IT’S easy to write a love letter to a city like Barcelona in Spain. The capital of Catalonia, it was settled by the Romans and its age shows in its architecture built upon centuries and centuries of care and a reverence for beauty. Barcelona has also served to nurture several artists, including the famed Surrealist Salvador Dali.
For about five years now, BD Barcelona Design has been available in the Philippines through Abitare Internazionale. BusinessWorld visited the Makati store last week to see the items by BD Barcelona Design, with the help of the brand’s General Manager, Jordi Arnau.
Mr. Arnau pointed out that the brand was established in 1973, at the tail-end of the Francoist fascist regime. The brand was founded by a group of about 20 architects, and the brand was initially named Bocaccio Design, named after a famous nightclub in Barcelona at the time — Mr. Arnau compared it to Studio 54 in New York — and there, the architects rubbed elbows with the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The brand was also named so in honor of the nightclub’s owner, who was one of their first investors.
The brand was risque back in 1973: while they are proud of coming up with the first design-influenced range hoods and mailboxes, they also came up with a vase shaped like a penis, and then an avant-garde lamp that snaked on the floor, and in the advertisements, around a nude model. “That was very risky, 1973. I’m still amazed that they did it,” he said about the penis vase. It wasn’t only risque aesthetically speaking: the conservative mores of the Francoist censors could have sent them all to jail.
The designs are a lot more restrained now: BusinessWorld saw a minimalist cabinet sewn with thread called the Couture, a white console carved with reliefs, and then chairs overflowing with stuffing called the Grasso.
But what is in Barcelona that pushes people to push boundaries, to risk offending sensibilities and the loss of life and limb just to create? The ambitious Sagrada Familia church, still in construction since 1882, sends the message that the people of Barcelona can, and will, try anything. But before the buildings, there came the people, and Mr. Arnau describes them so: “The character of the people there is very daring. They like to take risks, and innovate. Innovation is something that’s very Catalan.”
But Francoist Spain was different, and everywhere you looked then, there was a roadblock to expression, which is important to art and design as breathing is to a person. Mr. Arnau talked about how the brand flourished despite the repression. “The architects, they traveled around with their families. They were 30 years old, and they came from families [that were] very advanced in culture.”
In many states where freedom is dimmed, literature is there to provide a light, as it did back in the 1970s for this group of avant-garde artists and designers: “They couldn’t find nice designs, but you could find nice books, and read.”
Speaking of the Sagrada Familia, it was created by famed architect Antoni Gaudi, who died in 1926. He changed the face of Barcelona, giving it an otherworldly air with the influence of Art Nouveau. We’ve also spoken about surrealist Salvador Dali, whom we invoke again, because part of BD Barcelona’s work involves adapting the works of both, and turning them into furniture that you can purchase. For example, chairs by Gaudi are recreated by the brand, while Dali’s Mae West Lips sofa is sold by the brand. Objects from his paintings are also given new life in three dimensions, as real, solid furniture that you can sit on. “We were very good friends with Salvador Dali,” Mr. Arnau recalled. “We were in touch with him, and his secretary, and we got the rights for them to put… them in production.”
We’ve mentioned artists, and architects, but what do they have to do with a very technical field, that of industrial design? Mr. Arnau speaks of the intersectional relationship between the fields. “It is said that every architect should design a chair. A chair is one of the most complex [pieces]… that you can make.”
“The best designers of the 20th century, all of them were architects.” — Joseph L. Garcia