Success in the design business can depend more on image than on product. High-quality furniture and fabrics can set a company apart, but if they are sold with a good story, that is even better.
So maybe it is not a surprise that two first-time exhibitors at this year’s Salone del Mobile are pushing their companies’ compelling narratives as much as the textiles they are introducing in Milan. With both, the tale is personal, though colored by the deep traditions of the countries they call home.
For Hosoo, in Japan, the accompanying story goes back to 1688, when the company was founded in Kyoto’s historic Nishijin district. Its CEO and president, Masataka Hosoo, boasts that he is the 12th generation of his family to manage a business that began by making textiles and kimonos for the imperial court of its day and has maintained a position as one of the country’s most influential producers of woven goods.
Across the globe, in Bogotá, Colombia, Verdi has a background that is shorter in duration though equally infused with a nationalist vibe. Carlos Vera Dieppa, the father of the company’s current creative director, Tomás Vera, began honing novel rug-making techniques in 1995, working with weavers of the rough sacks used to transport coffee beans.
“In a way, you can say every rug that you see at Verdi is an evolution of a Colombian coffee sack,” Mr. Vera said in a video conversation from his studio in Bogotá. “There are definitely few things that are more Colombian than a coffee sack.”
Mr. Vera’s father devised hand-operated looms that enabled him to add metal threads to rugs. Gold, copper and silver became the raw materials of his trade.
“But he closed down his workshop in 2007, and he actually sold everything by parts,” his son explained. “Then in 2010 he passed away, and that’s when I decided to retake his work.”
Under Mr. Vera’s leadership, the company has expanded into three branches, turning its textiles into home goods, such as the fabrics used to make the new line of wall coverings it is showing at the design fair; fashion accessories, including its highly stylized handbags based on traditional Colombian mochila bucket bags; and works of art that are meant to be purely decorative.
But Verdi’s reputation remains rooted in its signature practice of relying on both natural fibers and metals. Products include satchels made by combining baby alpaca wool and silver-plated thread, and rugs constructed of 100 percent copper. The company also makes goods from horsehair and plantain fibers sourced in the Amazon region, and recent designs have been inspired by several objects associated with Colombian culture, such as peacocks, coral snakes and emeralds.
Representing the country well is important, Mr. Vera said, because Verdi is the first Colombian studio to appear as a solo exhibitor at the Milan fair.
“When it comes to high-end design, it’s usually conquered by the European market, or the Italian market — or the French when it comes to weaving,” he said. “Verdi is our take on Latin American high-end design.”
Similar to Verdi, Hosoo has broadened its business plan under current leadership. That is partly out of need, Mr. Hosoo said. Kimonos have fallen out of fashion as a traditional ceremonial garb in Japan, and the company had to find new outlets for its wares. It decided to look internationally.
Among the recent innovations: developing a loom that can manufacture textiles as wide as 150 centimeters, the current global standard for textile fabrication and much bigger than the 40 centimeters its traditional looms produced.
That enabled the company to expand its client base outside Japan. Among its major customers is the fashion house Dior, which uses Hosoo textiles for fabrics and furniture coverings in its retail showrooms throughout the world.
“One thing we are careful of is not to normalize thinking processes that have built up over many, many years,” Mr. Hosoo said, speaking in a video conversation from his company’s Kyoto headquarters. If something exists just because it is standard practice, he said, it “needs to be challenged and also needs to be changed.”
Hosoo’s presence at the Milan fair allows it to introduce products that have come out of its evolved thinking, which mixes old expectations for refinement with current realities of supply and demand. Front and center is its Heritage Nova line, featuring textiles made from hemp and silk, that was inspired by one of the company’s original cloths from the 17th century.
Mr. Hosoo said his company still held fast to tradition and demonstrated a responsibility to generate products worthy of its roots serving the aristocracy. It still employs a 20-step weaving process that the Nishijin region is famous for and that includes the specialized use of haku, fine gold and silver washi paper shreds that are woven with other fibers to make finished textiles.
Similar to Verdi, it manufactures nearly all of its wares. Hosoo’s products are made at its small in-house factory or procured from collaborators within a few miles of its Kyoto headquarters.
The leaders of both companies said they could save money by outsourcing manufacturing, shifting work away from their big cities and toward rural areas where labor costs are cheaper. But having the control of local production “gives us more flexibility and increases our way of being more creative and more innovative,” Mr. Hosoo said.
It also helps maintain a balance between the old, handmade, locally inspired style that frames the companies’ origin tales with their goals of expanding business globally.
“We’re a team of 80 direct employees, with about 45 artisans, and we also work with 30 families in different parts of Colombia and Latin America sourcing our natural fibers,” Mr. Vera said.
That makes his company big enough to serve the world, but intimate enough to stick to its story.
“Basically,” he said, “that fusion between contemporary and artisanal is what defines us.”