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Monday December 17, 2012

The Magis touch

Alberto Perazza, 41, is the second
generation in the family-run, Italian
design brand, Magis. Alberto Perazza, 41, is the second generation in the family-run, Italian design brand, Magis.

EUGENIO Perazza founded Magis in 1976 out of sheer passion. With no design background, the indomitable Perazza trusted his instincts – that, with the right combo of materials, technology and fabrications, an idea can be transformed into a product that distinguishes itself from the mundane.

The company’s first commercial success was a folding stepladder designed by Dutch-Japanese couple Andries and Hiroko Van Onck that was made from injection-moulded ABS (a thermoplastic) with a steel frame. When it made its debut in 1984 at furniture trade shows, it was pooh-poohed by critics who said it belonged in hardware stores. But the ladder was a hit with consumers and spawned countless copycats worldwide. In two decades, Magis churned out a million of these ladders.

But it was a plastic bottle rack that thrust the design laboratory nestled in Italy’s Venice Province onto the global design map in 1994. Designed by influential British designer Jasper Morrison, the stackable rack is made from polypropylene (a plastic polymer) with connecting tubes in anodised aluminium. His first project using plastic, Morrison was inspired by stacking bottle crates used for transporting beer and mineral water.

“The bottle rack was the turning point in the history of Magis,” says Alberto Perazza, Eugenio’s son, during our interview in Singapore.

Another Magis technological
marvel, the Voido rocking
chair, designed by Ron Arad,
is made out of rotationalmoulded
polyethylene. Another Magis technological marvel, the Voido rocking chair, designed by Ron Arad, is made out of rotationalmoulded polyethylene.

“Its enormous success gave a lot of visibility to Magis. It became part of permanent collections in museums worldwide including New York’s Moma (Museum of Modern Art). And designers wanted to work with us.”

The bottle rack also turned out to be Morrison’s most copied design, “absorbed by industry to become a new archetype, which kind of thievery can only be taken as a compliment” according to his monograph, Jasper Morrison: Everything But The Walls (Lars Muller Publishers, 2006).

The Magis touch

Unlike their peers in the furniture business, Magis is factory-free and only deals with product development and distribution. The company exports 80% of its products to 80 countries around the world. And it works with seven manufacturers specialising in different technologies – from injection- to rotational- and gas-injection moulding technology.

“The factory-free concept allows us to explore different directions, experiment with materials and technology and not be dependent on one material,” says Alberto, who – with wife Barbara Minetto – oversees the company’s sales, marketing and general management.

Magis’ métier is adopting existing technology into the furniture business. The Jasper Morrison-designed Air-Chair (2000), one of the company’s bestsellers, is made with gas-injection moulding technology, a first in the furniture industry back then.

“The Sparkling Chair (made from transparent plastic) designed by Marcel Wanders (in 2010) uses the same blow-moulding technique used to manufacture water bottles,” explains Alberto. Fashioned out of PET plastic, the hollow spaces of the chair legs are filled with high-pressure air that creates strong and structural components. By using this technique, plastic usage is minimal and the sturdy chair weighs only 1kg.

An iconic Magis chair, the sculptural Chair_One designed by Konstantin Grcic, was a showstopper when it was unveiled in 2003. People were stunned because they couldn’t believe it was a chair they could actually sit on comfortably, according to Grcic in his design brief. It was the first time anyone had attempted to use die-cast aluminium to form the structure of a chair. A bold undertaking, indeed. But it didn’t stop Grcic and Magis from seeing the project through from design concept to actual production four years later in 2003.

“The inspiration for Chair_One, the empty space/void in the design, plays an important role in reducing the use of material,” explains Alberto.

“We thought of die-cast because it’s a very precise method to make products and ecologically driven. The material originally didn’t solidify well in the mould so we had to make many tweaks.”

Magis: The critically
acclaimed Chair_One by
Konstantin Grcic best
exemplifies the modern
use of die-cast aluminium. Magis: The critically acclaimed Chair_One by Konstantin Grcic best exemplifies the modern use of die-cast aluminium.

Magis had to invest in the moulding process to bring the production cost down.

“It is an expensive investment but we had to do it to try to bring down the price of the end product,” explains Alberto.

With the exception of the Cyborg chair whose wicker back is made in the Philippines, all Magis furniture and products are made in Italy. “We develop and manufacture in Italy simply because we have better control over the materials and quality of the production,” Alberto says.

Magis has snagged numerous awards for its products, including the prestigious Compasso d’Oro Award (the Oscars of the design world) and the IF Product Design Award (the iF International Forum Design, iF for short, has been organising these awards since 1953).

Collaborative efforts

Working with the crème de la crème of the global design industry places Magis creations under a glaring spotlight. The enviable list includes Stefano Giovannoni, Marc Newson, Naoto Fukasawa, Ron Arad, Thomas Heatherwick and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

“They are different in terms of temperament, style and design language,” says Alberto. “But we never give them carte blanche, we like to be fully involved in the design process and give our input,” he adds with a smile.

A team of in-house designers takes care of the product development from idea to production. Since most of their ideas are generated internally, Magis tries to find the best fit for each specific project.

“We approach a designer based on what they have done for us or other companies, and their design background. It is important for us to form long-term relationships with these designers.”

So are we, the consumers, paying premium prices for ideas churned out by A-list designers?

“I don’t think a ‘designed’ product should be more expensive than a non-designed product. We don’t put design cost into the product,” Alberto clarifies. “What is reflected in the price is the industrial costing.”

Looking ahead

Despite the dismal economy, especially in Italy, Magis isn’t too flustered. Fortunately, it has a strong market in France, Germany, the United States and Canada.

“Asia is definitely interesting for us, we have seen lots of potential business growth in the last two years,” says Alberto who travelled in China for six days before coming to Singapore. “In China, people are starting to appreciate our designs and what we do. It’s not something that will happen overnight. It takes time to build the brand and raise consciousness.”

For now, the younger Perazza is happy to keep the family business going strong.

“Of course, it could have been a faster growth if we had welcomed outside investors. But we believe in healthy, organic growth,” he says. “It gives us the freedom to dictate what we want to do, which direction we want to go in, and what we want to explore.”

Sounds like the Perazza family is doing just fine.

> Magis furniture and objects are sold in Malaysia by XTRA Furniture; call 03-2282 9088 or go to xtrafurniture.com.

All photos for these stories courtesy of Magis, Moroso, B&B Italia and Reeds Exhibition.

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