Bisazza pizzazz

It’s a small, family-owned company, but Bisazza claims to have the perfect product, so why shouldn’t it mix with upmarket global fashion names in posh LA showrooms? Clare Dowdy looks at a quintessential Italian brand

‘I’m perfectly aware that Bisazza is a non-essential product.’ Piero Bisazza, chief executive officer of the over-the-top glass mosaic company, has got a point.

But that doesn’t mean that fancy tiles have no place in the modern world. In fact, in the past few years, Bisazza’s star seems to have been rising, for the very reason that Piero recognises the advantages of aligning the business with the non-essential, luxury market.

A 100 per cent family-owned business for some 50 years, Bisazza is based in Vicenza, Italy. Since Piero was appointed CEO in 2000, revenue has risen from €46m (£31m) to €350m (£238m).

He puts this down to his focus on Bisazza as a brand. ‘I inherited an almost perfect product, there was nothing technical I could do. So I decided my focus would be brand and distribution, moving from the product to the market. My contribution is to inject added value into the product itself.’

His first act as CEO was to actually register the brand. And, since then, he’s been reinforcing Bisazza’s luxury credentials in a two-pronged attack: retail and designer ranges.

On the retail front, he’s now got nine showrooms worldwide, with two more opening this year. The early outlets were the work of Fabio Novembre, and the recent stores, including Los Angeles and Moscow later this year, are by the company’s current creative director, Carlo dal Bianco. Bisazza declines to reveal the amount it is investing in retail.

These outlets are a far cry from your average tile shop, but completely appropriate for their locations. For Bisazza handpicks the addresses so that the brand can enjoy the halo effect of its fashionable neighbours. Hence the LA showroom will be positioned on Formosa Avenue between Marc Jacobs and Paul Smith.

‘I am a big fan of what fashion does,’ he says. ‘What I find miraculous is that every six months they [the fashion houses] arouse your interest and convince you that you need another thing that you obviously don’t.’

This is not traditionally the thinking associated with expensive wall and floor finishes, but Bisazza says that his customers’ mindset is changing. ‘I think that they’re willing to change their walls quite frequently – a style is no longer for a lifetime. When somebody buys Bisazza, it’s an act of gratification, and because we have interesting decorations and look at what fashion is doing, it’s like buying another Gucci bag or another pair of Prada shoes.’ This seems to go against current thinking on sustainability and over-consumption, and suggests that this end of the interiors market has its own rules.

And the fashion mentality is where the designer input comes in. The company has long had a habit of collaborating with high-profile creatives, such as Romeo Gigli, Michael Graves, Novembre, Andrée Putman, Ettore Sottsass, Patricia Urquiola and Marcel Wanders. This year, it’s the turn of up-and-coming Spaniard Jaime Hayon and Dutch group Studio Job. These ranges tap into Bisazza’s keenness for fashion-aware designs, meaning animal prints and flowers.

Such collaborations don’t come about through what he calls a ‘super-rational process’, but are more accidental. ‘With Studio Job, I introduced myself to them in Tokyo last October. Whenever I see something, I like to imagine what that designer could do with our product. This is the fun part of the job.’

He likes the idea of working with architects too, citing Herzog & de Meuron, ‘because they work with texture on their buildings’.

These signature ranges have something in common with Swarovski’s designer ventures. Bisazza clearly admires what the crystal brand is doing, and enjoys the comparison. ‘Both of us are pushing for brand recognition in the luxury world, and Swarovski has been a smashing success over the past few years. It made the products available to designers [including Urquiola, Hayon and Yves Behar]. That’s definitely an inspiration,’ he says.

The stores and the external designers are managed internally by dal Bianco, who heads a 15-strong design studio. This team is also responsible for advising clientele, as Bisazza is open to one-off commissions, perhaps creating a motif for the bottom of a swimming pool. However, while some lap up the company’s flamboyant designs (particularly those suffering from minimalism fatigue), others need to be steered.

‘When people think of mosaics, they think of the past, they want a reproduction of what they saw in Pompeii. But I want Bisazza to be relevant for today. The role of the studio is to turn a request for the past into something contemporary,’ says Bisazza.

The hope is that by repositioning Bisazza as a luxury fashion brand, the company is better able to distance itself from its margin-squeezing rivals, and threats from globalisation in general. And the belief seems to be that strengthening the brand will make it more resilient. The tiles are still manufactured in Italy, for example, but this is not set in stone. ‘I’m not against manufacturing abroad,’ he says. ‘It will always be an Italian brand.’

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