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Elle Decor Italia

Interview with the Gervasoni brothers, Giovanni and Michele

This family company as told by its third generation of businessmen

portrait-Michele-and-Giovanni-Gervasoni-01

The third generation of businessmen: Giovanni and Michele Gervasoni

Longevity and originality make the history of the Gervasoni brand stand out from other all‑Italian design companies. To find out more, we talked with the Gervasoni brothers, Giovanni and Michele, the third generation of a family of businesspeople in Friuli.

Starting with a small artisan workshop for wicker weaving, your grandfather, Giovanni Gervasoni, laid the foundations for a company that has become an international brand thanks to the enlightened leadership of your father, Piero.He handed the reins over to you about fifteen years ago, right?Was this what you had always wanted to do?What has changed over the years and what, on the other hand, have you kept the same as in the beginning?
You can’t think about the future without stopping to consider the ground you have covered so far, especially when talking about a company with a 133‑year‑old history. Since 1999, when my bother Giovanni and I took over the family business, lots of things have changed. The specialities and knowhow of an artisan company have remained the same, they have just taken on a new guise. Gervasoni today is the result of our precise aim of leading the family business in a project of internationalisation and growth. The situation facing Gervasoni in 1993‑1997 was that the market, all of a sudden, was no longer interested in the products that had been our strength under the guide of our father Piero, which until that point had been real easy sellers. However, well‑made, hand‑woven rattan and wicker were quite simply no longer requested. This meant that, having just taken over at the head of the company handed down to us by Grandpa Giovanni and our father, we were effectively forced to put in place a whole new company, changing product, market, communication and, in many cases, clients. We could however count on the company’s existing, very solid foundations in this challenge, backed by a strong structure from the point of view of assets, human resources, knowhow, clientele, brand and, by then, international recognition. In other words, we could draw on the excellent work already done by our grandfather and father before us. Our father never pressurised us to enter the family business; we obviously knew that it would have made him happy, but he has always left us maximum freedom of choice. Even as small boys, however, we were used to “living” the company and smelling the “perfume” of the factory. More than insisting on seeing his sons join the company, our father urged us to learn foreign languages and gain experience in other companies, he taught the value of independence and of responsibility and to cultivate our passions. This was how, thanks to this upbringing and these values, we naturally had a strong desire to become a part of this wonderful family history.

You have design in your family DNA.In the sixties, your father was one of the first businessmen in Friuli to invest in design, with the Germa brand.Lots of famous collaborations: from Gianni Veneziani to George Coslin, Enrico Franzolini and Mario Ciampi through to Prospero Razulo, Vico Magistretti and Roberto Lazzeroni.How do you choose who you work with today?How does the sensibility of each of you become a part of the various collections?
Without the farsighted intuition of our father who was one of the first to start producing design furniture, Gervasoni would not be what it is today. The production and concept upheaval that was Germa – a company set up in 1965 thanks to the strong conviction of Piero Gervasoni that produced design furnishings in parallel with traditional Gervasoni articles – marked an important, revolutionary stage in the company’s history. Many Germa models were designed by important exponents in Italian design, work that was the outcome of sensibility, relationships, obstinacy and strong entrepreneurial spirit. By 1998, when we were still new to the company, the design vocation of Germa production had had such a contaminating effect on the Gervasoni collections that a clear distinction no longer made sense; design had become a keyword for the business that awaited us. Still today, design for us means innovation, research and experimentation – three indispensable concept in what we do. To call it “design in our DNA” however is taking it too far. Neither our father nor we ever aspired to be artistic directors, let alone design anything ourselves. Our greatest ability, or fortune, was that we chose extraordinary designers and collaborators, who interpreted our entrepreneurial spirit and our stylistic point of view. The idea of a new collection may start with us, with market needs or with a shape or an innovative material. Every product and collection we put on the market is the result of lengthy work on several levels: artistic‑stylistic, commercial and price‑related. The success of a collection is the outcome of teamwork. It is therefore also thanks to the experience of Gervasoni skilled workers and the eclectic, cosmopolitan personality of architect Paola Navone, our art director since 1998, that every year sees the birth of the very special collections that bring us recognition and visibility all over the world.
Your meeting with Paola Navone, the brand’s current art director, represented an important turning point for the company’s style.Together you have stayed ahead of trends and increasingly penetrated international markets.Where did the idea of this collaboration come from?
After we joined the business, at that particular moment of the company’s history, we decided that it was time the family firm had a shift in direction. To do this, and never had a good decision been better timed, we decided to focus heavily on collaboration with the internationally famous architect and designer Paola Navone. She then became our art director, after that, the person in charge of the collections that today bring our company success on world markets. Gervasoni had already worked with Paola on other projects, in 1996. My brother Giovanni was struck by the eclectic, cosmopolitan personality of this designer and, with my support, we asked her to create a collection that marked this new direction. This was the birth of the Otto collection, the first by third‑generation Gervasoni. We took Otto to the Salone del Mobile in 1997 and positive feedback from clients plus big interest from national and international press made us realise that we were on the right road. The “Navone” turning point was a radical shift that did not just mean putting new collections in the catalogue, but specialising in covering hitherto empty niches in the market, like for example an ethnic taste initially, followed by outdoor furnishings. This brought with it the “dangerous” consequence of having to guess where the market is headed, not following trends but setting them. A turning point, therefore, that in addition to being one of mindset, management and production, has also required a great deal of communication input.

Apart from those you have worked with, which designers today do you consider to be the most interesting and what do you think of the new generation of Italian designers?
The company always carefully considers the proposals and ideas that we receive daily and, together with art director Paola Navone, we select those projects most in line with our history and character. The experience and farsightedness of our art director teamed with the enthusiasm of new designers has led to successful products such as the Corallo coat stand by Michael Sodeau or the Sweet 40 knitted recycled cotton pouf by Martin Churba. We pay special attention to emerging designers, in particular new Italian names. Paola Navone is the art director for Gervasoni and Letti&Co., for Very Wood – brand of the group put into the contract sector - we chose as our art director the architect Matteo Ragni, an established designer who had worked in important collaborations and won ADI awards. With him in particular, we are doing fundamental research and scouting for young designers: alongside big names like Paola Navone, Patricia Urquiola and Marcel Wanders we in fact find the Friuli‑based LucidiPevere, the German Sebastian Herkner and This Weber from Switzerland.  The Italian design panorama is definitely worth keeping an eye on; the success of our experience with Paola Navone is proof of this.
The company has reached the third generation. Meanwhile, both it and the world have changed. Could you give me a definition for the Gervasoni of your grandfather, your father and the current set up?
We can summarise the history of Gervasoni in three great stages that coincide with the different generations. The Gervasoni of Grandpa Giovanni focused on the importance of production. From a small artisan wicker‑weaving workshop, he created a company that produced and supplied the whole of Italy. Thanks to my father Piero, we realised the importance of design. We, the sons, have concentrated on internationalisation in terms of both taste and distribution.

Your joining the company meant a radical change from a point of view of image and communication.When did you realise that you had made it and won the challenge.Is it linked to one product or collection in particular?
We have to beat this challenge every day and we tackle it by striving to improve and put in place the aspects and the sectors that have become our strong points, such as for example, our presence on the market and product innovation. Another good signal confirming we are on the right path is the constant attention that the national and international press pays our company and our collections.
Research into materials and production techniques has always made the company stand out.What do you forecast for the future, what do you think will be the most used materials or those to be experimented with?
The recipe that has worked so far is the same one that we intend to follow in the future, in other words: continuing to invest in product innovation, coherently and in line with Gervasoni tradition. Our collections are recognised and recognisable thanks to the speciality and attention that go into their conception and production. There is definitely a big return to natural materials, especially wood. We however believe that experimentation, at least as far as we are concerned, must focus on innovative, unusual combinations of materials. Staying ahead of trends and teaming the most diverse materials to give harmonious, balanced results are the cornerstones for our future strategy. We believe that innovation does not depend just on what material you use, but more on how you use it. Take bamboo for example. For years an important material for Gervasoni products, it was woven and curved then, thanks to interpretation by Paola Navone and the skill of our workers it became a finish, pressed and dyed we in fact find it used on the front of storage units or for table tops in today’s collections.
75% of your turnover comes from exports.Does this affect production at all?What emerging countries are you looking at for the future?
No, we don’t have products or collections dedicated to certain markets, Gervasoni production is influenced by continual study of new trends rather than satisfying any particular area of taste. One of our brand’s winning characteristics is precisely this consistency in our ranges. Gervasoni style and character can be interpreted in widely different settings, in a fusion of taste and aesthetic study. Our company invests heavily into establishing and maintaining direct contact with our distribution channels; our closeness and collaboration with the sales network is the distinguishing feature of our sales policy. On more distant markets and those where we have only just started working we have, on the other hand, decided to open single‑brand stores in partnership with local distributors. We have done this, for example, in Tokyo, Miami Sao Paolo, Vilnius and Riga in the Baltics.
How is Gervasoni committed to sustainable production?
Gervasoni SpA has adopted the principle of safeguarding the environment and the district where we work. We have put in place an internal Environmental Management System to ensure that all our activity, production and commercial, prioritises continual improvement in our environmental impact and in pollution prevention. Being an eco‑friendly company today means guaranteeing that environmental awareness is understood, implemented and sustained at all company levels.

From home to contract, from outdoors to indoors:Gervasoni style would seem to have no more frontiers.What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
Gervasoni is today in a position to furnish an entire home, both inside and outside. Expansion of our product families, their ease of mixing and matching, gives our company in Pavia di Udine very competitive weapons on the international market, at the end of our 133rd year in business.

One last question: are your homes furnished only with Gervasoni products? Which item of furniture (Gervasoni or other make) was a must-have for you at home?
We think that homes, and therefore ours too, must reflect the personality and lifestyle of the people who live in them. Aseptic, impersonal houses furnished like showrooms are not real homes, in ours there is a touch of Gervasoni in every room, but we have taken home the pieces or collections we are fondest of. For example, the sofa we rest on after a busy day is strictly Gervasoni: Nuvola at Michele’s home and Ghost in mine.


GERVASONI collection

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The Letti&Co Collections

The night zone interpreted by the creativity and contemporary style of Gervasoni

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The multitasking furnishings

In & Out: the Gervasoni design collection for living room and garden

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Ghost: unconventional

Cult pieces: the upholstered family of furnishing solutions by designer Paola Navone

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The contract sector

Hospitality Gervasoni style. Home from home even when travelling

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The Brick collection mix

Design furniture that mixes Asian and Nordic inspiration

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A story that started 133 years ago

Interview with the Gervasoni brothers, Giovanni and Michele

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The Gervasoni adventure

The Italian brand that can boast 3 generations of design

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