Opening the door on Kiwi design in Paris

Rod Fry – entrepreneur, Système Pi and Moaroom mover and shaker, and general New Zealand design activist – has opened a new bricks and mortar space in France, dedicated entirely to promoting Kiwi design among the Parisians.

Crazy? Possibly, so we thought we’d sit down with Rod for a little Q&A to find out just what motivates an otherwise sane Kiwi design-lover to try and convince the French of anything.

Idealog: So why did you start Moaroom?

Roderick Fry: “The first motivations were my wife and I in our mid-thirties realizing that our jobs weren't ticking the boxes that were important to us. We were looking for a project that was challenging and where we'd be in daily contact with people we liked and respected.”

“In 2004 we spent half the year in France and half in New Zealand – I was following the work of people like Ron Sang and Andrew Lister and we thought that there was something developing architecturally that people in France would be interested in if it could be turned into a design collection. Then we discovered what Angela Roper had done with her space on Beaumont St. in Auckland and it further motivated us to test the waters.”

Idealog: So what led to the opening of the store? Why now?

RF: “Our strategy at the start was to purposely not open our own store but to work very, very, very hard to convince the architects and storeowners who were already respected in France that the collection we were showing them deserved to be alongside the other designers they had in their projects and shop-windows. Although this was a tough first step we very quickly benefited from their stamps of approval.”

“Now we don't need that – we've proven ourselves. Now the priority is to take back control of the ‘image’ of New Zealand Design – to be able to curate the work as we think fitting and respond to people’s questions with first-hand knowledge.”

“Dilana Rug's Hugh Bannerman told us from the start that when you’re selling creative work the fewer steps from the creator to the appreciator the better. I know all of the designers we represent personally which makes the whole process of welcoming a piece into one’s French home much more ‘personal’.”

Idealog: Are there any unique considerations to opening a bricks and mortar store these online, smart-phone focused days?

RF: “To be honest when I designed the space I had as much ‘how well will this photograph for Facebook?’ in mind as ‘how comfortable will it be to circulate and look at the objects?’ This includes creating a ‘visual coherence’ for the collection that you lose if all your objects are always presented and photographed next to completely different items in different settings. 

Idealog: Seriously, is opening a store in Paris terrifying? Exciting? Or just business as usual?

RF: “‘Business as usual’ but after ten years of slow, comfortable growth, experimenting and experience.”

Idealog: So how is NZ design being received in Paris? Does it align with French tastes?

RF: “When we were selling primarily David Trubridge’s lights and my tables we were viewed largely as the 6th Scandinavian country. Wood is of course part of this but there are also a lot of values that we share, especially if you look at all of those charts the United Nations publishes each year regarding human rights, equality of women books read etc. This has worked well for us over the last ten years as the French have re-fallen in love with the simple lines and materials we use – and the warmth and ‘realness’ of solid wood.”

“Regarding our values, ‘servants’ and ‘housewives’ are largely a thing of the past, so most of the nice apartments or lofts in Paris that are renovated these days have open kitchens and big dining tables that resist the knocks of real-life usage. Because we already live like this in New Zealand, our design fits well.”

“Now though we're entering a new phase thanks to RESIDENT. The simplicity is still there but people like Nat Cheshire and Jamie McLellen are not people to be constrained in their styles or choices of materials. They are just excellent international designers who happen to be New Zealanders.”

Idealog: So what’s next for Moaroom?

RF: Maintain the fine line between remaining 'fresh', enjoying ourselves and paying the bills.