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Designed by Peter Mabeo and produced by artisans across Botswana, Fendi’s latest creative collaboration is a ten-piece collection exploring local craft and pushing traditional techniques and materials into new directions. Launching at Design Miami, it is the latest in a series of creative interpretations of the brand’s aesthetic codes and craftsmanship through collaborations with the likes of Sarah Coleman, Sabine Marcelis, Cristina Celestino and Formafantasma.
Peter Mabeo: exploring design and craft through collaboration
Designer Peter Mabeo in his workshop in Botswana. Photography: David Nana Opoku Ansah
Mabeo himself is no stranger to ambitious collaborations: having launched his namesake brand in 2006 after a decade of producing furniture locally, he counts Patricia Urquiola, Claesson Koivisto Rune and Inès Bressand among regular collaborators, and a recent project includes offices for Roo Rogers’ Johannesburg-based start-up accelerator, Founders Factory. All his designs are made in Botswana, in collaboration with local craftspeople and using traditional techniques.
In particular, it was a collaboration between Mabeo and Bressand that piqued the interest of Kim Jones, Fendi’s artistic director of couture and womenswear, who curated the project alongside Silvia Venturini Fendi, the brand’s creative director of accessories, menswear and children, and Delfina Delettrez Fendi, artistic director of jewellery.
Left, a wooden version of the ‘Foro’ chair in progress. Right, a ‘Gabinyana’ table lamp being assembled. Photography: Mabeo Studio
‘I was very taken by Mabeo’s 2017 collaboration with Inès Bressand, which featured the use of panga panga wood and distinctive hand-beaten metal panels on the ‘Zezuru’ cabinet and chair,’ says Jones. The collection involved a combination of very different techniques: galvanised metal sheets were cut, hammered, shaped and folded by hand, and then paired with the locally sourced dark timber to create the furniture. ‘I was immediately drawn to the considered approach Peter’s studio had to form and function, combined with materials and artisanal techniques specific to their local environment,’ continues Jones. For him, the connection to the project was also personal, as he spent a significant amount of time in Botswana as a child, when his father, a hydrogeologist, was working in the region.
Another element that attracted Jones was Mabeo’s workshop set-up and his creative approach. Having moved away from the centre of Gaborone a few years ago, the studio is now located within a former general dealer, and when the season allows, the team works outdoors, in the yard – which is also the backdrop to much of their product photography. ‘The manner in which they have documented their collections stood out, photographing the works primarily outside and being used or handled in some way, capturing their everyday usefulness in a very pure and engaging way,’ adds Jones.
Fendi and Mabeo at Design Miami: a furniture collection exploring artisanal techniques
The brief Jones and Delettrez Fendi gave Mabeo for the project was very free: ‘I felt like they really wanted me to express something,’ recalls Mabeo. Adds Jones, ‘It was clear that the project would be about conversation and exchange, but our admiration for his studio’s work gave us great confidence in the outcome, whichever direction it might take.’
Mabeo witnessed the brand’s approach to craft during a visit to the Fendi Rome HQ in summer 2021. It inspired him to ‘go crazy’ with the artisanal techniques he employed throughout the project. ‘It’s so incredibly significant for me to have an opportunity to question and to experiment, to try and do things that are outside of typical ways of thinking,’ he explains.
‘It’s so incredibly significant for me to have an opportunity to question and to experiment, to try and do things that are outside of typical ways of thinking’ – Peter Mabeo
Similarly, the Fendi team was able to experience Mabeo’s approach and surroundings through extensive Zoom calls. ‘There was an inspiring aspect to the fact that there was a big geographical space between us, also considering that, in that particular time, we could only travel with our minds,’ recalls Delettrez Fendi. ‘It felt surreal to jump on a Zoom call and see Peter riding his car, seeing that fantastic African landscape as if we were travelling together. We had this group chat where he would send us images of his surroundings and I would ask him what kind of trees were around him, or what kind of materials we could work with.’
The ‘Foro’ chair frame ready to be clad in clay. Photography: Mabeo Studio
The collection includes the Gabi-Gabi sculpture, a large-scale centrepiece made of galvanised metal sheet, and recreated in a smaller version in the ‘Gabinyana’ brass table lamp; and the ‘Shiya’ seat, made of panga panga wood and plywood. Reaching into different experimental territories is the ‘Foro’ chair, which moves away from the idea of a clay object being a monolith and instead uses the material to create an archetypal seat (an additional version is made of panga panga wood). For this piece, Mabeo wanted to use clay as a freehand material, so he asked wood and metal artisans to build a shape that could then assist the hand-moulding of clay into the chair’s forms. The clay was fired using an old method, in which cow dung is used as fuel for the kiln.
‘I immediately saw a link between his work and Fendi,’ says Delettrez Fendi. ‘At Fendi, form and function are always relevant, but we also try to give great importance to the organic and human feelings. Pushing the boundaries of traditional techniques, infusing them with great creativity, taking them to the extreme sometimes, and so making them relevant even today.’
‘I didn’t want to just employ the materials for the sake of it, but to create an opportunity to engage with the craftspeople who are still custodians of these techniques, going back so long’ – Peter Mabeo
Subtle nods to the fashion house can be found throughout the collection, such as in the mirrored F-shaped ‘Efo’ stools in wood and clay, or in the ‘Maduo’ chair, referencing a piece of jewellery designed by Delettrez Fendi and transformed by Mabeo into a wooden chair using precise joinery.
For the ‘Chichira’ cabinet, combining woven palm leaves with a structure made of wood and metal, Mabeo worked with weavers from Etsha, in north-western Botswana, who specialise in freeform woven vessels. ‘We wanted to see if it was possible to contain the weaver’s freedom: generally they weave in a circular shape, a sphere that’s never quite precise,’ says Mabeo. The idea for this piece, he explains, was to create an association between a technique that’s fairly rigid and something more fluid. Mabeo also considered the functionality of his pieces, case in point being the ‘Loma’ stool, which doubles as storage container or side table, and can be used combined into one piece, or split into two. Like other objects in the collection, it is made in both wood and clay versions.
Looking at the pieces in this collaboration is like exploring a map of craft in Botswana, as Mabeo called upon an extended network of artisans to bring each design to life. ‘We’ve travelled all over the country, we’ve engaged basket weavers, metal workers, people practising ancient techniques, as well as our local wood and metal artisans,’ he explains. Human connections were key to bringing the pieces together: ‘I didn’t want to just employ the materials for the sake of it, but to create an opportunity to engage with the craftspeople who are still custodians of these techniques, going back so long.’
He admits that the reaction of some of the craftspeople he involved in the project was along the lines of ‘no, this is crazy’. But as the pieces developed, he witnessed an interest in doing something new, room for making things interesting. ‘It was really just about trying to take things that don’t necessarily belong together and removing divisions,’ he explains. ‘I like the idea of working freely, outside the confines of formality.’ §