Inside Humberto Campana’s fantastical world

Humberto Campana doesn’t like noise. We’re at the VIP Lounge of the recently-concluded AD Design Show, and the rise and fall of conversation seems to physically irk the Brazilian designer. We decide to have our chat, instead, in the Power Talks hall, where he’ll be taking the dais in a couple of hours. He cuts an unassuming figure, dressed in a classic white shirt and blue jeans, which is in sharp contrast to his vibrant designs that have permanent homes at MoMA in New York and Musée Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Inside Humberto Campana’s fantastical world

Quick to smile, Humberto, 66, who in previous interviews has spoken about silence and long walks stimulating his imagination, shares, “I’m very intuitive. I’m not rational, I don’t have plans. Things happen, and I [follow my] gut more than my mind.” And when inspiration strikes, he immediately documents them. “I didn’t sleep till 5 am,” he tells me, of his arrival in Mumbai. “All night long, I kept creating, designing, taking notes of new ideas.”

Surreal statements

One half of the family-run Estudio Campana, Humberto, along with his brother Fernando, has become international design royalty for their fusing of Brazilian heritage with a global sensibility. Their insouciant style, which finds inspiration in unexpected places — think chairs that are a hat-tip to confectioneries served at weddings or fuzzy couches made from leather teddy bears — is a mixture of the “cultures, languages and architecture that co-exist” in their home city, São Paulo. Their creations also almost always tell a story or comment on current issues like sustainability or climate change. For example, their latest collection, Hybridism, showcased at London’s The Carpenters Workshop Gallery a few months ago, interpreted present-day political instability and environmental vulnerability through 13 surrealist furniture pieces that reference Noah’s Ark.

Insta ready
  • As the conversation winds down, I point out the omnipresence of screens today and ask what it does to the creative process. The designer’s social media records his designs and daily observations — think snapshots of colourful socks he spotted in Africa, or a cow resting outside the Mumbai Port Trust. Humberto, who confesses to being addicted to his cellphone, says, “I think Instagram is important; it is an archive of ‘contemporaneity’. It is very difficult today to be singular, but Instagram helps you to not follow trends, to keep your essence.”

But Humberto adds that their work can be very particular, too, with “people who come looking for us, knowing what to expect from us”. This has led to a series of collaborations with brands as varied as Lacoste and Louis Vuitton, and special editions for clients like singers Kanye West and Travis Scott. For the Campana brothers, who have no training in design (Humberto studied law while Fernando pursued architecture), the collaborations are learning experiences. “I bring dreams and they [the brands] materialise our poetry.” Citing the example of Louis Vuitton, he says, “Their philosophy matches ours, which is the handmade, and keeping alive traditions that are disappearing.”

This philosophy is reflected in their unusual material palette, which includes everyday, often repurposed, things such as wood scraps, bamboo, ropes, but also rag dolls, plastic tubes and ecological fur. The duo also loves to co-opt and modernise local techniques for conceptual pieces, like the new Sereia Pirarucu lounge chair — made from Pirarucu leather, the discarded skin of the giant Amazonian fish.

Inside Humberto Campana’s fantastical world

A creative mash-up

Calling themselves ‘hybrid’, Humberto says, “Sometimes I don’t know what I am. Am I a designer or an artist? I don’t care; I think creativity in this century is to make bridges between disciplines. I love to explore different universes.” Unencumbered by conventional wisdom, their designs straddle a fine line between the expressive and the functional. Sometimes they seem physical manifestations of flights of fancy. Like the popular series of chairs made with a veritable menagerie of stuffed toys (Disney commissioned one with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, while Fendi opted for a banquette of hairy monsters).

Travel, says Humberto, is how they learn. “I like to get out of my comfort zone to find new landscapes, new people, new universes to collaborate or experience.” The inevitable question then is if he sees a possible collaboration with Indian craftsmen. He is unequivocally open to the idea. “I’d love to work with a community of embroiders or weavers,” he says, bringing up Instituto Campana that he co-founded in 2009 as an example of what they’ve done back home. The institute helps revive artisan techniques native to Brazil.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 5:31:09 PM |

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