DePadova's quiet beauty

Have a seat: The sought-after DePadova range in the Generation Furniture store. (Oupa Nkosi)

Have a seat: The sought-after DePadova range in the Generation Furniture store. (Oupa Nkosi)

Johannesburg tries hard to be all things to all people, but when it comes to following global trends, necessity is the mother of invention. And because we do not have a museum of contemporary design, the local shopping mall will just have to do.

Given the concentration of money in the near north, it is not surprising now to find esteemed brands, previously unavailable, in the windows overlooking the marble halls where Jo’burgers enjoy their feeding frenzy. Some of those brands would sit comfortably in a world-class museum.

Haute Italian furniture brand DePadova has arrived in Hyde Park Corner. And you will not find this sleek, understated range of household items anywhere else locally.

Mattia Crippa, DePadova export manager and specialist, visited Hyde Park this month to launch the range to local consumers. He sat in the airy Generation boutique, looking preppy, quite at home among the beautiful things he schleps around the planet.

“I am very interested in this ­country,” he said in his smooth ­Milanese accent. (This is pure presumption, as I really do not know what a Milanese accent sounds like.) Crippa, however, knows a Jo’burg accent because he passes through regularly for work and pleasure — he enjoys wildlife — and thinks Jo’burg is “a very nice a-place, with very nice a-people and there is a lot of opportunity here”.

Like a true Italian, you get the feeling that Crippa would be prepared to die for his nation’s brand, an emotion that is infectious. As he talks, you begin to feel equally protective of the chairs, tables and modular sideboards that you will never quite be able to afford.

But that is the thing about good design. It takes you with it wherever it goes. DePadova itself was a brand started as a result of an Italian’s love of all things Scandinavian. In 1956, the official biography tells us, Maddalena Corti De Padova, together with her husband Fernando, began to import Scandinavian furniture and objects to Milan, from where she would begin distribution throughout Italy.

A few years later, Maddalena and Fernando met the legendary designer Charles Eames, an encounter that would change their lives (see story below). Through entrepreneur and designer Herman Miller, the De Padovas would begin to manufacture ground-breaking American designs for Europe.

“Maddalena was very powerful,” said Crippa of the mother of his present boss, Luca De Padova.

“She believed in beauty and she wanted to change the way of living, starting with Italians and then moving further into the European market. During the Fifties and Sixties, Italians went for heavy things, classical things. But she came with light things, pure lines.”

The same could be said, ­traditionally, of South Africans across all cultures. With our colonial heritage and certainly in the homes of affluent blacks, the stereotypical image we have is of carved furniture in dark wood — classically European, with African accoutrements added for relevant flavour.

Crippa said he had identified what he believed South Africans now required: “Very natural things like leather, beautiful fabrics, genuine pieces. I see people interested
in contemporary design with attention to the environment and they want to touch the quality. The fact that the things are produced in Italy gives an extra value that people appreciate.”

DePadova is growing rapidly through partnerships in emerging markets and South Africa is but one. Others include China where, in Beijing, DePadova is going for a “lifestyle concept of fashion, furniture and food, all in one emporium”.

In the Middle East, Crippa said he was, characteristically, working with a connection of a royal family to establish his brand in Riyadh and from there, DePadova will begin to infiltrate the entire Gulf region.

The museum pieces are in the showroom. Now the test is to see whether discerning Jo’burgers are prepared to invest in their quiet beauty.

Generation Furniture, Shop 14, Middle Mall, Hyde Park Corner, Jan Smuts Avenue. Tel: 011 325 6302

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse is the arts editor of the Mail & Guardian, a position he has held since 1999. He has edited two anthologies: Positions (Steidl, Jacana Media 2010) about artists engaging with politics in South Africa today, and The Invisible Ghetto (GMP, 1994) a compilation of creative writing about gender. His essays have appeared in collected works about arts and culture here and abroad. He has worked in the theatre for over a decade as an actor, writer and senior publicist at the Market Theatre. Read more from Matthew Krouse

Client Media Releases

Winners for 2017 GAP Innovation Competition announced
Investing in cryptocurrencies
Project ETA at Palletways