February 9, 2009

A Little Shop Just Out Back and Thousands of Miles Away

An interview with Gérard Dumora and Jacqueline Lauth of Pacific Art Design
Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)

Jacqueline, as the designated “manager” of your design company, I understand that you started the “business” by literally selling from a small stand in front of your house?
Yes, it was like selling bananas at a road-side stand. After being in Moorea for a while, I decided to look for a job and worked in a finance office for a while, where I gained a lot of experience in export markets and generally in how to run a business.

At the beginning, Gérard worked for various hotels, for example building kitchens and also did some renovation work in parallel to his designing. He would work all week as much as he could on his art and then on Saturdays and Sundays we’d promote it out by the road, because a lot of American tourists would come by. Still, with his work – both professionally and creatively – he really lacked the time to promote his pieces as much as he wanted to.

So we mutually agreed that I would stop my job and work to promote his art full time. I found that I really had a good knack for helping explain the works to people. Amazingly enough, we even found that I could earn within 2 days more than I did in 1 month at my old job! Some of it might be because my English is a little better and I could interact more especially with the American tourists, which was very helpful. People from the USA would always buy more than other tourists because they had a higher import allowance.

So, yes, at the beginning I had a table out in front of our home office with a sign saying “Artisanat d’Art” (hand-made art). What was nice was that we had just one road on the island, so if people were out walking or riding their bikes they would eventually pass by our house. We would display Gérard’s pieces in front by the road and my job was to act as a greeter or “hostess”, literally like some upper-end art galleries have when you walk in.

I’d offer the people coffee and we’d sit and talk a while. This worked out really well in that often they’d want even more than what we had on hand at the time, or would request special creations for their specific decoration needs. It was very common even that our visitors would take 1-2 hours to choose specific pieces and it really became a kind of social event or party when they’d “shop”. The only time we weren’t open was Sunday morning. But starting promptly at 2 p.m. Sunday through the whole week we were almost always open, even later into the night depending on when people would just drop by. And on Moorea, because the life there was so tied into the sun and the available light, the whole island was up and running full at 7 a.m.. So the days were very busy indeed.

But it was great, because lots of our customers would visit each time they came to the island and many became good friends of ours over time. Polynesian tradition puts a lot of emphasis on entertaining guests and being good hosts, so we definitely wanted everyone to always feel welcome!

So from our tiny, little road-side venture a bigger business was born: when Gérard started, we would sell a couple of lamps per month. By the time we left the island, our business was up to 50 lamps per month. It was about this that we then decided to leave and return to the Alsace, though we didn’t just leave overnight. In fact, Gérard started preparing me for the change about 1½ years before our departure so we could prepare ourselves.

This wasn’t so easy, especially for me, even though we knew we wanted to move on eventually. I was very happy with the lifestyle there and just loved working in front of the lagoon. I thought I could just sit there forever smoothing out pieces or entertaining customers. The almost 7 years we were there was just an absolute pleasure.

Living in Tahiti was really for us like being part of a big family, there was really a kind of tribal spirit in Moorea. People there live day-to-day; they don’t worry necessarily about tomorrow. When you live every day for itself, you enjoy more of life, you take the day as it comes. Living in this way guarantees a unique type of liberty, and you really have in many ways more freedom. Here you know people, but more as individuals.

As the managing partner of Gérard (in more ways than one!), what was it like to create a business together in addition to your private life?
Well, clearly for me it was a nice change to not have to go work for a boss and have to get up early just to leave on time. Sure we worked hard but the focus and motivation was very different.

The decision to help support Gérard was very easy however. I saw almost immediately once Gérard began focusing more and more on his art that he had immense potential. Even after selling only 1 or 2 lamps, I knew then he would succeed and that people would love his work. I was just so confident, I was completely sure that he would succeed, I don’t know how else to say it.

How does it work in terms of the design process? Can you, Jacqueline, for example tell Gérard that he should change something?
As I mentioned earlier, whenever Gérard is working on something or creating a new piece, he will show it to me. I’m always the first to see it and he will ask me if I like it, what I think about it. I really can tell that my input is very important to him and that he wants to know what I think.

G: I do follow her inputs as much as possible. If her input fits in with my inspiration, then I will modify what I’m working on because this is a way I can see it better. Other times, I may just leave it the way it is. I mean, sometimes she’ll say to me that something doesn’t work but I’ll keep working on it. Well, okay to be honest, when I do that, usually the piece doesn’t sell.

It’s funny though, but as an artist I sometimes find that I have regrets having sold some really beautiful pieces I’ve made. Sometimes that’s just the way an artist see’s their work. I still find the business side a bit difficult to integrate even if I don’t think or consider myself an artist. But I do realize that we have to live, that I have to make choices and sometimes sell works that have personal connections. But this is part of the normal ups and downs of being an artist.

How or when do you find your best inspirations?
Sometimes its owing to the business, or let’s say, when business is a little down. You could say, when we only have 20 cents left in our wallets, its then that I get the best ideas. I guess that when you don’t have any money, the whole process takes on a higher sense of urgency. It makes you focus on your work.

I will have phases though when the inspiration really comes well. Sometimes the gears mesh well together and the whole machine runs very smoothly. It’s too bad, because you can’t control inspiration. There will be some times I really want to create something and go out and work for hours in the shop, but the inspiration isn’t there. You can’t just call it up on command.

And when the inspiration doesn’t come, you get a bit down. You ask yourself if you can still create, are you still capable of creating? But the magic eventually finds its way back.

Is it difficult to work in a business together as a couple?
J: Its different for us, that is, who we are as the couple at home and the couple who is working together. I will say though that one thing that doesn’t change for me is that I have to believe in him 1’000%. And when you combine these two aspects, you need to be ready to hold on in the difficult times. If for one second you have hesitation and you don’t believe anymore you have to stop.

Is it more difficult living in France now than it was in Tahiti?
J: No, not really. At the beginning of our stay in Tahiti, it was also difficult. Not really difficult but it was a bit as we say in French “folklorique”, we just had to get used to the way of living, the customs and how things were done around us.

On the other hand, people here in Europe are sometimes not so open. That is a big difference, where on an island like Moorea, everyone knows each other, what you’re doing in terms of art. And you’re respected for that, especially within a similar group or sphere of similar artisans.

But in Europe there’s definitely not the same spirit in terms of being open. Well, maybe this is too critical. Its not that they’re not so open but the step to create something and then sell it is more difficult in Europe compared to Polynesia. In Europe, its in so many ways much more about being an individual among so many talented artists of all kinds. I guess its like the expression about being a small fish in a big sea.

J: In the case of Tahiti, again, because everyone knew us and knew about Gérard’s talents, for example, when somebody needed a lamp, they’d come see us. Everybody there – businessmen, politicians, hotels, you name it – all had one of Gérard’s creations. Here you have to face much more anonymity and the time it takes to penetrate a market is much longer in Europe. Still, we did want to come back to Europe not only for personal reasons but to establish a name for Gérard in the Northern Hemisphere.

But still, starting at zero in France was really a wake-up call for us!

Do you find yourself slowly losing in any way the influence of Tahiti?
G: No, this will always be in my heart, in our hearts. Even if I’m not using the exact materials today that I used on the island – like wood types for example – I always try to use when possible other materials like maybe mother of pearl.

In terms of needing to be physically in Tahiti, we realize we don’t have to go back every year. A part of us, a part of our being will always be there. And the spirit of Tahiti will always be with us. Plus we have lots of friends there and do stay in contact.

Describe a little bit more about the materials you used in Tahiti or even use still from there today?
G: The wood in Tahiti was wonderful. One of the greatest things for me as a designer was that there was such an enormous variety and selection of wood there including tropical types, lychee wood and much more. There are more than 1’600 different varieties of wood to choose from, of all colors, grains, and textures. For example, the Polynesian acajou is totally different to African or American acajou (ZN: cashew).

Are there other materials you’d be interested in trying?
For a creator every material can be interesting. And when I’m interested in a particular material that I haven’t used before, then I go to a professional who works with that material so I can learn more.

As an artist I think that when any material is interesting, I will find a feeling in how to use it. In terms of trying other types, I would like to learn to work with as many materials as possible – for example, leather, glass, metal, etc. As long as I’m working, I’ll have interest in learning more.
One new inspiration and desire I have in terms of learning about “new” materials is to work more with recycling, or to put it slightly differently, with what industry throws away. I think in this area, everything is possible. So many things are produced and they’re already here and available, but either they’re discarded by industry or by consumers without even considering how they can be (re-)used. My main target would be to find a material or type of object that is self-sustainable, with one thing always making another which leads back to the first.

Again, in Tahiti, I would walk through the forest for hours to find the piece I needed, and when I did, it was right even down to the tiniest detail. But today we utilize less from nature and rely more and more on industry, so I really believe we can do something here. I want to find and use pieces or materials that can be used in a different context.

Along these lines you’ve enjoyed a great deal of success and received a lot of publicity for your
Trendy Tubs® designs. These seem to be completely opposite in terms of your Tahitian art approach. How did you come to this idea?
In terms of the design or inspiration, the philosophy is different than my other art and is as I mentioned before very focused on ecology and recycling. It’s definitely a breakaway to my “traditional” work, but they have provided a lot of welcome exposure. Sure, maybe sometime people insist that the Trendy Tubs are not really “design” per se, but I think its positive in that it does show my diversity as a creator and designer. Now I’m not just an artist creating lamps or other “Polynesian” art but I can reach a completely different audience.

For example, when we returned, it was very difficult to put our range of Polynesian products on the market. Making the columns we talked about was the first step and we also had a nice contact base. But the release of the Trendy Tubs was really the breakthrough moment for our business. And as I said before, timing is so important, where this time we seemed to have gotten it just right in terms of addressing not only people’s needs, but also their interests and how the trends are moving. They’re very universal, fashionable, and to be honest, a lot more price conscience for access to a wider audience.

In terms of the process for creating the Trendy Tubs: well, it was really the same as designing a lamp. A lot of people want to write that the Trendy Tubs were some kind of genius idea; but for me, it was something just waiting to be made that had not been done before. But clearly I was inspired to make something with the advantages of being both accessible and understandable.

And even if these are completely different in almost any way you can think of, for me it was still very much a creative journey. The needs in terms of working up the inspiration aren’t the same maybe in that with my other pieces I am working very much with nature. Here its much more about helping nature and in fact using materials that might otherwise hurt the environment.

The Trendy Tubs have also provided a big opening for us in the decorative market. And again this leads to exposure, people are noticing it. The other way – e.g. starting with a lamp – wasn’t universal enough. So I kind of think of the Trendy Tubs as a kind of calling card that introduces Pacific Art Design to a much wider audience, even if sometimes its now “Gérard Dumora, creator of the Trendy Tubs… and oh yes, he does also Polynesian inspired art…”

For now I will just say then that the Trendy Tubs have opened a new lane, a new avenue for all of my creations because there’s a lot of potential for this product. And new variations are on the way! What you see now is just the first step, its just the beginning of the adventure I’ve got in mind. But I’ll reserve more details about the surprises in store for later when we move to the launch!

What’s next for you both, as well as for Pacific Art Design and the whole Trendy Tub collection?
Again, the next evolution of the Trendy Tubs will come later this year (about April ’09). In terms of my interest in working with “recycling” (ZN: maybe “pre-cycling”?), I’ll also be doing a lot of sniffing around in terms of regional production and getting to know what’s out there in terms of possible materials which can be used.

And as last year, we’ve just gotten back from presenting our work at the Maison&Objet in Paris, which allows us to promote both our Polynesian art as well as the Trendy Tubs. It’s an exhausting process but always very positive for us where every year we get more and more exposure and meet lots of nice people interested in our offers. And I really want to focus this year on getting the Trendy Tubs running more independently so that I can focus more again on pure creation!

Rather than tying down the end of this article with a lot of repetitive qualifications and features in terms of where Gérard (that’s him here on the left) and Jacqueline have exhibited their work or other tid-bits, we’d just invite all of our readers to again visit both the Pacific Art Design and Trendy Tub web-sites.

Instead we’d like to use the space to feature many of our favorite photos of lovely lamps, fantastic detail work – from combinations of unfinished and dark finished woods, or use of mother-of-pearl or other offers from nature to enhance a piece – to the use of traditional Tahitian symbols that alone mean “wave” or “dolphin” but repeated and placed together give even more lively shapes or the feeling of standing before some mysterious totem pole… and of course, everybody’s favorite tub of a thousand-and-one uses.

Enjoy finding your favorite!

No comments: