Crossing Continents, Sharing Traditions

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    In 2008, Paola Lenti developed the proto-type Afra chair. It was 100% Italian and, as with most Italian design, was a superb piece which realised the product as aesthetically pleasing, functional and very comfortable. It ticked just about all the boxes; it fulfilled the company’s clear intent of using the highest technology fabrics combined with traditional crafts to produce exquisite yet functional items for the home. But it lacked a vital intangible contribution to the product’s success. With Paola’s commitment to tradition and vernacular, her journey has led her to rediscover ancient techniques for high-quality textiles. Key words that she uses when describing what she aims for in her designs are “authenticity” and “soul”. If an African weave is used for a chair, such as that in the Afra Chair, it cannot be woven in Italy and given the description of “African” or even “African-style”, because it would be neither authentic nor credible. With the assistance of South African branch of The Modern Garden Company in Cape Town, they set out to find an ethical and empowered rural crafts facility that was sufficiently skilled and business focused to be able to produce to a staggeringly high international standard plus being deal with all the ancillary issues of secure clean storage, international freighting and timings. They found it in a Craft Art Village in the province of Limpopo, operated by a Foundation created with the sole aim of promoting and redeveloping the traditional craft art and skills of people living in the rural villages of the area.

    The encounter between Paola Lenti and the Limpopo weavers represents a confluence of two cultures: Paola Lenti, well known in the international market for a unique style based on textile innovation and use of traditional working techniques, combined with an entrepreneurial know-how in marketing and distribution on one hand; and on the other, Limpopo women with centuries of traditional skills in crafts such as weaving, embroidery and bead work passed down from generation to generation.

    The meeting of such different skills and styles have given rise to production of a limited series of objects, the most significant of which is still the Afra Chair. This item has provided a sustainable source of income for a number of the Village women over the past twelve months and other items such as baskets, embroidered linen and special edition beaded animals are introduced as special editions for exhibitions and displays around the world for Paola Lenti.

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    Daniel Fountain / 19.11.2010

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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