In Conversation: Nani Marquina
All good things come in threes
Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of NaniMarquina! What first comes to mind when looking back?
Nani Marquina: My goal was always to translate the traditional rug into a contemporary design idiom. To that end, I traveled a lot and was privileged to experience for myself the traditional forms of rug production in those countries where they tend to be made. It is a process that has been to the benefit of both sides, namely both the weavers and myself. It’s a mutual learning process. For me the key milestone was when I resolved to relocate production to Pakistan and India.
How did that decision come about?
Nani Marquina: In 1993 we received a technically complex assignment for a contract project. At the time, we were producing our rugs mechanically in Spain, however this technique limited our creativity. That contract project was crucial; we decided to embark on our biggest adventure to date: visiting India with the desire to discover local handcrafting techniques and knowledge about the culture and symbolism of rugs. This introduction to traditional rug making led to new production methods that render each rug unique in design and quality - a distinguishing feature of the brand. After this test, we decided to relocate the production to northern India, where we continue today. India offers unlimited possibilities for rug craftsmanship. And the wool is different because the climate is different. In Pakistan, the weavers use wool from Afghanistan that is really thick and tough because of the mountain climate. They use all of the wool from the sheep, not just the “pretty” parts. If you dye that wool you get far more natural results as the basis is not so “clean.” Moreover, the dying process tends to involve natural materials, which unlike chemical dyes always bring an unforeseeable element into play.
Does the fact that the rugs are made in Pakistan and India also influence your design work?
Nani Marquina: The local culture always influences the design. The passion of these countries invariably comes to bear in my creative work. And this is also true as regards the designers with whom I collaborate, as in the case of “Doshi Levien.” Nipa Doshi has British and Indian roots that can be felt in her work, and thus in the final instance in the design of the rug which we came up with together. The influences are omnipresent. There is however a big difference between Pakistan and India, as in Pakistan it tends to be earthen colors that take pride of place, brown tones. In India you can draw on the entire color palette, a true festival of tones and hues.
If you were to give your younger self advice, what would it be?
Nani Marquina: From the very outset I had a strong link to my work with rugs, but was somehow distanced from the market. The advice I would therefore give myself from today’s point of view would be not to lose sight of clients’ needs, even when you are in the midst of the development process.
Your father Rafael Marquina was a pioneer of Spanish design. Did he support you when you resolved to become a designer yourself?
Nani Marquina: Thanks to my parents I simply grew up with design around me. However, my father did hesitate for a moment when I told him that I intended to become a designer. Back then, design was not a big thing in Spain at all. He said: Nani, that’s going to be complicated. People have little understanding for design and it’ll be twice as hard for a female designer. He felt it would be better for me to simply work in the existing interior design market. So at the beginning he didn’t really support me, but essentially tried to protect me. It’s just that I’m a rebellious person and therefore became a designer anyhow. The difficulty in the early days was working out how to conduct customer relationships. If you design things, you’re alone with your creative process. Factoring the market into your creative work and getting out there and selling things, now that I found difficult. I later learnt to listen to the market and then respond in my work to what I’d heard. The current collection, for example, is a good mix of my creativity and present market requirements.
Do you have a design philosophy?
Nani Marquina: A rug is always very present in a house; it is often the first thing you see when entering a room. For that reason, the emotions that you transport with the rug are really important. For me, the texture of the rug is the most important thing, the surface I give it. I really enjoy watching the weaving process. And nature per se is certainly a great source of inspiration for me. I wish to convey the fascination I feel when I am out in nature through the medium of my rugs. I think that is also what makes the top fashion designers successful. They manage to enable people to feel better when wearing their products. Things mustn’t be too complicated as life is already hard enough as it is.
What emotion did you seek to impart with your current “Tres” collection?
Nani Marquina: “Tres” is an homage to the traditional craft of weaving. I combined three rugs using three different yarns, namely wool, felt and cotton. The emphasis here is on appreciating traditions and highlighting the beauty of the details. In “Tres” you can actually see the manufacturing process, can easily discern the different thicknesses of the yarns, and even the tassels are genuine and weren’t simply stitched on retroactively. In fact it’s the very first rug I’ve designed with tassels. I really like the collection as it is so lively and open; nothing gets covered up and disguised. The creative process is so clearly evident it is as if I were weaving the rug myself. Here, the number “three” is very harmonious; three yarns, three rugs, one triptych.
How did your fascination with the traditional craft of weaving come about?
Nani Marquina: I feel certain that again has to do with my family. What’s more, technology and I are not really friends. I don’t like artificial fibers; wool simply links me more closely to nature. When I am outside in nature, witnessing the beauty of the countryside while traveling, then I’m happy. I consider the traditional craft of weaving as the basis for thinking outside the box. For example, with the “Bicicleta” collection, which boasts traditional craftsmanship but uses bicycle inner tubes as the material. Here, we created a new texture using an old artisanal trade, and one that is highly robust and suitable for outdoor use, too. Sometimes I come across weaving techniques by chance, such as with a skirt from Ghana, where the technique used was not dissimilar to that for “Tres” – the combination of many unique parts to form a greater whole. When traveling I always end up buying countless fabrics.
You really prioritize environmental protection and good working conditions. How do you control production standards locally?
Nani Marquina: We are highly confident in what our suppliers do. Moreover, our quality control section is really stringent. Moreover, the design team travels two or three times a year to the production sites to monitor conditions on the ground. We want most definitely to avoid any situation where there are children working for our company and we support social projects locally, such as the “Care & Fair” initiative, which offers kids an opportunity to go to school. New ideas arise in connection with such projects, such as the design for “Kala,” which was inspired by a drawing made by a pupil in one of the “Care & Fair” schools in India. We try hard to make certain the weavers have the best-possible working conditions and also to ensure that the knowledge of the traditional craft of weaving does not get lost, that the culture of rug weaving endures. Above all in India, the technology-driven rug industry is booming and is completely sidelining the traditional artisans. That’s a great shame. If the knowledge gets passed down in families because they have the opportunity to earn a living with their work, then the tradition may also survive.
The rugs are handmade and produced using sustainable materials. Why is that important to you?
Nani Marquina: Many designers are forever searching for perfection and presumably for that reason choose synthetic materials, because of the brilliant colors and the perfect final result. I’m not in principle opposed to artificial fibers, but only use them to create highlights and if the design really calls for it. Otherwise I would always go for natural materials. My bond to nature is extremely strong and I always find the range of colors in nature fascinating, take dawn or sunset. That bond does not arise for me if I am using artificial materials.
Naturalness and sustainability are themes that many designers are picking up on at the moment – do you believe this trend will continue in the future?
Nani Marquina: Technology keeps on growing but people need to keep things in balance. The more I am forced to look at my smartphone, the more I need to work with wool. Or travel to ground myself again.
So it’s safe to say that the more modern, virtual and hectic the world becomes, the more people in your opinion need nature and sustainable products?
You’ve worked with many internationally renowned designers such as Milton Glaser, Ron Arad, and Javier Mariscal, to name but a few. Are you at present collaborating with such a designer?
Nani Marquina: Yes, at this very moment we’re working on a cooperation, but it’s top secret (laughs). We’ll be taking the wraps off the results at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April. We are also still collaborating with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, because they are so very minimalist, so very natural. We share a vision and that makes collaboration so pleasant for both sides.
What is the key factor influencing you when assessing whether to work with a particular designer?
Nani Marquina: Sometimes the designers contact us, sometimes we contact them. What’s really important to me as regards possible collaboration is that they understand the Nani Marquina culture. They must feel a bond to the company and its philosophy, and that must be the reason why they wish to work with us. The balance has to be there, the shared values.
Your daughter Maria is now CEO of the company. What are the advantages and disadvantages of mother and daughter working together?
Nani Marquina: At the beginning it was difficult, as we wanted different things. Maria is very practical and very logical in the way she approaches things, while I’m more the artist (laughs). But now the combination really works well. She is responsible for all the strategic stuff and I can concentrate more on the creative work. Our collaboration is a bit like “Tres”; there’s tension there, a difference between the individual parts. But together they form a perfect result.
Your career is that of a strong woman and to my mind attests to tenacity and self-confidence. How do you view conditions for female designers today, and what do you think has changed?
Nani Marquina: As regards equal opportunities, there’s still a lot that needs to be done. Women and men are of course different, think differently, have different needs and a different view of design. That said, if the situation were equal for both women and men, if it were balanced, then there would be a major revolution in the design world, of that I am certain. I really hope this happens soon. When I started out I was the only woman in the class; today there are many female designers. So a change is already underway, above all in Spain, where female designers are receiving a lot of recognition. Now that is marvelous and I do hope this shift keeps going.