If you think about it in the context of design, Brazil is a lot like America: A vast, relatively young country with a tiny cadre of contemporary designers struggling both to step out of the long shadow of their mid-century forebears, and to create objects in a near-industrial vacuum. But you won’t hear Brazilian designer Brunno Jahara complaining — having lived in dozens of European countries, worked under Jaime Hayon at Fabrica, and run a freelance business from Amsterdam before moving back to São Paulo a few years ago, he credits his native country as being the catalyst for his newfound success. “In Brazil I have all the freedom I didn’t have in Europe, because there’s a whole historical background over there that holds you to making things in a certain way,” says the 32-year-old, who’s been all over the design press in the past year and twice showed work at Design/Miami Basel. “Here you have so much space, and everything is new. And it’s so crazy, everything you see on the street each day and the mix of cultures — it’s really inspiring.”
Jahara’s nomadic tendencies were instilled in him at a young age, when he moved with his ex-fashion model mother and structural engineer father to the US, England, Germany, and Poland, all by age 8. By the time the family returned to Brazil, he could no longer speak Portuguese. He stayed until he was 23, living in Rio and studying design in Brasilia, then left again to continue his studies at the University of Venice before moving on to Fabrica. If Italy taught him about the intricacies of manufacturing and the marketplace and the “Italian pleasure in shapes and colors,” his time in Amsterdam — where his mother still lives — gave the playful side of his work an intellectual counterpoint.
He brought all of those influences with him to São Paulo, where he now works out of a three-floor building with a “design lab” in the basement and his home on top, but these days he primarily identifies with a Brazilian aesthetic: “We have this exotic flavor somehow,” Jahara laughs. As part of what he believes is a new movement of young Brazilian designers in the post-Campana generation, he’s taken a similar interest in reclaimed materials and in collaborating with the country’s industry. A project he began recently entails helping a large stationery manufacturer figure out how to use a new material they developed out of recycled and extruded Tetra Pak, which he’ll spin into a full series of paper goods later this year. That’s in addition to the limited-edition design objects, the furniture lines, and the scheme for a massive social housing development he keeps tucked away in his desk, waiting for the time in the near future when he can turn it into reality. In the meantime, we interviewed Jahara to find out more about his point of view.
Design object you wish you’d made: “The lighter. It’s such a magical thing to create an instant flame from an object.”
If you had an unlimited budget for a single piece, what would you make? “Maybe a whole new planet. We’re living in a really chaotic moment, everything’s happening so fast, we have tsunamis and all this pollution — there’s so much that needs to be cleaned up and fixed on this planet that it’s probably worthwhile to think about designing a whole new one.”
Thing you love most about São Paulo: “The Ibirapuera Park with all the gardens from Burle Marx, and the museum of architecture there by Niemeyer. It reminds me of Brasilia. You have the modern art museum, the planetarium, Fashion Week is there — it’s an amazing complex and it’s all right in the middle of a garden.”
Thing you hate most about it: “Cars. São Paulo is on the verge of being stopped by traffic. So we need a proper planning and design of transport solutions here. I cycle usually when possible.”
To any reader who went to design school and is, years later, still making student loan payments month after month, you might want to close your eyes for this one: Rodrigo Almeida — the 34-year-old Brazilian furniture designer who's pals with the Campana brothers, has been featured in Wallpaper, and has made pieces for top galleries like Contrasts and FAT — didn't go to university, not even as an undergrad. What you're looking at here is raw talent, and a career that began when Almeida simply picked up the Brazilian magazine Arc Design six years ago and thought, "I want to do that."
On a shelf in the home office designer Kiel Mead shares with his girlfriend, the performance artist Sarah Boatright, sits a set of drawers stuffed with backstock of his Forget Me Not rings, little string bows cast in precious metals. Mead’s breakout design when he was still studying furniture at Pratt, the rings were the genesis of the 27-year-old’s fascination with casting objects into wearable reminders — of childhood, of holidays, of lost loves, of an old car he once drove. Boatright, 23, also deals with the preservation of memories in her work, dressing up in goofy wigs to make reenactment videos of family Thanksgivings or furtively recorded interactions between strangers, which go on to enjoy eternal life on YouTube. So if you’d expect the couple’s Brooklyn apartment to be decked out with the kind of overstyled chicness typical of two young creatives, one of whom practically runs the Williamsburg branch of The Future Perfect, you’d be mistaken: Like their creations, the possessions they keep on display are more about storytelling than status.
Harry Allen is a happening guy. From his design studio in New York’s East Village, he makes ironic banana bowls and pig banks for Areaware and is one of only three American designers working with the hip Italian furniture brand Skitsch, along with Jason Miller and Todd Bracher. His new Bang perfume bottle is all over the ad pages of major fashion magazines, strategically positioned atop a nude Marc Jacobs, and the skateboarding store Supreme owes its interiors to him. Allen is so evergreen, in fact, that it’s easy to forget the most basic fact of his biography: He’s been doing this for nearly 20 years. “Everyone treats me like I’m some kid, but I’ve been around for a long time,” he says. “When I started in 1993, there was no Moss, no Wallpaper. Philippe Starck was king, and everything was shaped like a horn. I looked at Europe and thought: That’s what I want to be, I want to be like Starck. I want to be Starck.” But while he did follow that model when he set up his own design studio in 1993 — as opposed to joining a corporation like most of his American peers were doing at the time — part of the reason Allen’s presence in the design world always feels so fresh is that unlike Starck, he's constantly reinvented himself along the way.