Melbourne interior designer Fiona Lynch and Gabriel Hendifar, co-founder of New York’s Apparatus Studio, discuss the brand’s latest work at its Milan showroom.
Debuting five new collections under the title Act III at Milan Design Week, Apparatus Studio’s creative director Gabriel Hendifar took inspiration from his Iranian heritage for a range of exquisitely crafted pieces. They intertwine Persian techniques such as Khatam, an ancient style of marquetry, with classical Western forms, and materials including alabaster, fluted brass and travertine.
Fiona Lynch: Is it true that your aim with this collection was to collaborate with Iranian craftmakers?
Gabriel Hendifar: Yes. The idea for it started from a box I inherited from my grandmother, who came to the United States as a political refugee from Iran in the late 1970s. This collection is my interpretation of what life might have been like for the people I love who came from Iran. It’s a bit of a fantasy and a futuristic interpretation, because I’ve not personally been there but have heard these nostalgic stories through my parents. We [Hendifar and his Apparatus Studio co-founder Jeremy Anderson] found a wonderful designer in Los Angeles, Shirin Ehya, who’s been going to Tehran all her life and has a great relationship with a woman there who works in this traditional style of Khatam marquetry. It’s a very male-dominated art form and she’s the only woman we’re aware of working in this way. Suddenly it was possible for us to make this limited-edition collection — but then US trade sanctions against Iran were expanded to include all art objects. This has made it impossible for us to create the pieces in any commercial context.
Lynch: So these four initial designs are made in Iran? Hendifar: Yes. The process is really incredible. Each one of these tiny points of kaleidoscopic beauty is all fine, reed-like pieces. The white is camel bone, there’s brass and various types of wood. Each reed is glued into a block and sheets are shaved off the top. It’s essentially like a veneer that’s then steamed onto forms. It’s a very specific skill set — and a style that I have fallen in love with.
Lynch: But now you can’t even bring one of these artists to work with you in New York?
Hendifar: No, as there would be visa issues, but it’s more than that. Even if you brought the artist over, you can’t bring the materials. It’s a conundrum. We really tried every possible way to figure it out. So these pieces have become symbols of this inability to connect. There’s now this tangible thing I can hold in my hand — but we can’t bring it to the world, other than behind glass.
Lynch: Hopefully, that might change soon.
Hendifar: Yes, to me, the work is also hopeful. It’s an idea of what might be if things do go in a different direction. Lynch: Your work is restrained but you obviously do a lot of editing and refining of your ideas.
Hendifar: Thank you. That’s the goal. I’m glad to hear that translates, especially when I’m trying to tiptoe into this world where, to me, the references are more decorative, rich and ornate. And I’m wrestling with how to do that but still have a consistent design language. People know us for having a certain aesthetic. We want to bring them in a direction that still feels familiar but pushes them a little bit outside their comfort zone. This is the balance with everything we do. That’s how you keep it interesting.