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.

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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.

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