LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Sergio Rodrigues: Championing the Craft

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Master of Brazilian modernism, architect and designer Sergio Rodrigues, continues to blaze a trail as an icon of Brazil's celebrated style.

It was not the bold eccentricity and design art allure of the Campana brothers’ latest creations, or even the natural beauty of Hugo Franca’s natural forms that ran the gamut for Brazilian design at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, but the enduring appeal of the works of Sergio Rodrigues, the father of modern Brazilian design.

Since Rodrigues’s career began in the early 1950s he has championed Brazilian style. An architecture graduate of Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ- The Federal University of the state of Rio de Janeiro), in 1956 his attention turned away from architecture as he began to focus on furniture design; he established his own workshop-cum-gallery, factory and furniture brand, Oca Industries, and became a leading protagonist in the birth of Brazil’s modern style.

Using indigenous materials, such as jacaranda wood and leather, Rodrigues crafted easy chairs, stools and tables that became a symbol of Brazil’s previously undefined style, so much so that in 1961 he took first prize at the IVth Concorso Internazionale del Mobile for his 1957 Mole chair, now an icon among the permanent collection of classics within MoMA’s permanent collection.

At the age of 82, Sergio Rodrigues’s name has become legendary for his portfolio of iconic classics dating back more than half a century, which remain in production. German furniture manufacturer Classicon and LinBrasil of Paranà continue to produce classics such as the Mole chair, Banco Mocho stool and the 1973 Kilin chair, while last September New York’s Espasso gallery presented a limited edition copy of his Cadeira Aspas, a unique piece created for the 1962 exhibition “Furniture as Work of Art”, held at Rodrigues’s Oca store. The prototype was lost, so it was not until the one-off piece was re-discovered in a private collection that the chair once again came to light, produced by Mendes-Hirth and renamed Chifruda (a nod to its horned wings and also a humorous pun referring to a wife with a wayward husband). Sergio Rodrigues continues to inspire the country’s flourishing design scene. We spoke to him at this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan.

Sergio Rodrigues’s definition of luxury:

It depends on the individual, because we all have our own ideas of luxury, but for me luxury is when something is flourishing, when it is growing and developing from something else, when something new comes out of it.

If luxury were:

An object
If an object is developed in itself, then for me that object becomes a piece of luxury – it’s the development originating from its own concept.

A place
Any place that is really simple is a real luxury for me. Although, nature itself is such an incredible luxury that is available to all of us, that I wouldn’t name it as a luxury.

A person
Someone with culture and serenity…and Brazilians!

A moment
A moment of emotion.

You have been a successful architect and designer in Brazil for half a century. What defines Brazilian design?
There is a huge influence of both Brazilian and colonial and it is this mix, which makes Brazilian style. There is a European and African influence.

How difficult was it to carve out a career at the beginning?
It was very difficult at the start because by then Brazil was moving into modern design – anything that was considered luxurious or of high quality was imported from Europe – so this was considered better quality. For example, the Mole chair that was so successful in Europe it won the first prize in the Concorso Internazionale del Mobile in Cantu in 1961, but it was called a dog bed when it appeared! So, it was hard to present modern forms to the Brazilians at the time because they didn’t understand.

When I made the mole chair I even underlined that comment by taking a photo of the chair with a dog sitting on it. The first one that I ever sold was in the United States. In the States they took a photo of it with a goat, so even outside of Brazil I still couldn’t get away from that image!

What challenges do young Brazilian designers face today?
The main problem is probably that the manufacturing companies have very high expectations that the product sells immediately in high numbers, which makes it very difficult for Brazilian designers to gain recognition. Now that the quality factor for a product is increasing in Brazil, this is attracting more attention for the manufacturing companies.

Is this the reason that the architecture was more progressive than the furniture design at that time?
Well, the question is more rather if I believe that the reason the furniture designs were different from the development of the architecture designs was because the architecture achieved a very high standard and much recognition, while the furniture depended on the manufacturing.

How does your architecture influence furniture design or vice versa?
The designs complement my architecture.

Is there any work that has influenced or inspired your designs?
Seeing Danish or Nordic design, I did feel an association; there is a similar understanding of nature and materials and the design process, but I was never really influenced by it, I just realized that there was a similar feel.

What do you feel about the current importance of sustainability in design?
I think that it’s very good that there is now a development in this direction. I will continue to work with sustainable materials for as long as there are trees for wood and cows for leather that my country can provide.

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