Tell us a little bit more about yourself and Cypraea – how did you get into this industry and why did you decide to create this luxury furniture line?
I was young and I remember the good smell of wood in my father‘s furniture factory. At seventeen, I designed and manufactured my own piece of furniture that I still have at home today. One of the great souvenirs reminding me that I am getting old… It was made of palissander wood from Madagascar and rattan.
After high school, I left for 6 years to enhance my skills and acquired my French wood engineer‘s degree. During that same period, I spent some time in Canada, the United Kingdom and Romania to learn how the wood trade was applied in different countries. In the meantime, my father sold his factory so when I returned back to Mauritius in 2004, I went to work for a big furniture and joinery manufacturer on the island where I was quickly promoted to become the General Manager.
Ten years later, I was approached by the owner of a small family business as none of his children wanted to take over his business. On my side, I needed new challenges and I was proposed to invest in the shares of the business. I accepted and joined the company, Mavenci, in 2014. This was one of the most uncertain times of my life, having to leave a well-organised firm to work for a small family organization in which I had to start again from scratch. Fortunately, this 47-year-old company was also the oldest on the island and I knew the team had the expertise to make wonderful things.
On my side, I always wanted to create a luxury furniture line that would be sold worldwide. So in 2017, I went to the bank with my business plan. Taking a look at what we were doing and what was available worldwide, we needed to propose something that was not yet available. There are so many furniture brands out there and I realised that all the materials usually used were almost always the same. Veneered boards, glass in standard shapes, marble in neat finishes, furniture bases in clean patterns, etc. This was the case because most of the luxury brands are from Europe and North America.
Starting from there, I knew that our island had its own country soul. I started to make samples in materials that we had locally available. The first ones I did were the coral sand and the lava sand that we finally used 2 years later in our Aqua collection. After much research and many hours of hard work to perfectly capture the essence of Mauritian beauties, our nature-inspired brand was born. From there, we showcased our first pieces at the Fuorisalone in 2019. Our pieces are still permanently on display at the well-known Rossana Orlandi Gallery in Milan and in Sardinia.
Can you briefly describe the brand’s ethos and its vision?
Living and working on a remote piece of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean often affords moments of natural beauty that take your breath away. For this reason, it is our mission to raise awareness of today’s pressing environmental issues to protect and nurture this natural world. We want to help the next generations to live a better future.
Through the nature inspiration of our designs, we focus on crafting furniture that brings the spirit of the natural world in, hereby fostering communication between both worlds. We want to connect people to nature through our pieces – and our nature videos and photoshoots help in this. Our legitimate goal would be to supply at least one piece of furniture to every country to help spread our message even faster.
Where does the name Cypraea come from and what is its significance to the brand?
The island of Mauritius is the 26th smallest country in the world. But perhaps like diamonds or rare gems, size isn’t what makes it spectacular. Fringed by more than 150km of white sandy beaches, lagoons and the world’s third-largest coral reef, it’s a luxuriant yet fragile small slice of heaven on Earth. Like a beautiful shell, it possesses a rarity and charm that should be cherished and preserved. Cypraea was born from this idea. From a desire to connect to nature and to mirror the splendour of the natural beauty the island possesses.
Named after the “Coquille Bonheur” or Cowry Shell from the Cypraeidae family, Cypraea shells epitomise the island’s tropical identity, as well as the elegance of the natural world – like the rarest of treasures found in the ocean.
What is it that you love so much about furniture design?
More than furniture design, I love innovation. An innovative design will always strike out and this is what drives my motivation: to make something different that surprises people.
It is so difficult today to design something totally new. Trends come as fast as they go. Designers and manufacturers worldwide are now all connected to their social media networks so everything is becoming more like “déjà vu”. I think the only way to stay at the forefront of any trend is to see more than just the design. You need to create a story and use materials that are not commonly utilised. Give your product an emotion that somebody would love to pass to the next generation. Not something that you would like to change in 5 years. This will create your own signature and will make it very difficult for somebody else to copy.
I feel that the main current trend is going towards natural materials and organic shapes. I don’t feel there will be a return trend because people are getting more and more conscious about the environment and climate change. This new trend will be long-lasting, hence the reason we are 100% inspired by nature.
Tell us about where you find inspiration, and how you continue to be inspired to create new designs?
Nature is like a huge open library with an infinite number of ideas. You will never be able to finish them all. I already have more than 50 new pieces in mind, my only constraint is time. Material wise, I can say that we work with such a wide variety of products that almost any idea is feasible. Unless it does not follow the laws of physics. This is the reason we almost always find solutions for our clients, including creating custom designs that are normally impossible.
What are the key design elements that are incorporated into the furniture items? How does the design process unfold from start to finish?
We don’t have any key design elements in our pieces; they are all completely different from each other. The only element to follow is the brand‘s DNA; an inspiration from nature to make the furniture blend with it.
Regarding the design process, it has changed along the line. Today, we test most of our new designs in partnership with our clients and almost all of them have one piece sold as a prototype before production. This is why we have so many pictures and videos taken in nature. This prototype is used for our shoots and our clients are happy to get a good deal on them.
How it works today:
- Possibility 1: Design for Client – I first meet the client and understand their requirements. This is in the case that the client cannot find anything suitable in the existing collections. I take some time to step back and find the idea, which can sometimes be quite difficult. After bringing together everything in my mind, I draw a quick hand sketch and explain the idea to my design team. We make a 3D design out of it and I propose it to the client. We usually propose several possibilities as clients in every country have different design requirements. If the client accepts, then we have a new item in our collection!
- Possibility 2: Design for Stock – We produce prototypes of our ideas and sell them later. It is not always easy to find the appropriate clients for all ideas and a 3D design will never create the feeling the real piece does. So we take the risk and people often like it.
Tell us more about the different furniture collections?
Our first collections, namely Aqua, Rochester, Odyssey, Rising Ocean and Naturae, were exclusively inspired by our country and were released in 2019 and 2020. As the years went on, we increasingly understood that no island is an island on its own. We form part of a global ecosystem that as of right now is in a crisis and to ignore that would be irresponsible. Cypraea was created with a mission in mind: to build a better future for the next generations. For the 2021 Collection, the brand is taking on a new challenge.
Cypraea designs will no longer be solely inspired by Mauritius and its luxurious landscape. The natural world needs to be taken as a whole, and our inspiration will travel further abroad to highlight global issues while still remaining firmly rooted in a passion and respect for nature.
Secondly, Cypraea will also be opening the door to make some pieces more accessible with non-limited editions. Of course, there will still be collections that are limited to 9 pieces, but with the aim to touch more people and create a greater link between the outdoor and the indoor, a few selective pieces of Cypraea will be available to be enjoyed by more people and enjoyed in more homes.
Several new collections have been released in 2021, namely Earth, Ice and 7 Cascades, in addition to the new items added into our Naturae collection. So far, we have developed a total of 8 different collections, all of them being completely different in their design and their materials. It is interesting to note that due to the fact that we use a lot of natural materials, none of the pieces will ever look the same, even within the same 9 piece limited edition.
If not already mentioned, what would you say are some of the main aspects that make your furniture stand out?
Cypraea is the first and only furniture brand in the world that is 100% inspired by nature. We are surrounded by nature, we manufacture in nature, we use natural materials and the main focus of the brand is to connect people to nature. Each and every piece we make can blend into nature as if it was always there. Each collection has its own story, each piece of furniture has its own inspiration from nature and most importantly, each piece is able to communicate the importance of preserving the environment. We are not a designer brand, Cypraea has its own DNA and this is the reason we are exhibited in art galleries rather than selling to distributors. There is a lot more behind our pieces than just the design; we have a story to tell and our pieces create emotions.
On another note, we are most probably the only island in the world supplying luxury furniture at an international level. We are on a small piece of land sitting in the middle of the ocean and suppling furniture from this remote area gives us an unaccessible touch that others don’t have. Nature is becoming scarce, and we are scarce. To add to this rarity, most of our collections are supplied only in limited editions of 9 pieces. In fact, several of our pieces are already sold out.
What materials are used and why have these been selected?
The variety of materials we use is very wide. Wood, leather, metal, glass, sand, stone, sugarcane, coconut, mirrors, textured paint, bronze, resin, cork and bark, etc. These materials have been selected mainly because they are natural and because some of them are very rare or very innovative. Having the possibility to use such an extended range of products obviously enables us to bring a very original and unique piece of art that you will not see elsewhere. And this is our goal; to propose something out of this world.
Are the items hand-made? Tell us more about the production process…
Our 47 years of heritage in the furniture business was essential to be able to manufacture our furniture. The complexity of the processes and the variety of materials we are using makes it impossible to manufacture our products with industrial machines. I feel that this hand craftsmanship is our competitive edge together with the uncommon materials we use. We are not industrial and I don’t want to become industrial. If one day we cannot cope with our orders, we will simply increase our delivery lead-times. I feel that this hand craftsmanship is what gives our furniture a very special touch.
Is there customization available for the furniture and if so, how can they be tailored to clients’ preferences?
We could customize the existing collections but we tend to avoid it; producing only 9 pieces per product is already complicated. Unless one client is interested in several pieces, this is really a case by case study. On the other hand, and also as explained above, part of our design process for new collections is also to have clients who trust our designs to buy our prototypes. But in general, for any special requirement received, if our brand DNA – nature – is not required by the client, we will not produce the piece in our Cypraea range. We will make it at Mavenci.
How do you hope your furniture impacts its users and the home?
This is difficult to say but one simple word of any visitor would explain it all: WOW! And this often happens!
I know it’s difficult to choose a favourite – but what piece holds a special place in your heart and why?
Difficult to say but it would be our ICE Dining Table. This table has no similarities with any other table you will ever see. If you take a look at the nature inspiration picture from our website, you will understand the bold environmental message behind it. This table actually raises awareness about climate change and the devastating effects of global warming on the Arctic and the Antarctic sea ice.
Drawing inspiration from the ice itself, the range presents a combination of clean lines and dramatic features. Here, the transparent stone effect on the tabletop shows this piece of ice floating on the sea. Made of natural crystal quartz and white selenite stone, and crafted with incredible patience and care, each stone is glued on one by one, with stalactite structures dripping from the ice bringing a sense of movement and flow. Like a piece of raw glacial ice pulled from the sea, its extraordinary beauty actually resides in how it reflects the light, capturing the wonder of the Arctic brought into the warmth of your home.
We are also producing an ICE Pool table right now for a client and this piece will surely become my new favourite. Next after this one, I would like to do an ICE Piano if a client is crazy enough to trust me! This would be an international award-winning piece for sure and my next favourite. I just need this crazy client to contact me and I will do it!
What’s next for Cypraea? Any new products or exciting events on the horizon?
This year, we are organizing to showcase our upcoming 2021 collection in Spain, London and New York. I am also open to any well-established strategic partners with the same vision as mine to grow faster on the international market. If I have some free time left after all of this, I will try to have a rest!
To find out more about Cypraea, visit its website, Facebook page and Instagram profile.
Images © Jacques Rocca-Serra