still straddling both camps, but I then developed the designs more into things capable of being produced in a production way. There’s a guy in the States who’s also making pieces using the steam-bent forms of sticks over a frame like I do, but he’s using that sort of work in a much more complex, one-off, handmade, craft way … Each curve is completely different.
So Cappellini picked up that one product to license …
Initially we made the first batch for them here and sent them over in a container while he was supposedly getting his system up and running, then the slump that followed 9/11 hit Italian manufacturers. Americans stopped ordering for six months and suddenly they really got into hard times. A lot of factories closed down and Cappellini nearly went bust and they were bought by Poltrona Frau, one of the big companies, and in the process a lot of their catalogue got shrunk. They were making a couple of other pieces [of mine] at that point, but they dropped the other two and just kept the Body Raft one. I thought that would start other licensing agreements with other companies, but I don’t know if the nature of the work is not what they want or that the distance is too great and that there are so many good designers locally that they … The perception of distance from there to here is far greater than from here to there. So that never really worked out. I also found that I could have more control of what I was doing if I was making it myself. If you have to fit in with other manufacturers and design to their ‘look’, you spread yourself around a bit, whereas just designing for us to make here, you retain the integrity of the work. In a way, although the sales are obviously far, far less and the name’s less out there, it’s far more satisfying doing it that way and more appropriate to living here.
Until you get these production hubs going anyway.
Is the business still growing at the same rate?
No, it’s shrinking at the moment because of what’s happening, but up until this time last year it was great, it was growing really fast. Before Christmas we laid off quite a few people and dropped right down. We’ve picked up again now, we’re busy for the next couple of months, pretty full on.
I’m surprised it’s had such an immediate impact. Have people cancelled forward orders?
Things were sort of falling apart even before the banks went crazy. A lot of what we sell is retail, through shops, kit sets. There was a company in Auckland selling our stuff that went bust and I lost a lot of money – that hurt. What we’re doing more now are the big commercial contract jobs which have longer time spans. Maybe in the future they’ll drop off, but hopefully the retail will pick up before that happens. I expect this year to be tough.
Batten down the hatches and ride it out … Where is your biggest market?
We’ve just been looking at that, Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s doing really well for us, particularly Melbourne. There’s a big company there, Studio Italia, who sell heaps for us in Melbourne. Sydney and Brisbane too, those three. There’s a company in Brisbane I work with called Urban Art Projects. They’re great guys and do some amazing stuff.
The twins. We profiled Daniel [Tobin] in Dumbo Feather about five issues ago now. What do they work with you on? Do they commission you to do public art projects?
What they do is pitch for big jobs and for those projects they will show the client a selection of artists they can use, and then the client will pick one or two. We’re doing some outdoor aerial light-sculpture forms for KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia. It’s pretty grand.
When I interviewed Daniel, that project was still very confidential and he couldn’t really talk about it, but he was so excited about the potential for getting a lot of artists involved.
We’re also doing a thing in Culver City, Los Angeles, for them. So yeah, they’re doing really well. We just had four designers from Brisbane over here last week on a bit of a road trip. They came and stayed at our bach for a night and then came down here and gave a public lecture in Napier. We’re trying to build that connection and do more things together because it’s quite nice to share different experiences and what we’ve got in common and learn from that.
Is there much of a design community in Hawkes Bay?
Yeah. A few years ago