A rare cowrie has surfaced from the shores of Mauritius, embodying in it the uniqueness and the vibrancy of the nature surrounding the paradise isles. It’s Cypraea, a brand that is creating ripples in the world of furniture design.
The island of Mauritius, located in the middle of the turquoise Indian Ocean is fringed by more than 150 km of white sandy beaches; its lagoons are protected by the world’s third largest coral reef; its hinterland offers lush, dramatic landscapes; and the country is inhabited by a multi-racial, peaceful people.
It is an island comparable to a beautiful shell which, despite being small, possesses a rarity and charm that makes it to be sought-after, cherished and preserved like a treasure.
Cypraea was born from this very idea; from a desire to connect people to nature. As a brand, Cypraea seeks to convey the preciousness of the land through innovative and original designs, which transcend the boundaries of mere “furniture”. The exclusivity and inimitable uniqueness of the island is reflected in its collections.
Cypraea takes inspiration from the soul of Mauritius to create some stunning, unique pieces of art that can be used as furniture, says Cedric Lincoln, Managing Director of Mavenci and Cypraea, two family businesses owned by Lincoln and three other Mauritian partners.
Mavenci was created in 1974 and is currently the oldest furniture manufacturer on the island.
Speaking on the idea behind launching the Cypraea brand, Lincoln says: “For more than 45 years, we have been delivering to luxury hotels, villas and private clients custom pieces designed by interior designers or simply designed by ourselves. In 2017, I wanted to start a luxury line of furniture to be exported worldwide and my partners supported me in the project. The same year, we went to the bank with my business plan. We created Cypraea in 2018 and started to export in 2019.”
“Cypraea has a different business model than Mavenci, although both companies have the same shareholders,” he clarifies.
Elaborating on the inspiration behind the brand, Lincoln says: “The first inspiration was my own country’s soul, something that could not be found elsewhere in the world. I wanted to produce timeless pieces that parents could bequeath to their children, like it was done in the past.”
Taking us through his concept, Lincoln explains: “At the very beginning, the vision I had in mind was an apartment in northern Europe where the temperature is 4 deg C outside and where somebody would enter and walk inside through the ambiance of our island.
“To be able to achieve this, I needed a foreign designer; someone who could see things that we, as Mauritians, tend to forget. I needed our soul to be transmitted to the works we create and this could be done only through emotions. To transmit these emotions, I needed a talented outsider with great design skills and a fresh vision of our island’s beauty,” he explains.
Message of hope
The search ended at the door of Francesco Maria Messina, an Italian architect and designer, who studied in France and in the US, and has vast international experience. Messina joined the Cypraea team in 2018 and accepted the challenge to create a new collection inspired by Mauritius and its nature.
“Messina’s fresh vision, his talent, along with his humanistic background and deep love for nature, together with my expertise, and the team’s entrepreneurial courage, allowed the company to create the concept behind Cypraea,” says Lincoln.
“The inspiration derived from nature, our remote location in the middle of the ocean and the limited edition furniture lines (nine pieces worldwide) are what differentiates us from any other furniture brands. I want Cypraea to become a message of hope for all islands of the world and other developing countries,” declares Lincoln.
“The brand’s vision also is to create a better future for our children through the respect for Mother Nature. We feel that we are the last generation able to make the difference against climate change and coming from an island surrounded with luxurious nature, our message is bold,” he adds.
What are the major influences behind the creations?
Messina’ s challenge wasn’t an easy one: transmit and represent Mauritius, its nature, its colours and its identity through a series of furniture pieces. To do so, he had to fully understand the island and discover its many different ambiances.
After a deep analysis and a hard study and exploration of the island, he came up with five different themes that, put together, would be able to portray Mauritius and some of its many facets.
These five collections are: Aqua, Rochester, Odyssey, Naturae and Rising Ocean. Each of them depicts a different aspect of the island’s nature and transmits a different message. Not only are the pieces aesthetically appealing, but behind each of them stands a strong concept and a deep reflection of themes related to the environmental crisis (such as climate change or deforestation), says Lincoln.
The Aqua collection, for example, is inspired by the liquid geometries that can be observed in the crystalline waters of Mauritius lagoons. The structure is built in sand and it’s an ode to the white sandy beaches that surround the island and to the refraction of the sun on the ocean surface, explains Messina.
Rochester Falls are one of the most spectacular sites on the island of Mauritius. The relatively rapid cooling of an ancient thick lava flow caused the formation of these distinctive hexagonal and polygonal column-like basalt rocks. Their geometries are the inspiration for the ‘Rochester’ collection which emulates Rochester Falls’ columnar basalts through a wooden-brass topography, as though the whole pieces originated from a single block of timber crystalised into a multitude of hexagonal columns.
The ‘Odyssey’ collection is designed to let the surrounding environment exist and speak for itself, instead of imposing the design on it. The roughness of the lava and coral stone bases is balanced by the perfectly smooth mirrored surfaces of the cabinets above, he says.
The pieces in this collection aim to surprise and to astound through the contrast between the natural elements and man-made materials that merge into one another, without blending.
The ‘Naturae’ collection is an ode to the endemic nature of Mauritius. The pieces that are included in the collection all celebrate the unicity of the island’s flora and geological features through the use of pure materials such as solid walnut wood, stone, lava stone, coral stone, marble and glass.
Lastly, the ‘Rising Ocean’ collection aims to create awareness about the global environmental issues and to warn that some of the islands of the Mauritian archipelago like Agalega, Diego Garcia, Rodrigues and Mauritius are already experiencing severe disasters linked to the death of the coral barrier reef, coastal erosion and more violent cyclones in the recent years, says Messina.
Cypraea tries to use uncommon materials such as lava and coral stone, lava and coral sand, glittering leather, 100 per cent natural bark, water-effect glass, solid bronze casted from real branches, etc.
“These materials make our pieces so unique that they are very difficult to copy due to their sophistication,” says Lincoln.
Art or functional?
To this question, Lincoln remarks: “We are floating between two worlds which is quite uncommon. We showcase our works in art galleries, while we also sell directly to clients of various horizons. Our pieces look like art pieces and at the same time they are functional too. They actually look even more beautiful when you open them; like a small jewel in a box!”
Why a limited collection of nine? Lincoln has this answer: “Natural resources are today very scarce and everything in the nature is made different. We followed the same philosophy for Cypraea. We have made only limited editions to express this scarcity. Even in the same batch of a nine limited edition collection, none of the pieces will ever look the same. You can actually say that each piece is unique and this is possible only because we use natural materials. For example, no stone, sand, wood, bark will ever look the same. All we do at Cypraea is unique.”
Speaking about the unique pieces produced by the company, he says the ensemble of works designed by Messina are heterogeneous and, therefore, the collections offer quite a vast choice for different tastes: from the minimalistic shapes of the Odyssey cabinets that are designed as “simple” mirrored geometric volumes, which let nature speak for itself, to more “baroque” elements like the Rochester cabinets, or the bark cabinets, all built in wood, which are far more complex and articulated.
Other pieces like the Aqua bar cube have become iconic of the brand, thanks to its squared volume and rigid geometry in contrast with the organic-liquid patterns of its facade-mirrors, which reflect the environment.
On the other hand, the Aqua shelf looks like a sculpture crafted in the island’s lagoons by the hard work of millions of microscopic corals. Its light structure is made of sand and it appears to be floating in the sea. Its shelves seem invisible, thanks to their mirrored surfaces that reflect the rest of the structure and the surroundings, he continues.
Finally, the pieces within the Rising Ocean collection represent a strong environmental message, about climate change and rising sea levels. These tables perfectly express Cypraea’s main message as an environmental ambassador, aiming to stimulate awareness about the global environmental crisis and causes behind it.
What are Cypraea’s main markets?
Lincoln is quick to remind us that the company is a new entrant to the global marketplace. “We don’t have any main market as such yet, as Cypraea is pretty new. But we can already see Africa taking the lead, followed closely by Europe and now the US. Our products are showcased permanently at Rossana Orlandi Gallery in Milan and also at Mint Gallery in London. I really hope that the Gulf markets will appreciate our furniture and the philosophy behind our brand,” he says.
“I want to show that Mauritian people have the drive to succeed even from their small island sitting in the middle of the ocean. Selling at least one piece of our furniture collections in each country of the world is my dream,” he declares passionately.
Speaking on the potential for the products in the Gulf markets, he says the company has just started its marketing in the Gulf and the feedback is good. “People in the Gulf tend to like the gold colour and the gold versions of our collections are already finding some interest. Our furniture often appeals to yacht and private jet owners; so the Gulf will surely be successful for us,” he predicts.
However, he says the company does not have plans to take part in any exhibition this year in the Gulf; and will be, most probably, exhibiting with the Mauritius pavilion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai.
“Our market is so niche that standard exhibitions, promotions and marketing plans normally do not work. Our market is just a matter of contacts and word of mouth – one client buys from us and refers his friends to us and this is how it works,” Lincoln remarks.
How big is the team?
Cypraea has a team of 50 dedicated people. “I want to keep the company to the human dimensions only and not become industrial. We will produce only what we can, even if we have to increase the delivery lead-times. Anyway, it would be impossible for us to produce 10 pieces in one week simply because of the complexity of the furniture,” he says.
“In terms of design, Messina has designed the current 2019 and 2020 collections and the aim is to have other designers for future collections but not too many. Cypraea is not a designer brand, it’s a unique concept by itself.”
To a question on whether the brand will create works to client concepts, Lincoln says: “Yes, of course, we could do it either through Cypraea if it is a modification of an existing collection; or through Mavenci if it is a different concept not inspired by nature. At Mavenci, we have been manufacturing for other designers for 46 years, so we are able to do it. To be honest, we already have such requests but we are not able to respond to all of them. It depends on the time given and the complexity of the project. On our side, we tend to like the most challenging ones… the ones people normally say impossible to do.”
What about creating pieces for the hospitality sector? Cypraea has not yet supplied to this market. Lincoln explains: “We haven’t supplied to the hotels yet because of the limited editions of our works. But we could do it, for example, in a hotel or villa for very special suites.
“However, I am already in the process of starting a new luxury collection at Mavenci. It will be a different concept: no signature pieces, no limited editions but more classical pieces that are sophisticated with very innovative and natural materials. These collections will be very classy and produced with the same quality and skilled craftsmanship as Cypraea. These could be supplied to the luxury hospitality sector,” he adds.
Lincoln says proudly that Cypraea works adorn homes and offices of some of the wealthiest people in the world. “Our market is very niche and clients often know each other. Our clients are the ones who want to be different and they want to be able show to their friends something that cannot be found elsewhere. Mauritius, being so small and far from any continent, and Cypraea, being so special with its unique concept, wealthy people tend to like it … just like a rare shell treasure found in middle of the ocean,” Lincoln concludes.
– By Sree Bhat
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