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If there ever was going to be a fusion of furniture-making cultures that could capture the imagination of a global audience, Japan and Italy would be the likely candidates. The artisanal elegance of the work found in these creative nations is an obvious link. So thought Roberto Gavazzi, ceo of Italian furniture-making group Boffi De Padova, when he made the decision to partner with Tokyo’s Time & Style, which is led by Ryutaro Yoshida (pictured, on left, with Gavazzi) to develop a furniture collection. Under the name “Time & Style edition”, furniture made in the firm’s Hokkaido factory and artisan workshops across Japan now has a vessel that can reach a global audience.

It’s a major investment for Boffi De Padova, which is known for high-end furniture made in the manufacturing regions around Milan. The firm is making the move to add products from beyond Italy into a distribution network comprising 70 monobrand shops across 50 countries.

The two heads of the joint venture sat down with monocle to explain the business and creative ideas behind the newly launched collection.

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Ryutaro, in recent years, we’ve seen Japanese architects like Kengo Kuma enjoying success in the West. But no Japanese furniture brand has truly made it there. How much of this partnership was about growing the recognition of your brand beyond Japan?
Ryutaro Yoshida: While the Italian industry is modernising their way of production, in Japan much of the production remains more handmade – it’s a very different way to work. But at the same time we’ve seen many Italian furniture companies working with Japanese designers because they like their approach. At Time & Style we also see the international appeal of the Japanese way of producing furniture, which can be viewed as sustainable and a way of looking back to tradition and promoting authenticity. This partnership with Boffi De Padova allows us to bring this furniture-making culture to a global audience; it might be the first case of a Japanese furniture company doing so.

So you’re the test for whether this could be successful?
RY: Every furniture company in Japan is interested in what we’re doing; they all want to be more international but few have had success. We think that this partnership will open a new door for Japanese companies.

Roberto, the Italian furniture industry has a reputation for being proud of its heritage and being very pro-Italian. What do your peers think of you teaming up with a Japanese company?
Roberto Gavazzi: This is something we’re very curious to hear about. But I’m sure that this adds something different, which we badly need in the Italian industry. We are all nice companies doing good work; pushing quality and beauty. But it’s becoming so difficult to understand the difference between one company and another, or one project and another. We want to work on the content of what we do as an organisation. Our group gathers a mix of brands, including adl, a door company we recently acquired. We hope that this approach is recognised as special and intelligent because we feel that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These very interesting individual parts work together within our group and we hope that captures our audience’s imagination.

What drew you to collaborating with Time & Style?
RG: I fell in love with their presentation at Stockholm Furniture Fair in 2019; it did not feel commercial at all. They were showing beautiful, traditional cabinets where the influence of the past was clear. They were visibly delicate, well-made and organised on the stand in rows like the Terracotta Army. It was so original and Ryutaro’s selection of objects inside the cabinets immediately communicated the sophistication of Japan’s artisanal capacity. The presentation and the atmosphere that Ryutaro created were unlike anything else at the fair. Then I met Ryutaro and found out the full extent of the work Time & Style does and his personality, passion and skill as a businessperson.

And Ryutaro, while your work has certainly caught Roberto’s eye, what is it about your products that drives you to believe that they’ll have success internationally?
RY: We have enough customers in Japan but through my work I’ve discovered so many interesting Japanese crafts and a lot of artisans, across the country – and I think there are many more to be found. We have capacity to do more production in Japan. But craft is quickly disappearing here and I am starting to feel that people outside Japan are becoming more appreciative and understanding of our culture than our own people. If my job is to reawaken our traditional design and craft culture, and make it more active, I need an international audience to do it with. We’re seeing architects like Kengo Kuma, Shigeru Ban and Tadao Ando doing something similar with traditional architecture abroad but the furniture industry hasn’t caught up; it’s my task to do this.

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