By: César Brigante
Veneto is especially known for its capital, Venice and with 60 million tourists flocking there annually, it is the country’s most visited region. But while its rich historical heritage, reflected in its many magnificent cities including Venice, Verona, Padua or Treviso, has been one of its main sources of wealth for decades, the local economy continues to boast economic growth thanks to a diversified business environment and dynamism, where some of the most important and innovative “Made in Italy” brands can be found.
Magis, a design brand founded by Eugenio Perazza, is a good example of how an entrepreneurial spirit transformed Veneto, which went from being the poorest region in northern Italy to one of the most prosperous.
Just an hour from Venice, beside the small town of Torre di Mosto, the headquarters of Magis is situated in a surprisingly quiet industrial hub, coexisting with a well-kept agricultural landscape.
The company is composed of two buildings: an immense 15 thousand squared metre nave, where the assembly and logistics plant is set up, and a smaller, yet spacious and luminous one, composed of the company’s administration, the development department and the showroom, where Magis welcomes visitors from around the world. It was in this envious workplace, with its generous interior garden and corridors displaying the prototypes that made the house famous, where we had the opportunity to speak to the son of the founder, Alberto Perazza, and his wife, Barbara Minetto.
Following 42 years since it was founded, Magis continues to be in the same family’s hands and Perazza continues to take part in the company’s daily routine. The company is currently managed by Perazza and Minetto, who both trained in Business & Administration and joined the house around 20 years ago, after completing their studies. “In a way, we grew with the business,” Alberto explains. He adds that Magis continuing to be a family business “has a great advantage, with things happening more easily and at a faster pace. It’s not necessarily better, but we are used to it.”
Magis products have become part of the collections of museums like the MOMA, in New York, the V&A, in London, or the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. But the main proof of Magis’ success is that it has products in numerous places across the globe – in homes, offices, gardens, hotels, shops and buildings. contributing to their aesthetic and functional quality.
Perazza’s audacity led him to launch his own initiative, after having worked for some time at a manufacturer of design pieces. Success, he believed, resided in the ability to engage in a fruitful dialogue with designers, on the base of mutual respect, rather than in producing cheap copies. That would lead to original pieces capable of responding to specific needs and adding something new to people’s daily lives. Magis’ success is also down to the choice of these designers, a task for which Perazza always showed great diligence. The list of designers includes names like Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders, Jasper Morrison, Marc Newson, Zaha Hadid or Ron Arad.
“The way we select the designers we want to work with is a process that demands great knowledge about what is happening in the world of design. We accompany their careers from a distance. With some of them, we establish a relationship when they are at the beginning of their careers. Marc Newson, for instance, was far from having the notoriety he has today. In this case, we have to have the ability to understand the designer’s potential. It is also a matter of feeling,” Perazza explains.
Pieces produced by Magis range from more prosaic objects, such as the Magò hoover designed by Stefano Giovannoni, to the more ingenuous and recreational rocking horse from the children’s collection Me Too, and the ironical Magis Proust, by Alexandro Mendini, to the more elaborate line of Cyborg chairs by dutch designer Marcel Wanders.
Therefore, the choice of a determined designer has to do with the project the designer has in mind. “The idea is always born here, in house. When we talk to a specific designer we already have a very clear idea of what we want. It can arise from a very specific need, material or technology. After the briefing, it’s like a game of ping pong. It turns into team work, and part of a process that can go on for several years.”
The company is transnational. As Perazza points out, “ideas are not barriers,” and Magis is pride of its Italian DNA. “Everything that is produced here has the Magis logo and ‘Made in Italy’ label.” In fact, almost everything is ‘made in Veneto’, which speaks volumes of the region’s industrial response. “We tend to rely on subcontracted companies in several areas. We have metal and plastic suppliers in our very own neighbourhood and there are cases in which we have to look a little further, but never outside Italy,” he explains, adding: “These companies have a very profound knowledge of both specialised materials and technology. There is a network of people who know each other and what each person is capable of. It might not be the cheapest option, but it enables greater quality control and is more sustainable.”
Their close relationship with designers is well reflected in Magis’ latest collections, Officina and Brut, both of which have iron in common. “We have been wanting to develop pieces with this material (forged iron) and technology for some time, which is interesting, because it incorporates artisan work. This kind of iron is usually used in popular architecture and it is very decorative, so we decided to give it a more contemporary touch.”
According to Perazza, it was not an easy choice for the designer to decide who to hand over these tasks to. The most obvious option ended up being the Ronan brothers and Erwan Bouroullec, who had worked with Magis in the past. “It had to be someone who was truly interested in being in the office and getting to know the process. We had already had experience with them and we knew it was very ‘hands on.’ On the other hand, we had a defined supplier. It was the first time we worked together and we knew it was important to have the ability to dialogue with the craftspeople, people with very particular ways of working.”
The supplier, another local company, situated around 25 km away, is part of the network Perazza refers to. A combination of artistic metalworking and industrial office, specialised in gates, handrails, beds and other artefacts, it entered an unexpected phase which brought new challenges as well as new horizons. The Officina collection, a result of this new approach, combining forged iron and other materials like plastic and wood, led to the creation of more than a dozen pieces, including sofas, tables, chairs, chandeliers and coat racks, which establish an interesting dialogue between tradition and modernity, and led the Bourollec brothers to clinch two Archiproducts Design Awards 2017.
In 2018, Magis presented its collection Brut, in Stockholm, a continuation of its iron work, resulting from a cooperation with this metallurgic company. To develop Brut’s pieces, the company invited one of its collaborators most familiar with the house, the industrial designer Konstantin Grcic, author of the celebrated Chair One. The base material of this collection is forged iron, an alloy normally used for the construction of heavy machinery structures, with its characteristic roughness and unfinished look. Grcic places this material in a completely different context. Alternated with materials like wood and marble, it seems clean and functional, while the austerity of the iron strongly contrasts with the comfort of the upholstering.
These two approaches use the same material as a starting point which, worked through diverse techniques, produce different results and reflect Magis’ characteristic eclecticism. As Perazza explains, Magis doesn’t have what would be considered a particular style. “We don’t have a style, rather we have a set of principles that rule over our work, like respect for materials, respect for the technology we employ, and above all, respect for the design,” he explains. “If there is something that identifies our work it is that, if you look at it closely, you will see that apart from how it looks, there is also an underlying idea. We don’t know if that idea is good or bad, but it is there, and that is the common thread of our work here at Magis.”