of production, it was where we had a big change in thought and ambition. We were forced to it by the dynamics of business.
EDT – Although you bet on internationalization, you’ve chosen a Portuguese name for this brand.
RM – It’s a sign of our initial motivation, of our creativity and personality. When we felt disappointed, frustrated to go outside and see nothing from the Portuguese, we thought it was important to the country that we played that role and we could push through some change in affirming the Portuguese design. Today, it is with great pleasure and some vanity that we see in international fairs who was motivated by us. More than 50 Portuguese expositors in Paris, many of them as a brand, about 40 in Milan. The period I was speaking wasn’t a very long time ago, it was just ten years. With a period of crisis between, with such intensity as the one we’ve been through.
EDT – Can you say that this project, by its values, knowledge, materials, techniques, design, could only be born in Portugal, or could it be born elsewhere, but not exactly the same due to the details of the national tradition you have incorporated, like the tiles and the carving?
RM – In essence, yes, I could only be born here. Marco, for example, integrated well, because this was already part of his DNA. He is from Aveiro and our tiles supplier is his neighbor. I can’t imagine if there was another country that could allow us to affirm this way. I don’t think a lot about it, but we are aware of what surrounds us in Portugal, to understand what we can enhance. We go to a foundry and we see handles that are garbage to them, in the way that they are worn, from being seen so much, they can’t bear to look at it if not in a depreciative way. But, if u want to use the handle that they are so tired about, I can give it a different perspective. We are very aware of the details and what we can transform to bring back with an enhanced value.
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EDT – What set of arts and crafts you combine in your products?
RM – Oh: carpentry, joinery, woodwork, glass, marquetry, brass, ceramics… Our first piece with most projection had twelve suppliers. Whoever wants to copy out work is going to have to scratch their head. Only on the glass, we work three areas.
EDT — Isn’t the Knowledge of those crafts disappearing?
RM – They are. We have contact with a few associations that still teach those areas. I can give you an example, the joinery and metalworking are the areas in which the formation is the smaller than the demand. There is a lot of demand, but the young don’t want it. They are only interested in the programming of CNC. Today, our youngest woodworker must be 35 years old and comes from Famalicão every day. When it comes to production, in joinery, the average of our workers is about 50 years old. We have the disposition to educate, but no one wants to be educated. On the computing side, yes, but manually no, and, in areas like welding and glass, which is a howling case, people who we want to work with are almost in the retirement or almost there. That causes us discomfort, because, in a short period of time, we can stop having the ability to answer in Portugal.
Marco Costa (MC) – It’s a matter of the Portuguese disposition. If we go to Germany, we see a lot of people in their 30 making glass. In ceramics, the people that work here are older people, but we have a foreign partner that has a lot a younger people working, with innovative techniques. Leather chairs, for example, are a piece that would make sense to explore in Boca do Lobo, but we can seem to get someone to craft them. We took almost one year to find someone that could work the Venetian mirror.
RM – This makes us more aware of what is happening outside. In a glass, we have a Czech partner with a lot of workers that are about 30 years old. It’s a shame our educational and cultural strategy. We even had the Marinha Grande or Leiria as centers of development in the glass area.
EDT – What part does emotion play in your project? Can you feel the passion for creation and for the objects, the will to provoke emotions in your clients, or in the way you communicate?
RM – Yes, there is. And it has to do with what Marco told before. At Boca do Lobo, the main premise of mist clients is to buy by impulse. I either identify or I don’t, and our goal is to make each piece as a piece of art. It’s possible to communicate with different languages, for each piece to have the respective protagonist inside a house, in a way that the client can look at it with passion, feeling that it contains a story, there is a memory, it can be a travel, a cultural moment or even family related. I mean, we’d like that our pieces, just like jewelry, became heirloom pieces throughout generations to come. I think that is our biggest challenge. More that provoking emotions on the buyer, we’d like that each piece took part in their history, their children, and grandchildren that could inherit it. I think it would be something to be proud and we will make it there (laughs). Like that book about watches, we have, from Assouline, our partner. We’d like to understand the story of a watch, or a brand, and understand what happened in the past generations, that changes in language, the style.
EDT – is that the reason you made furniture to store watches?
(laughs) RM – That is also one of the reasons. It’s our latest challenge, in the area of safes and watches, yes. We try to interpret every space of a home, the man spaces, the woman spaces. We don’t want segmented creations, but responsive. And we are always alert to where we can bring some of our irreverence.
MC – Besides the fact of being a unique product, easily identifiable. Our final customer it’s waiting for unique things, and we make a lot of custom pieces. From this our proposition in safe was born, and the watch winders. One of our clients came to us, launched us a specific challenge, outside of our comfort zone. We realized that this was a hole in the market, so we launched the product.
ET – The relation with Hollywood is it a world that unfolds?
RM – It is. We got several proposals, but it isn´t our core business. The relation we can have with those stages is part of our strategy of communication. It’s desirable and it might open new horizons. It’s important to be proud of, but it won’t take is a focus. It’s one more step on the ladder, although it’s a reward in our path.
EDT – Until what point are your pieces deliberately bold, can they be part of a space that wasn’t made to such boldness?
MC – With experience we understand that problematic. I believe that Boca do Lobo does not have a specific target. We can predict some tendencies, but we have surprises that are destined to a certain market and some other, all the sudden, like Sweden or Denmark buy that product. We have clients, decorators and interior designers, that created, with our products, a contemporary space and then a classic one. And with have the final costumer, that follows us on the Internet, that comes to the fairs and wants our products. It’s not the “I need a sideboard”, something functional. What they want is a Boca do Lobo piece.
RM – Like a watch, they don’t buy for necessity, but for impulse. That’s the reason we want Boca do Lobo to become timeless, and, that also why we keep selling all the pieces of our collection. It depends a bit on the communication because maybe we communicate more the newer pieces than the older ones – the reason our older pieces might sell less today. But the truth is that every year we sell the same pieces.
EDT – Having one of your pieces in the house of the current USA president, in the Trump Tower, would that be a goal or a challenge? Would one of your pieces fit the place?
(laughs) RM – No, it’s not a goal, although we are nearby because we have offices in Washington. It’s not about if a piece fits the house, its if fits the way of being, the philosophy of life of whoever buys it – and there we have no limits. If you take a piece and ask me if I would like to have it, I’d say ‘of course I would’, but for any piece, I would find the right background. If we took all the pieces from the brand with the task to put all in one home, I think it would be stronger than the house, in opulence or exuberance. If you ask me if I could live in a house like that, I say I couldn’t. They are very strong pieces that absorb a lot of personalities, they are very intense and it’s hard to evade that weight. This is, according to the way I like to be and how I like the house.
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