Eight years separate Brazilian brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana—born in 1953 and 1961 respectively—but the gap in innovation and creativity between the design duo and many of their peers is far harder to gauge. Last year the pair celebrated the 35th anniversary of their São Paulo-based furniture studio, Estudio Campana, whose creations have bagged them not only a plethora of design awards, but exhibitions in world-leading galleries including permanent spots in Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou and at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), thanks to their iconic Vermelha—or ‘Red’—Chair that comprises more than 500m of red rope wrapped around a steel frame. The chair was to be the first of an ongoing collaboration with Italian furniture maker, Edra.
The brothers have long since expanded their repertoire beyond furniture, channelling their innovative nous to everything from interior design to architecture to landscaping to fashion, working with the likes of Lacoste, H. Stern and Louis Vuitton, and have even designed sets for the Ballet National de Marseille and the Guggenheim in New York.
These coolest of creatives were well ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability, too, crafting their colourful, spectacular pieces from repurposed and recycled materials long before it was really considered either fashionable or ethical to do so. It was such philosophies that caught the attention of TV producer and interior designer Vicki Vuleta, who heads Auckland’s Design55 with her art dealer partner Gary Langsford.
We became aware of the brothers while at places like Art Basel and Design Miami,” says Vicki. “This was very early on when they were beginning to make a name for themselves. We developed a relationship with the studio in São Paulo directly, selling seven or eight pieces and keeping a couple of limited edition pieces for our own collection. They soon became design rock stars, working with top hotels in Italy and around the world”.
Even as ‘design rock stars’ the brothers have never forgotten their roots, continuing to support the disadvantaged in their home country by way of workshops and direct employment.
“We work with small, poor communities,” Fernando tells Forbes. “I think in Brazil, one way to exit violence and social problems is through handcrafts.”
“We have a great relationship with the brothers and have gotten to know them very well,” reveals Vicki. “They’re just lovely, humble people, and their support of the local area and those less well-off is admirable”.
The brothers were raised on their family farm in Brotas, a couple of hundred kilometres north of São Paulo and credit their rustic upbringing in helping shape both their characters and their work. To reach the city, their agronomic engineer father had to drive dusty tracks, fording creeks and small rivers through the Brazilian countryside, where wild creatures freely roamed. Among their most well-known creations are chairs fashioned from stuffed animals and a Boa Sofa forged from more than 100m of plush velvet tubes.
It was also such irreverence that helped lure Vicki and Gary.
“It’s that mix of eccentricity and eco-awareness,” says Vicki. “Instead of simply producing new items they would source and repurpose objects they discovered in existing shops and markets. For example, their now famous Favela Chair, designed in 1991, is still made by hand by women in São Paolo making each chair unique. A Favela Chair is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.”
Forbes describes them as “masters” of reinvention, able to give “new meaning to common objects” with their “low tech approach”. They’ve incorporated everything from rope to fibres to fur to leather to scrap wood. Their work, they say, is to “test the limits of materials to see what they yield for aesthetics and comfort”. Humberto believes design to be “about the factory” rather than the glamour. They embrace imperfections. They are builders of beauty, citing Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s most eminent architect, as just as an important influence as any artist or sculptor. They believe there to be “very little difference between the designer and the artist”, that both are “researchers and witnesses of their time”.
Their offerings are a manifestation of the mystery, the madness and the magic of their soulful nation.
“Brazil is a very important source of inspiration for us,” they tell the New York Post, “and its multiculturism nourishes our creations. Our designs reflect the country’s characteristics and translate that identity…the colours, the mixtures, the creative chaos and the triumph of continual solutions.
“Gary and I are very excited to be able to bring such iconic pieces to New Zealand and value our relationship with both the Campana Brothers and Edra,” says Vicki.
Campana at Design55
The Campana Brothers collection at Design55 comprises some of their Edra collaborations, including:
The Cipria Sofa, whose nine cushions resemble powder puffs affixed to a steel frame. The soft-touch covering is ecological fur. A personal favourite of Vicki’s!
The Favela Chair, handnailed using strips of pine or teak wood. Each one is unique, and what makes their construction even more remarkable is that there is no internal frame.
The Corallo Chair, almost akin to a three-dimensional doodle, this fascinating structure is fashioned from stainless steel wire bent by hand, with around 900 brushed and rounded welds. Get it with an orange, white or black finish.
Miraggio Mirror, a wall mirror whose colour reflective acrylic pieces have been laser cut and bound by a series of nylon strips.