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Magis: The Family Way
Alberto Perazza, second-generation owner of Magis, on the 40-year-old company’s guiding principles and experimental nature.
Magis was founded by Eugenio Perazza in 1976. It turns 40 this year – a major milestone for the Italian company. Perazza had various business partners back in the 80s and 90s before Magis became a family-run business. Today, the Italian furniture company is managed by Eugenio, his son Alberto and Alberto’s wife Barbara Minetto – both of them joined Magis in 1996.
Unlike most furniture brands, Magis does not operate its own factory. It remains undefined by neither material nor production technique. Thriving on long processes of dialogue with designers, engineers and model makers, Magis is constantly opening up new methods of thinking in contemporary design. Alberto Perazza tells XTRA about the brand’s unwavering ambition to grow alongside its team of production partners, some of whom it has been working with since the beginning of its inception.
You have been a part of Magis for 20 years now, and the family remains rooted in Venice… why is that the case?
I am very rooted in Venice because it is the place where my family and Magis is based. I was born in 1971 in Ceggia, a small and quiet town located in the province of Venice in Italy. I have been living here my whole life. My parents were also born here. I am the only child. My wife, Barbara and I have been together since high school. We have a daughter and a son, Anna and Antonio. Anna is 17 now, while Antonio is 10.
Our production partners, whom we rely on, each have their own expertise in material and technology. They are also based in the region. We want to grow with them. For example, the Air chair by Jasper Morrison is produced by a factory that we have been working with since the beginning. It is currently being operated by the second generation.
Tell us about the Magis way.
Magis has never run its own production factory, even though we own all the moulds, which are required to make our products. They are big investments and our biggest assets. We do not own factories because we do not want to depend on a single material or technology. We want to be free, work on different ideas, and go in different directions. We do not want to limit the experimental nature and expression of Magis.
For this reason, there are not many people [in our office]. We have 50 people. By the way, no one in the family – not me, not even my father, or my wife Barbara, who is the marketing communication director of Magis, have a background in architecture or interior design.
How did you become a part of Magis?
I joined Magis during my last couple of years in university, where I was studying business administration. I got to know the business by working in the office in various departments and travelling with my father to meet people. I had thought that I would do something different someday, something to do with economics perhaps, but it felt natural for me to join the family business. It has been 20 years now and I enjoy every moment of it!
How does Magis start working on new projects?
Majority of our ideas for new projects begin in our office. Most of the time, we are looking at technologies and thinking, ‘what else can we do’? We try to assign the right material and technology combination to the right team of designers and makers. We come up with the brief and start a dialogue with the designer, who comes up with the concept. We also approach our production partners from day one. If all goes as planned, the concept turns into a real product that goes into the market.
Can you share with us an example of how a particular collection was realised?
Majority of our partners come from heavy industries. However, we have been working with a few artisans. The Officina collection is a good example. The metal workshop that produces the rod iron frames for Officina is situated across our headquarters. In fact, we would pass by the workshop every day on our way to work. They have an outdoor showroom where they display these decorative, baroque pieces that are made of rod iron. We were impressed by the quality and thought, why not use this traditional material and create something new in a contemporary language?
So we called up the factory and asked if they wanted to work with Magis. They have their own catalogue of products but they agreed. After that, we called the Bouroullecs. We immediately thought of them because we knew they were the right designers to give this material a modern touch. They came down and went to see the factory. They loved what it was doing.
From there, we started this new wonderful relationship with the company. The collection was launched in 2014. We have added new pieces over the years. This year, we have a candle holder, mirror, coat stand and et cetera. It is a large collection now. The Officina collection signified a new production partnership for Magis.
How did your partnership with Konstantin Gricic begin?
During one of our holidays in August, the longest three-week break in Italy when everyone shuts down, my father and I took the car and went to see Konstantin Gricic in Germany. From there, we started a conversation on the potential of a project development. We did not start immediately. It was not easy to convince Konstantin Gricic to start working for Magis because he thought that we were going to ask him to make another plastic chair. At that time, the Air chair by Jasper Morrison was in the market.
When we told him that we wanted to explore the aluminium with him, he finally agreed. We started working together. The process from concept to design and production took three years. It was complex engineering and design that took a fantastic team – the internal design teams at Konstantin’s office and Magis and the model makers to make it happen. Finally in 2003, Chair_One came out.
Tell us about the symbol of Magis, the mule, which has been featured prominently in your catalogues and now available in 3D.
The mule represents Magis in essence and spirit. It is the invisible and humble warrior. For our 40th anniversary, we decided to create a 3D mule and asked Konstantin Gricic to design it. We thought of doing it in cast iron, which is a new material for Magis. We had only used cast iron in some parts of our products.
We believe Ettore will be very popular with adults and children, just like the Me Too series, which your daughter grew up…
Yes. She was the first person to see and test the first pieces that we produced in the Me Too collection. Anna was born in 1998, so she was six when the collection first came out. Of course, we had been working on it for at least two years before, so she was three or four when she first saw the prototypes. She is 17 now!
Me Too started as a family thing. In 2001, my father wanted to give Anna a present for her birthday but he could not find anything that was not only appealing in the sense of design, but something that could be a friend to children and of value. In the end, he found a height adjustable table in Germany. My daughter grew up using the table and it has been passed to my son, Antonio, who is still using it.
While Me Too remains a collection of objects and furniture for pre-school children from three to six, it might be changing a bit and opening up…
What do you love most about running Magis?
If I look back, 20 years of being in the company, there has been a lot of changes but what really surprises me is how fast time runs here! This is great because we really enjoy what we do. It is fun, but at the same time, it is serious and tough, as every business is today.
We enjoy time spent with our collaborators, not just with designers, manufacturers, but our strategic partners. For instance, Magis is one of the first partners XTRA was working with for the Singaporean market and the partnership began more than 25 years ago. We love the idea of building long-term relationships with everyone we work with. The idea of Magis is to build and continue our relationships with designers, distribution partners, craftsmen and artisans.