Angeles Lladro, who was in the city to launch Ram Darbar, talks to T. Krithika Reddy about what it takes to remain the leader for over half-a-century in the pretty world of porcelain sculptures

“Can I have some masala chai, please,” Angeles Lladro asks the waiter as she enters the coffee shop at Taj Coromandel. Wearing a chic black dress and a string of pearls around her neck, she reflects the grace of the Lladro figurines her family has been creating for six decades. “Masala chai is a must whenever I come to India. I’m fascinated by the cultural abundance of this country. There’s so much difference even between two closely located metros such as Bangalore and Chennai.”

This ability to soak in varied cultures and celebrate them in the form of porcelain masterpieces is fundamental to the Spanish brand’s transition from a small enterprise to a global empire. In Chennai to launch Ram Darbar, the latest in the Spirit of India series, Angeles, vice-president, Lladro, talks about the Ramayana quartet with a rare passion. “We launched Ram and Sita last year. But the picture wasn’t complete without Lakshman and Hanuman. Now with their inclusion, Ram Darbar has a sense of wholeness. When the inspiration is Indian, the colour palette is unique. Developing it was a special experience for us. The level of detailing is unimaginable because of the complexity of the attire, the jewellery and the flowers.” For a company that believes in faithful reproduction of cultures, every minute touch matters, so the pieces take years to develop.

While it’s the gods from the Hindu pantheon for India, it’s Farewell of the Samurai for Japan, the zodiac animals for China and boy scouts for America. But Angeles says there’s no conscious attempt to go local. “For us, inspiration comes first. After 60 years, we are still alive only because of our inspiration. We encourage our artists to travel to different countries and take note of cultural nuances. Market demands are incidental. A major part of our collection revolves around staple subjects such as romance, serenity of the cherubs and the beauty of Nature. Local themes are value additions that have helped us reach a larger clientele. Religion and symbology play a significant role in our repertoire.”

Whether it is the elegant Ram Darbar or the Queen of the Nile (a piece that portrays Queen Nefertari and her entourage of lithe dancers and languid musicians on a lapiz lazuli-toned boat), every sculpture has an engaging narrative. Peace and positivity are Lladro’s leitmotifs. So all the creations – even that of the man in the Stormy Sea – reflect a sense of quietude. “Porcelain is a challenging medium. Getting the expressions, anatomy and emotions right is an arduous task. Queen of Nile, for instance, took six years to develop. We keep trying till we perfect it. Most people think the figurines are made from a single mould. But we develop a few hundred! Sometimes, even simple things like the fingers on one palm require three moulds since they have to be life-like. There’s so much happening in a kiln. A small oversight can ruin a piece that involves months of hard work. Painting is another area that requires deft hands. In fact, we have a separate team of senior artists for painting faces alone. Our research team constantly experiments with the medium to come up with innovative compositions. We are also exploring fresh frontiers of creativity by designing chandeliers and table lamps.”

City of Porcelain

The Lladro figurines, the piece de resistance of haute homes, first took shape in a Moorish furnace in the backyard of farmer-brothers Juan, Jose and Vincente Lladro’s ancestral home in Valencia, Spain. From a tiny artisan workshop it became an enterprise with word-of-mouth publicity. Gradually, the pieces were shipped to lavish homes in the West and Lladro’s operations moved to the massive City of Porcelain in Valencia, where everything, including rigorous training of the artisans, is done in-house. Today, Lladro is present in 120 countries and the second-generation Lladro siblings Angeles and Rosa, zip across the globe for launches and signing sessions with privileged customers.

Interestingly, Lladro’s first stop in India was Chennai, at Ispahani Centre in 2000. Now, the stand-alone store has moved to the upmarket Bergamo Mall on Khader Nawaz Khan Road. “Ganesha is an all-time star here. When there’s an emotional connect with a product, it does well.” The success of Lladro’s cross-cultural approach to design shows in the line-up of clients waiting to meet Angeles and get their pre-booked Ram Darbar signed by her at the store. And she obliges everyone with a genial smile. “A bit of Spain for the world.”

Family do

Angeles' eight-year-old daughter is already leaving her imprint on the famed figurine legacy. “A couple of ballerinas that are coming up are inspired by her doodles,” beams a proud mother.