A family-run furniture business based in the Italian countryside outside Pisa and surrounded by a host of local craftspeople, Edra has defined its own direction in the design world that blends high-end technology with traditional skills of the handmade. The group has built its reputation for challenging and encouraging designers – from Zaha Hadid to Franceso Binfaré and Fernando and Humberto Campana – to think deeply about ideas, while together creating a collection that is full of stories and life. Here, Edra's Founder and President Valerio Mazzei talks with Heidi Dokulil about the first 25 years. HD: Celebrating a quarter of a century is an important mark in time, could you share some of your personal highlights?
VM: Yes, a quarter century is significant. I clearly remember the first Edra presentation in Milan in July 1987. We were really excited and united by a strong idea: make products with high quality, both intellectual and material simultaneously, and with their own story.
Since then so many events have satisfied me. I was proud of cooperating with a team deeply involved in carrying on the starting idea. In September 1987, we got in touch with Zaha Hadid and we made some of her first projects. The following year we created the 'Tatlin' sofa, based on the Vladimir Tatlin spiral, still nowadays this sofa is one of Edra’s icons. And the year after that we manufactured the Flower Collection by the Japanese architect Masanori Umeda.
In 1992 we began our ongoing collaboration with Francesco Binfaré which has lead us to create new typologies of sofas which will be iconic furniture pieces of the next centuries. For instance, I can mention Flap, On The Rocks, HFST and Sfatto. In 1997 we met the Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana – at the time unknown – and with them we started a wonderful relationship. This encounter allowed Edra to get innovative elements, from the point of view of expressive language and of style, completely out of the clichéd design concepts. Now I can see that this work affected other situations as well. I like to see our pieces exhibited in museums, wonderful homes and little flats. For me, it's the people who choose Edra’s furniture for their own home because of the high, but also simple, performances and comfort, that's the synthesis of everything and the outstanding elements of our 25 years of life.
HD: Could you describe your role and how you met Edra's art director for the past 25 years, Massimo Morozzi?
VM: Since Edra was born in 1987, it is my great pleasure and honour to be the president. In July the year before, during an encounter with Massimo Morozzi in Milan (who I’d known as an architect and designer years before), I asked him to design something for us, but he said no. After a quick conversation and a deep meeting of minds, we decided that Massimo would be the art director of this new story which was starting. Nowadays, the work goes on and it’s based on an intense professional relationship and a steady comparison to each other.
HD: How has the company changed over the years?
VM: I wouldn’t talk about “change”, it would be better to talk about growth. Edra grew up from the beginning based on a deep understanding, fascinating topics and interest in our work. Everyone tries their best to carry on this story that is one-of-a-kind. This starts from the research and production department, during the tests and until the piece is ready.
We haven't modified the original “high quality” plan a lot. This is true even for the organisation of each of Edra’s departments which have been involved in the development. Relating to the international markets, as years go by we see an homogenisation of everything in the world, and partly also the loss of a standard of quality, it has changed into the "fame" standard. Sincerely, I don’t like this system and I try to pursue the first standard.
I think that fame, since ancient times, came from the true, real and concrete quality, thanks to which it was possible to reach the notoriety. For instance, we could remember the famous Greek philosophers, the Florentine laboratories of the 16th century, the German industries of the 19th century, until the important cabernet sauvignon wines currently in Australia [smiles].
HD: Since the beginning, research and development has had a very visible presence in the work you produce. Would you say it has really shaped the identity of Edra?
VM: Certainly the choice to make something with high and always getting higher performances, leads us constantly to observe whatever happens in the world and that can change the costumes and traditions of everyone. New insights come up and thanks to research they can become concrete – a piece.
At Edra the high technology goes at the same speed as the craftmanship, therefore during the years we’ve patented new materials like Gellyfoam, or complex structures like the Flap sofa, which is composed of several pieces separated and then held together with a single stud. What I’ve just explained would be impossible without a high degree of manual skill. The mixture of both gets results which surprise even us. And humbly we can say that they are excellent. The results come from the combination of technology and craftsmanship.
HD: Can you describe some of the technologies you have developed in the factory?
VM: It’s true that each piece has its own story, moreover, I say that if it hasn’t got a story there’s no reason for its existence! Sometimes it was born like a sketch on a paper napkin. I want to share one of my fondest memories that demonstrates that it’s the idea that is more important than a perfect design project without an interesting idea.
It was a rainy and grey evening in October 1998. After a nerve-racking day, full and inconclusive with Francesco Binfaré and Massimo Morozzi, we were saying goodbye when Francesco took out from his pocket a little worksheet. We observed it for a second and then we took it from his hand. It was clear from the beginning that it was an extraordinary idea, it was the first Flap sketch. Immediately we forgot the useless day and the next morning we made the first polystyrene profiles of the sofa. After a lot of hard work Flap was exhibited in April 2000.
HD: You have a very strong working relationship with the designers you collaborate with. How did this relationship develop with Fernando and Humberto Campana?
VM: When the Campana brothers started their collaboration with us, it was their first experiences of turning something from an idea into a concrete piece. I remember their purity, gentleness, frankness from influences, fashion, trend, marketing and the other things that are usually used to show that a new idea is growing up. So we examined their pictures, which looked like scribbles not sketches, but, even as they were interpreted and realised we tried not to violate the original idea because inside they have real jewels of intelligence, originality, art and beauty which will survive forever.
HD: Is Edra's development of new techniques and processes essential to stay ahead of copies?
VM: I think that to make an imitation it’s really one of the most miserable human choices. That’s the reason why, although we have patents strong enough to protect our products, I don’t care about this meanness of imitation, imitators and so on. Everyone in Edra works hard to improve technology, manual ability, new materials: that’s the result of deep thinking and extensive research.
HD: In 2010 Edra opened its doors to the Australian designer Trent Jansen who spent two months working with your design team and Massimo Morozzi after winning the Space/Edra Design Residency. How important is it for Edra to share the stories and history of the company in such an immersive way?
VM: When Trent Jansen was here with us our relationship was simple, friendly and warm. Maybe two months is not enough to get in the mood of Edra’s work completely. But two months is enough to understand that everything we do is genuine, natural, pure and that’s true both to project, material and product, and to the relationships within the teams – everything springs from here.
HD: How would you describe the Edra collection and have there been particular favourites for you in the past 25 years?
VM: Edra’s collection has several kinds of models, different to one another and with different functions. Every year we add new pieces. The products created in 2012 are as important to me as the first ones we made at the beginning and I’m glad that our oldest products have become classical icons. I don’t conceal that I like to dream about who will own our products in the next 100 or 200 years. I think about this and about the value the pieces gain over time. So it’s important what goes into our collection is well away from short-lived fashion moments.